Merchant of Death
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The War in Somalia Expands as Islamists Promised
The battle for control of Somalia by the Islamic Courts Union has spilled over into an international conflict with Ethiopia and poses a significant threat to the entire Horn of Africa region. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has posted on some of the details of the military activities.

Yesterday Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the ICU leader most closely indentified with al Qaeda and bin Laden, said Somalia was now at war with Ethiopia and that "All Somalis should now take part is this struggle against Ethiopia." The statement came the day after an EU envoy happily proclaimed that both sides had agreed to negotiate an end to the hostilities and that peace was at hand. Someone must be living in an alternate universe where pledges made by radicals with a history of duplicity are viewed binding.

The spread of this war is by design, not accident. In his statement earlier this week (as translated by Laura Mansfieldal Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri went out of his way to signal support for the Islamist movement in Somalia, saying "Brothers in Islam and _jihad_ in Somalia, know that you are the southern garrison of Islam, so don't allow Islam to be attacked from your flank and know that we are with you and the entire Muslim Umah is with you."

The conflict is designed not only to establish a space that can be defined as the beginning of the Islamist Caliphate, a necessary physical space from which to launch succeeding holy wars against the unbelievers. It is also aimed at creating widespread instability in a fragile region in East Africa, rich in mineral resources with weak and corrupt central governments.

Osama bin Laden has spoken in the past of the need to open a "third front" with a ground war that will bleed the U.S. military dry. He has argued that the al Qaeda front in Iraq, coupled with the front in Afghanistan/Pakistan, has stretched the U.S. military to its limits. A third front would make triumph in the other two more likely.

The stark disinterest of the United States and most European powers, or serious efforts by other African nations to face the consequences of an Islamist triumph in Somalia is striking and dangerous. The consequences of a regional war are difficult to calculate, but they will be serious.

Ethiopia is going to wade into the conflict in significant ways, but U.S. intelligence has been alarmed by the flow of sophisticated weapons in recent months to the ICU, including surface-to-air missiles, heavy anti-tank weapons and mines, and small arms. The ICU also appears to have at least three Russian helicopter gunships, operating with hired crews, to put into operation.

It may be more than Ethiopia can handle alone, and the conflict has already drawn hundreds of foreign _jihadists_ to Somalia. Thousands more will follow if the region becomes part of the global _jihadi_ battleground.

The _jihadists_ have in the paste been unconcerned with governance in the areas they conquer. _Sharia_ law, based on the Quran, is all that is needed. So they do little to consolidate bureaucratically or in a civil governance sense and unencumbered by the desire to establish a functioning government that could be recognized by the outside world. They simply move on to the next conflict, and let _sharia_ law take care of the rest.

In conversations with U.S. officials recently, several expressed the opinion Somalia was of little interest because it has no strategic importance to the United States. It is a backwater with few natural resources and no government. My response is: What was Afghanistan in the years before 9-11? A failed state with few natural resources of international interest and little preceived strategic value.

Lessons Learned in 2006
The Rationale of Zawahiri Statements
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