By now, you've read the WikiLeaked headlines, illuminating the inner workings of U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, or detailing the intractable regimes in Iran and North Korea. But what does Cablegate have to say about the world's forgotten conflicts -- the dimmer outposts of U.S. influence where Washington arguably has even bigger messes to confront? FP went through the archives with an eye to our 2010 Failed States issue to see what light the cables shed on these benighted places -- and whether the cables themselves may disrupt the often delicate balancing act of diplomacy. Here's what we found going down the rankings:
What we know: As far as countries' governance goes, Somalia is the world's closest approximation to anarchy. In recent years, the United States and its regional allies Kenya and Ethiopia have begun to fear that al Qaeda will take advantage of the lawlessness to establish safe havens to train foreign fighters and carry out terrorist attacks. There's some proof that this is happening; members of the Somali Islamist militant group al Shabab publicly allied themselves with the terror network earlier this year. The group also claimed responsibility for a bombing in Uganda during the World Cup -- the first al Shabab attack outside Somalia's borders.
What we learn: The leaked cables regarding Somalia betray U.S. skepticism that foreign fighters are infiltrating the country, as they have Iraq and Afghanistan. While some foreigners are reported to have been spotted here and there, most of them come from the Somali diaspora. As an Aug. 9, 2009, cable from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi notes, "Beyond the public support from al-Qa'ida videos encouraging foreign fighters to travel to Somalia, there is scant evidence of significant direct al-Qa'ida financial or military support for extremists in Somalia, or a foreign fighter pipeline from Iraq or Afghanistan."
Perhaps even more interesting for Somalia watchers is a June 9, 2009, cable that describes the country's conflict as a largely clan-against-clan turf war rather than a political or ideological struggle. This explanation conflicts with other popular accounts of the crisis, which tend to focus on religious extremism combined with the potent quest for wealth and security.
All this is not to say, however, that the U.S. government doesn't think terrorists operate in Somalia; they're just homegrown. In recent years, the United States has used intermittent airstrikes to take out the most notorious among them. For example, alleged terrorist Aden Hashi Ayrow, who was apparently referred to as "Somalia's Zarqawi" by some extremists, was killed by a drone strike on June 1, 2009, a cable explains.
The curveball: In an attempt to shore up Somalia's transitional government, the African Union and the United Nations sent peacekeepers to Mogadishu in 2007. The troops have struggled enormously, in part because there's no peace to keep, but also because there aren't enough of them to maintain an effective security presence. Countries have been extremely reluctant to send their soldiers into what is largely believed (even in the region) to be a deathtrap. The president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure, offered a glimpse of the troops he'd pulled together for the mission in a meeting with the U.S. head of its African military command, recounted in a Dec. 1, 2009, cable: "ten or so of the former rebels, 'since they like to fight so much' [the president said,] are being sent off to support the African Union Mission in Somalia."
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