New Attacks in Somalia: Gray Area in the War on Terror in Africa

It is reported that al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for an attack on a hotel in Mogadishu. The attack began on Friday night (August 19) and carried over into Saturday. The hotel is said to be popular among lawmakers and government officials.

More than 20 people are reported to have died (at least 13 of them were reported to be civlians). 117 people were injured, five of whom are in critical condition.

This is the first major attack since the new president came to power in May. The attack also comes just some days after US airstrikes targeting al-Shabab members. It seems this war is ongoing, with few winners and with one primary victim: the Somalian people.

The Airstrikes

After announcing an increase of troops in Somalia—a move supported by the new Somalian president—the US demonstrated its commitment by killing 14 al-Shabab members in an airstrike over central Somalia on Sunday (August 14, 2022).

The strike, according to VOA news, has been confirmed by the Somali military, though the US has not commented on the Sunday strike (which came just five days after three other US strikes which reportedly killed four al-Shabab members in the country).

Here is some interesting analysis regarding the possible reasons for the airstrikes (from the same VOA article above):

“‘The U.S. engagement and its troops return in Somalia is part of ongoing U.S. strategic policy and interest in the region, especially Somalia, to fight al-Shabab and to stop them from attacking U.S. interests,’ Azhari [Abdurahman Sheikh Azhari of the Centre for Analysis and Strategic Studies in Mogadishu] said.

The recent airstrikes follow the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as Somalia’s new president and Mohamud’s pledge to fight al-Shabab on all fronts.

However, Daniel Furnad, the associate director for the Nairobi-based Farsight Africa Group, believes that is not the reason for the U.S. airstrikes.

‘The timing of the American airstrikes is more likely a result of the installation of General Michael Langley as AFRICOM commander than support for the Somali president, although I think we are in a honeymoon period with Hassan Sheikh Mahamud,’ he said. ‘U.S. policy has been undergoing an overhaul, with General Langley now in place I think we are starting to see that policy unfold.’”

This was posted to AFRICOM’s twitter page on the same day as the first three drone strikes:

AFRICOM’s new general is celebrated as the first black four-star Marine Corps general. While we will always denounce racism, once again we see identity politics superseding discussions of the fundamental problems with agencies and branches that comprise the US government. How important is it that fundamentally flawed and deeply harmful organizations like the US Military celebrate inclusivity?

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In the midst of all of the strikes, the UN announced that one million people in Somalia are now displaced due to the drought, though you won’t find that announced on AFRICOM’s twitter page of course (I couldn’t even find it on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s).

As we have discussed previously, the War on Terror provides a black-and-white narrative to a picture that is often gray. For example, consider this:

The Russian-backed Wagner group has been accused of killing civilians in Mali. The Wagner Group was recently the target of an attack in which four of their soldiers were reportedly killed in Mali.

If the details are correct, it’s doubtful that the US would at all lament the death of four Wagner Group members. Quite the opposite.

At a speech during his most recent African tour, Secretary of State Blinken even chose to mention the Wagner Group, calling it a “Kremlin-backed group” exploiting “instability to pillage resources and commit abuses with impunity.” It’s possible that this may very well be accurate, but it’s certainly not limited to the Wagner Group. Make no mistake, the lack of acknowledgement of this fact is what helps to fuel this conflict and the futile War on Terror in general.

The people bearing the brunt of the harsh reality on the ground—the ones dealing with fundamental problems like poverty, unemployment, and a lack of basic necessities—are the ones who probably best understand the gray areas of these conflicts. After all, they’re the ones who’ve lost loved ones due to attacks from all sides.

Their basic needs are not being met, and that speaks to fundamental problems at play within the country, problems that could be better addressed with more creative solutions.

We’ve discussed some of the most pressing problems Somalia is facing, such as the drought and the fact that the government has accepted “help” from the International Monetary Fund to get “debt relief.” Until these problems are addressed, how could anyone expect Somalia to become a stable place?

May Allah protect our brothers and sisters in Somalia, and may more tangible, long-lasting solutions be brought forth that could help relieve this terrible conflict between the various state and non-state actors, a conflict that brings such suffering to everyday Somalians.

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