We're Winning in Somalia

With a little more donor support, international forces can help drive al-Shabab out of Mogadishu.

In the early hours of a June day, a black Toyota four-by-four tried to run a checkpoint manned by Somali government forces in the capital of Mogadishu. The soldiers opened fire on the vehicle, and a brief firefight ensued; when the dust settled, it soon became clear that the Somali troops had killed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was both a founder of the Somali extremist group al-Shabab and the leader of al Qaeda in Somalia.

This success represents a stark reminder to us all that the African Union's mission in this benighted country is of immediate consequence to the security of the whole world. What's more, it reflects a fundamental, and often overlooked, truth: Slowly but surely, we are bringing security to the Somali people.

For too long, Somalia has been synonymous in the international lexicon with "lost cause." This image, however, is woefully out of date. Recent battlefield successes by joint African Union and Somali government forces have fundamentally changed the picture in Mogadishu. For the first time in two decades, there is now a real opportunity to restore security and calm to the city's long-suffering population. It could quickly unravel, however, unless backers of our efforts step up their support -- and soon.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has 9,000 troops serving in Mogadishu in support of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Our forces have been deployed in Somalia with support from the United Nations since 2007 -- longer than any other international assistance mission in Somalia. In recent months, these troops have taken much ground from the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab, which seeks to overthrow the internationally recognized government and impose its radical Islamist ideology on the Somali people.

Our efforts to defeat al-Shabab have gained momentum throughout the past year. In February, Somali government forces supported by AMISOM troops seized control of key positions in northwest Mogadishu, including the former Defense Ministry, which had served as the extremists' main logistical and operational base in the city.

In May, AMISOM again supported government forces in an operation to drive al-Shabab out of western Mogadishu by consolidating our hold on Hodan district and squeezing the extremists out of Bakara Market, the city's commercial hub. The operation has already resulted in the capture of the Damanyo Military Camp in the west and Wadnaha Road on the southern fringe of Bakara Market, which had long been closed to civilian traffic by the insurgents.

The impact of these operations cannot be overstated. With the joint force on the verge of securing Bakara Market, we will soon sever this source of illegal revenue for the extremists. Bakara sees sales of millions of dollars per month and therefore represents a major financial stronghold for the insurgents. Once the operation has accomplished its objectives, the roads will be reopened to civilians, increasing the flow of goods and traders to Bakara Market and facilitating the return of some measure of normalcy to many parts of the city.

These gains are part of a steady advance our forces have been making since last summer. At that time, we controlled only a small portion of Mogadishu, situated around the airport and seaport -- journalists regularly referred to the areas under our control as "a few square blocks." We now effectively control two-thirds of the city -- some 16 square miles -- with more than two dozen security outposts scattered throughout the city. More importantly, this has created a relatively safe haven for 80 percent of the estimated 2 million people who live in Mogadishu's southwestern neighborhoods.

Our expanding presence has pushed al-Shabab out of much of Mogadishu. By the end of the summer, 3,000 more AMISOM troops will be joining those already in Somalia, following last year's decision by the U.N. Security Council to authorize an increase in our troop strength. The Somali Army, which is also steadily gaining strength and effectiveness, has also launched an offensive against the militants in the southern regions of the country, forcing the extremists to divert their resources from the city to the hinterland.

As the push to secure Mogadishu continues, AMISOM must prove that it can not only drive out the extremists, but that it can deliver the fruits of peace to the Somali people. To this end, we provide free medical care to more than 12,000 people every month at two AMISOM hospitals in Mogadishu. Our troops also provide over 60,000 liters of safe drinking water per day to civilians living near the AMISOM camps. Admittedly, these efforts aren't nearly enough, but the potential for more humanitarian initiatives -- by both AMISOM and international agencies -- is increasing as more and more territory falls under the authority of the Somali government.

Working with the Somali government, AMISOM will soon take on a number of new projects in Mogadishu. AMISOM will continue to determinedly extend the area that the Somali government controls, enabling other organizations to deliver the emergency aid needed in this time of crisis. Despite AMISOM's limited mandate and resources, we are providing emergency medical assistance to tackle a measles outbreak in a camp of displaced Somalis that has sprung up near the airport. Meanwhile, our police component has established a training program, which has offered instruction to nearly 3,000 Somali police officers, and our political division remains hard at work on training the nascent Somali civil service, and the difficult tasks surrounding the burgeoning peace process.

