The Somalia Hangover
Somali troops fired on rioting civilians in the capital city of Mogadishu today, resulting in at least two deaths. The riots broke out over soaring food prices -- the result of a global food crisis that has triggered similar violence from Haiti to Bangladesh. And the shootings illustrate the increasing likelihood that we will see more violence erupt over the food crisis in coming weeks and months.
Early dispatches indicate that the protesters were rioting against the government's ineffective (or non-existent) efforts to alleviate the crisis and certain merchants' refusal to take Somali currency. The soldiers allegedly opened fire in an attempt to impose order on the crowds, which are said to have numbered in the tens of thousands.
The AP report notes that Somalia has existed without a functioning government since 1991. Ironically, today's riots took place in the same Bakara market that served as the central battleground during the famous "Black Hawk Down" battle between U.S. forces and Somali fighters in 1993. That fighting ended the last major international humanitarian mission in Somalia. Given the state of unrest there today, and past experience, further direct aid seems unlikely.
Despite our lingering hangover from the 1993 intervention, however, we cannot afford to ignore the volatile combination of instability, citizen unrest, competition over food, and the presence of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in Somalia. This failed state sits at the crossroads between Africa and Southwest Asia. If left unattended, it will become a major sanctuary for global terrorists. And, if left unassisted, Somalia's people will spill over into bordering states, destabilizing them and causing secondary effects throughout the region.
As I write this, America's legions remained tied down in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no end in sight to those conflicts. And here we have another strategic cost of those wars -- the inability for America to project ground combat forces anywhere else because of our commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. We might surge a carrier battle group to Myanmar, to provide aid in the wake of the recent cyclone, but that's about all we can muster right now. Absent the full mobilization of America's active and reserve forces, we have no ability to conduct sustained operations anywhere else because of Iraq and Afghanistan.
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