Somalia: this definitely counts as an escalation

The war cries to bring down Somali pirates are deafening this morning (Obama has promised to do so), but none more alarming than this report from Bloomberg: The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
586813_090413_mogadishu15.jpg
586813_090413_mogadishu15.jpg

The war cries to bring down Somali pirates are deafening this morning (Obama has promised to do so), but none more alarming than this report from Bloomberg:

The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.

The war cries to bring down Somali pirates are deafening this morning (Obama has promised to do so), but none more alarming than this report from Bloomberg:

The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.

Does the United States know what they’re getting into? Piracy experts have long suggested that the root of the problem is indeed on land. But air strikes on Somali bases would be dangerously close to a U.S. military operation in Somalia — the kind that the country has avoided since Blackhawk down in 1994.

Let’s think hypothetically about what might happen if strikes go ahead. U.S. onland intervention will surely anger al Shabaab, the Islamist militant wing that controls an alarming percentage of Somali territory and is the biggest single threat to Somali stability. Already, the Somali government is struggling to convince the country that its relatively pro-Western stance is for the greater good. That argument will lose all weight if and when the U.S. starts airstrikes. Forget about the government’s effectiveness, and forget about any hopes that al Shabaab will disarm. This would fuel the fire. No, we shouldn’t kneel to the demands of al Shabaab, but nor should we ignore that their ire will be taken out on the already dilapidated Somali population. 

Talk about an escalation.

To be fair, the rumored U.S. plans includes the creation of a Somali coast guard, and support for the Somali government. U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, long a Somalia pragmatist, made a daring visit to Mogadishu today to talk about how the U.S. can help the Somalis fight piracy. But the fact that his plane was shot at only proves how difficult a situation we are walking into.

If we have learned anything about Somali over the last two decades, surely it is that military escalation (this one included) will inevitably breed more chaos. And if we have learned anything about the pirates, it is that chaos on land breeds impunity at sea.

Photo: MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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