The predecessor to the Al Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia was responsible for several attacks and demonstrated why military invasions are bad ideas.
When it comes to counter terrorism since 9/11, we have been on the wrong road. Before that fateful and horrible day no one talked about a ‘war on terrorism’. Countries let their law enforcement and intelligence agencies handle this problem: the military was rarely involved.
In my country, Canada, yes the government invoked the War Measures Act in October 1970 to deal with Quebec terrorists although it is debatable whether that was necessary or effective.
Nowadays, the military is everywhere it seems. In some cases air forces carry out strikes with missiles and drones to target terrorists, with an unacceptable number of civilian casualties (which they often deny). In others, countries make the decision to send troops to invade and occupy other countries in the name of counter terrorism. The US moves in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) are prime examples.
Except that this decision never achieves the goal of ending terrorism or bringing to an end a particular group. Despite the investment of trillions of dollars and the loss of thousands of lives on all sides terrorism in the aforementioned two nations shows no signs of ebbing.
2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia
One such invasion that goes largely unnoticed was that of Ethiopia into Somalia in 2006. In December of that year a U.S-backed Ethiopian military invaded Somalia and eventually captured the capital, Mogadishu, driving out the terrorist group known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) from power and backing the rule of the Transitional Federal Government, which had been internationally recognized but whose support in Somalia was waning.
By mid 2007, the 50,000 Ethiopian troops were increasingly bogged down, facing much fiercer resistance than they had bargained for as Somalis of all stripes temporarily put aside their differences to stand together against the outside invader. This should have been predicted: there is nothing like an outside, unwanted force to consolidate opposition.
But back to the ICU. It was formed in 2000 out of the morass that was Somalia with the mission to bring law and order, albeit one based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law. It also was responsible for terrorist attacks including one on this day in 2006 in which six people were killed in Baidoa.
What happened next is vitally important
The ICU morphed into Al Shabaab, an originally Al Qaeda (AQ)-linked terrorist group that has been active since that time. Not only has Al Shabaab killed tens of thousands in Somalia itself, it has carried out attacks in neighbouring Uganda and Kenya. Despite several analyses predicting its death, especially in the wake of the killing of this or that leader, it is still a force of destruction.
It is hard to justify why Ethiopia decided to send in the army into its southern neighbour in 2006. I suppose there is that tendency whenever the country next door is going off the rails and you fear it could spread to your nation. But it never ends well.
It is hard to justify why Ethiopia decided to send in the army into its southern neighbour in 2006.
To my mind there is little doubt that Al Shabaab would not have arisen were it not for that incursion by Ethiopia. Just as AQ would not have appeared on the scene had the Soviets not entered Afghanistan in 1979 or Islamic State (ISIS) been formed had the US not invaded Iraq in 2003.
If these lessons about the downside of military action into other places are not sufficient I don’t know what would be. It is high time to stop this tactic and to stop using the term ‘war on terrorism’.
An End to the War on Terrorism (2018)
This book will discuss what we have collectively done well, what we have done poorly, what we have yet to try and how we get to the point where terrorism does not dominate public discourse and cause disproportionate fear around the world.