In the coming months, AMISOM's troop strength will reach 12,000. Burundi and Uganda, currently the mission's main troop contributors, plan to deploy yet more forces. Other African countries, including Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Djibouti have also pledged troops. But this is not enough. We hope the United Nations will in time agree to the African Union's proposal to further expand the AMISOM troop ceiling to 20,000, which our ground commanders say is necessary to drive the extremists out of Somalia.

AMISOM forces, of course, simply could not operate in Somalia without the array of resources of the United Nations and bilateral supporters. The mission, however, is still lacking in a number of areas. We have no combat aircraft; in particular, we need helicopters to support our forces on the ground as they advance. We also need a sophisticated mortar radar system that would help us more accurately target the insurgents, who routinely use innocent Somalis as human shields. Such a system would minimize the risk of inadvertently harming the civilian population. NATO routinely deploys these systems whenever its forces are active in similar theaters, such as Afghanistan.

At some point, we also hope countries with more advanced militaries that support our mission will take it upon themselves to establish a naval blockade and a no-fly zone over Somalia. These requests were contained in the African Union's proposals forwarded to the U.N. Security Council in October 2010, but the council has yet to take a decision on the matter.

Virtually everything we do at AMISOM revolves around donor support. If that support were to stall now, amid our biggest gains to date, the results for Somalia would be disastrous. The extremists, now on the brink of defeat, would regroup and renew their campaign of terror -- not just in Somalia, but as they have shown, across the region and potentially the globe. Somalis in the newly liberated areas of Mogadishu would suffer further from a lack of basic aid. Recurrent challenges, like the ongoing drought, would take an even harsher toll on the country. And the best chance Somalia has had in a generation of stabilizing and building toward a positive future would slip away.



Breivik's Swamp

Was the Oslo killer radicalized by what he read online?

We hope, and perhaps need, a man who would gun down teenagers in cold blood to be mad. How could a man who is not insane carry out such heinous acts? What possible justification could make anyone act so barbarously? And yet all around the world when others have carried out atrocities of similar horror -- from the genocidaires of Rwanda to the al Qaeda butchers of Baghdad -- those of us lucky enough to live in the safe and comfortable global north have asked -- what made them do it? Their political ideology? Their interpretation of their religion? Calling them mad is not enough.

So when Anders Behring Breivik says that his killing spree on Friday, July 22, was "gruesome but necessary" -- as he reportedly told his lawyer -- we must not just dismiss him as mad, but ask why he thinks so. Having left a 1,500-page manifesto and a YouTube video -- all conveniently in serviceable English for the international audience -- he clearly wants to be understood.

To do so requires an appreciation of a transatlantic movement that often calls itself "the counter-jihad." As his writings indicate, Breivik is clearly a product of this predominantly web-based community of anti-Muslim, anti-government, and anti-immigration bloggers, writers, and activists -- no matter how much the movement's leading lights may deny this and denounce his actions.

Many of the first articles in the international media trying to understand Breivik called him a far-right extremist. While this is perhaps true in the widest sense, the label confuses more than it explains. The postwar European far-right has tended to be neo-Nazi and fascist. Most of these groups, be they political parties in some countries or barely organized football hooligans in others, have on the whole shared an obsession with Jews as the evil "other," and the connections and cross-fertilization between European fascists and the North American far-right in its various forms -- from the Christian Identity movement to right-wing militias to some so-called paleoconservatives -- has long been well documented and understood.

In contrast, the counter-jihad movement defines itself in part in opposition to neo-Nazis, indeed taking great pains to attempt to show that the Nazis were "socialists." This is taken to rather silly lengths where modern European social democrats (and even U.S. President Barack Obama and American Democrats) are called "socialists" alongside other "socialists" like Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Marx, and -- of course -- Hitler. Breivik's manifesto reproduces in full an essay by a well-known Norwegian counter-jihad writer called only "Fjordman" that argues that socialists and Nazis are one. This may seem ridiculous to anyone with a grasp of modern world history, but clearly was very important in leading Breivik to target a youth camp of the Norwegian Labour Party.

