November 22, 2006 | World Defense Review

The Somali Radicals Must Be Destroyed!

Convinced that the peace of the Mediterranean world and security of the Roman Senate and People depended on the final elimination of the threat posed by Carthage – which many of his contemporaries minimized when they were not ignoring it completely – the elder Marcus Porcius Cato took to concluding almost all of his many orations, irrespective of what he had been talking about, with the exclamation “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam!” (“Furthermore I advise that Carthage must be destroyed!”).

Eventually the Roman statesman wore down his listeners and the Third Punic War was fought which ended in the destruction of the North African city and the removal of the last obstacle to the halcyon days of the Roman Republic.

Since its inception this column, at least in so far as concerns the radical Somali Islamists of what is know known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), has taken on something of the air of Cato the Censor. The inaugural piece warned of the ambitions of Sheikh Hassan Dahir 'Aweys to impose Islamic rule on Somalia, while a subsequent contribution called upon U.S. policymakers to face political reality in the Horn of Africa.

After the Somali Islamists seized control of their benighted country's sometime capital of Mogadishu, highlighted their radical nature against those who tried to minimize the threat, thought that the weak “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia was a panacea, or discounted the importance of Somaliland. Latter essays pointed to the increasing terrorist threat as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah penetrations in sub-Saharan Africa continued and Islamism spreads down the continent's eastern coastline, lamenting America's lack of coherent policy even as the Somali radicals financed themselves from witting and unwitting supporters in the West. Still, as I reported in an update last month, the Islamists continued to advance virtually unopposed except for the Ethiopian forces propping up what is left of the TFG.

Now support for the general thrust of these jeremiads comes from a rather unlikely source, the United Nations – or rather the Monitoring Group entrusted by the UN Security Council's Sanctions Committee with reviewing compliance with the more than decade-old arms embargo against the former Somali Democratic Republic. The 86-page report which the four technical experts on the panel – an American, a Belgian, a Colombian, and a Kenyan – presented to the Sanctions Committee on Friday documents violations of the embargo by seven largely Muslim countries who provided large quantities of armaments, personnel, and training to the ICU's armed forces. The countries accused of helping the Islamists included some of the “usual suspect” supporters of Middle Eastern terrorism such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.

While some of the allegations in the report seem even to me to be a bit far-fetched – including the charge that 720 Somali Islamists with combat experience went to Lebanon to fight alongside Hezbollah during last summer's war with Israel – many of the others parallel information that I have previously published here, including the presence of foreigners in the ranks of the ICU's forces which has been of both quantitative and qualitative levels which indicate a high degree of coordination. And it is certainly not inconceivable that some ICU fighters might indeed have been or currently are in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries receiving training.

Likewise interesting was the report's noting the presence of two Iranians in Dhusa Mareb, the hometown of Sheikh 'Aweys. While whatever can properly be drawn from that solitary bit of intelligence, even if proven accurate, would at best be inconclusive, it is nonetheless more than eerily coincidental that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), between five thousand and ten thousand tons of uranium can be easily mined in that locality.

While some of those who previously argued that the Islamists were a relatively benign law-and-order type have since been reduced to admitting a misreading of the facts on the ground, others now make their stand on the implausibility of Shi'a Iran and its Hezbollah proxies making common cause with the radical Sunni Islamists ascendant in Somalia, as I told the Voice of America last Friday, one should not so hastily preclude such cooperation. The nature of terrorism is that often what unites extremist groups is the enemy rather anything they may have in common between themselves.

So what does it mean that now even a UN-commissioned body is willing to acknowledge foreign terrorist links are indeed operative in Somalia? On one level, unfortunately not much. Since the Monitoring Group was established by Secretary-General Kofi Annan two years ago, it has regularly produced well-researched documentation of the situation and prepared thoughtful suggestions, none of which have actually been implemented.

On the other hand, the report, whatever its methodological or other technical imperfections, highlights the urgency of the crisis in the Horn of Africa and the futility of hoping that the problem will go away by itself. It is bad enough that Islamist radicals have seized effective control of yet another country and subjected its populace to their obscurantist ideology with its medieval panoply of public executions and floggings, bans on music, television and soccer (even the Taliban in Afghanistan allowed the sport), and puritanical dress requirements. (Just in case some apologist is still inclined to try to explain away the spread of the extremists' creed, on Monday Addeh Musse, the regional president who governs the northeastern province of Puntland, issued a decree declaring that the hitherto relatively secular the area often described as TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf's stronghold would be subject to the ICU's version of shari'a.) It is worse when they combine their “religious” fanaticism with nationalist irredentism like the Somali variety which dreams of expanding to include Somali-speaking people in neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somaliland. It is utterly intolerable that they should do so be allowed to consolidate such a regime in a geostrategically critical location as the Horn of Africa, just opposite the Arabian Peninsula where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean, and to do so in close collaboration with transnational terrorist groups and their state sponsors.

Not only does the international community or, in the absence of a consensus, any “coalition of the willing” that might still have the fortitude to assemble, need to adopt the Monitoring Group's recommendations to enact a complete terrestrial, naval, and aerial blockade of Somalia and to freeze the ICU's financial channels, it must act to decisively to eliminate the threat posed by the radicals while the tactical challenges remains rather minimal. For like Rome confronted with Carthage, it may require scarce resources to confront the enemy now, in the end this price will be nonetheless be less than that of having to deal with a more powerful foe which has been able to consolidate its position. In short, for the peace and development of the Horn of Africa and the security of the international community in general and America and its allies in particular, Sheikh 'Aweys and his minions need to meet the fate of Cato's nemesis.

– J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.