Finally managing to break the grip of al-Shabaab, formally the Islamic Courts Union, African Union and Somali troops reclaimed the port city of Barawe, which had served as the de facto capital of the terrorist group. Given 1993 was the last time the key port was under the control of government forces, the recent event is a major milestone. Considering al-Shabaab nearly seized control of the entire country in 2006 and Somalia has served as the poster child for a failed state since the 1991 collapse of its central government, this news is more than welcome.
That said, al-Shabaab has not been eliminated as a threat, nor have the many other regional threats been extinguished, while Somalia will not be a success until it has been rebuilt to a point it can sustain its regained stability. Given the US and Coalition forces poured trillions into both Iraq and Afghanistan in the hopes of stabilizing and rebuilding them, it should be clear that throwing money at nations that have degenerated into war zones and power vacuums is not enough to prevent them from returning to that state once their benefactors grow weary of the financial burden and sacrifice.
Unfortunately, any analogy that can be drawn between Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia goes both ways. It should be clear from Somalia that Iraq and Afghanistan can easily degenerate into failed states when facing a serious terrorist threat like the Islamic States. Caught in a classic “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” scenario, it is tempting to simply give up on nation building, accept a heightened risk of terrorist attacks, and allow violence to engulf regions of the world. On the other hand, we could learn from the successes that we have had so far and try to find better options.
Over Somalia’s recent history, attempts to even build a functional government and address the security threats within the Somali territory have failed several times. It was, however, neighbor Ethiopia that helped turn the tide against al-Shabaab while regional support from the African Union and international support from countries like the United States helped solidify and expand on those goals. What Somali needed was time and proper support once it began to overcome its internal political strife.
In the case of the Islamic State, Iraq has refocused its attention away from political strife, which Syria clearly has not, long enough to start dealing with the reality of its impending collapse. Iraq has started to see proper support from regional powers as well as international powers. Where airstrikes have so far been successful in blunting the advance of the Islamic State, the terrorist organization is adapting to the dismay of those fighting on the ground. Although Western countries cannot afford the treasure and blood of redeploying a massive number of troops to stabilize the situation, especially given the need for NATO forces to address larger regional as well as global security threats, there does need to be more help on the ground.
Where Free Syrian Army forces are to be trained in Saudi Arabia, Iraqi troops are pushing back the Islamic State, and the fierce Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are in need of better arms, regional powers must do more to help on the ground as impoverished Ethiopia did for Somalia. In addition, the politics of the region must be set aside if terrorism is truly going to be the focus of regional security forces. Shiites cannot use the threat of the Islamic State to justify genocide against Sunnis while the potential of Kurds breaking away from their current countries to form a Kurdish state cannot be a deterrent to providing the Peshmerga what they need to do their job. Despite US Vice President Joe Biden apologizing to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for saying their governments helped finance the Islamic State, elements within Middle Eastern states, including government officials, did help fund terrorism, just as the US has. We need to recognize past wrongdoings and move forward to deal with the consequences.
In all reality, the International Community is fairly ineffective when it comes to resolving security issues while our nation building strategies are far from successful in the case of underdeveloped nations. As such, the world needs to find better options. While the rebuilding of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia are incomplete, the current threat of the Islamic State is being addressed in a cooperative fashion by the International Community. What we need now is time as well as some effective nation building strategies for the next phase.
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