The opposition to neo-Nazism is most visible in the counter-jihad's overt philo-Semitism. This takes the form of a strong defense of Israel and the policies of Israeli right-wing parties, including the denial of there being "occupied territories" -- only Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the West Bank. This has led to the inclusion in the counter-jihad movement of various hawkish American voices, both Jewish -- for example, Daniel Pipes -- and some Christian evangelicals. And whereas anti-Semitism is banished, it has been replaced with a rabid fear of Islam and of Muslims. Nevertheless, by focusing on the religion and culture of European Muslims being a threat, along with its proud philo-Semitism, the movement deems itself to be non-racist.

If there is an intellectual inspiration for the counter-jihad, it has been provided by the work of British-Swiss "historian" Bat Ye'or, who argues in a 2005 book and elsewhere that we are witnessing the gradual and willful takeover of Europe by Islam -- the "Eurabia" thesis. Breivik cites Ye'or's work dozens of times in his manifesto.

The Eurabia plan, Ye'or contends, originated with French leaders in the 1950s as a way to create an axis between Europe and the Arab world to counterbalance the United States and the Soviet Union. The creation of the European Union is supposedly at the heart of this scheme; the method: allowing the mass migration of Muslims into Europe to change the demographic balance. Hence counter-jihadists like Breivik see Muslim immigration to Europe as part of a jihad against the West.

Ye'or's acolytes see this "invasion" as not only condoned but actively encouraged by European political and cultural elites -- who either want or are too naive to see the "Islamization" of Europe. This, therefore, is a Manichaean conflict between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds, with counter-jihad voices continually stating that there can be no accommodation between the two. Victory or submission are the only possible outcomes. If one was to take this proposition seriously, both Breivik's "logic" of targeting the ruling Norwegian Labour Party and the ferocity of his assault begins to make some sense.

The counter-jihad began in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as a collection of bloggers concerned about jihadi terrorism aimed at the West. With the bombings in Madrid and London, among numerous other plots and attacks in Europe (and to a lesser extent in North America), along with the political divisions caused by the Iraq war, the thesis became more widely known and influential on the Internet. One leading blogger of the counter-jihad has described the movement as a network of networks, perhaps ironically echoing many counterterrorism experts' description of al Qaeda.

This makes its hard to write a formal history of the inherently nebulous movement, but one important date is October 2007, when an early gathering of various activists took place in Brussels called "Counter Jihad 2007." Some of the meetings were inside the European Parliament -- the very belly of the purported Eurabian beast -- because the rooms could be booked by their hosts, the Belgian right-wing political party Vlaams Belang (VB). VB's main focus is on the secession of Flanders from Belgium, but it is also very skeptical of the EU and of anti-Muslim immigration.

Other conferences have followed and from them new networks have emerged, including SIOE and SIOA. The organization SIOA (Stop Islamization of America) has in particular become very prominent, organizing the protest rallies against the so called "Ground Zero Mosque." A meeting was meant to have taken place this month in Strasbourg, bringing together both European and American counter-jihad supporters, although it was canceled at the last moment for reasons that are currently still contested. But the 2007 meeting remains noteworthy, as it indicates the impact of the counter-jihad rhetoric and thinking on European populist-right politics.

Populist right-wing politicians across Europe have echoed many of the anti-Islamization themes of the counter-jihad -- most notably Geert Wilders and the Party of Freedom in the Netherlands -- but the influence is also particularly clear to see across the Nordic region. Stopping Muslim immigration and criticizing Muslim immigrants for insufficient integration has become a winning political issue, up to a point, for the Norwegian Progress Party (of which Breivik was once a member), the Danish People's Party, the Sweden Democrats, and the True Finns. In that sense, Breivik is just one terrible extreme of a discontent with social change felt across all the Nordic social democracies.

Having watched the counter-jihad develop for more than five years, I had always thought that its most negative impact would be on community cohesion within multicultural European countries. For example, alongside their support for populist-right anti-immigrant parties, the counter-jihadists have cheered the development of anti-Muslim street movements like the English Defence League that have provoked trouble in European cities, turning from protests into riots and requiring huge policing efforts.

The counter-jihad flirts with violent imagery, but I did not expect that anyone would commit a massacre on the scale of what Breivik has just done. Nor, I am sure, did most of the counter-jihadists. Still, the movement has some serious soul-searching to do. The numerous bloggers and activists of the counter-jihad may not call for direct violence, but they have painted a picture of a world where conflict with both immigrants and Europe's supposed multicultural elite is inevitable. In that sense, they may not have given Breivik his orders, but they paved the road down which he chose to walk.

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