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Horn of Africa On the Decline
Al Qaeda and its affiliates in recent years have made no secret of their desire to open new hot war fronts that will drain the resources and willpower of the West.

The Horn of Africa is clearly part of that strategy, and the inroads the radical are now clearly discerable. Perhaps the most dramatic public setback has been the government of Yemen's decision to pardon Jamal al-Badawi, a key architect of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. The bombing left 17 U.S. sailor dead, and was the announcement of al Qaeda's continuing presence in the region. In 1998 the group successfully bombed two U.S. embassies East Africa.

Al-Badawi, who recruited the Cole bombers, was originally sentenced to death, had escaped from prison once, and was recaptured. He suddenly swore allegiance to Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Last week Badawi was set free, and was reportedly receiving well-wishers at his home outside Aden.

The pardon came just days after Frances Fragos Townsend, President Bush's top counterterrorism adviser, had been in Yemen praising that nation's contributions to the war on terror. Who played whom like a fiddle?

Compounding the insult, U.S. officials say they have strong reason to believe a number of other Al Qaeda figures have been released by the Yemenis, including Jaber Elbaneh, an FBI fugitive who was indicted for providing material support to Al Qaeda as part of the investigation into a terror cell in Lackawana, N.Y., in 2003.

This is a pretty clear sign that, absent a stronger U.S. presence and interest in the region, Yemen and others will do what they feel they must or what they want to with al Qaeda-linked groups in the region. If these are our allies, hard to imagine just what our enemies might be up to.

The al-Badawi incident is not the only incident signaling a breakdown in the Horn.

In Somalia, the odd alliance of the government of Eritrea with radical Islamists continues to destabilize the weak central government, such as it is. The continuing presence of Ethiopian troops continues to antagonize the population as it protects a government that cannot perform even minimal functions-functions that the Islamists, when briefly in power, were able to perform, such as picking up trash and making the streets safe.

As a result, the ICU looks good, tens of thousands of Somalis are again fleeing the capital and the Islamist forces look good in comparison to the current situation.

At the same time, the formation of the U.S. military's Africa Command remains bogged down over competing visions of what it should be and do, coupled with a strong pushback from many African nations that do not want a U.S. military footprint on the continent.

What relatively few resources the Africa command would have are already being whittled away to plug holes in Iraq. There are few Africa experts being assigned to the command structure and, being a low priority in the relative scheme of things, vital decisions are not being made.

One has only to look at where the most significant radical Islamist activity outside of the Pakistan-Afghanistan region and Iraq to see the importance of the Horn. One Joint Task force there, with few intel assets, is not an effective counter to movements that enjoy support even in the governments of those we call our allies.

The Horn is slipping toward chaos. Only radical Islamist movements and their allied criminal groups that can adequately exploit the chaos, will benefit.

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