May 21, 2011


Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when the former government was toppled by clan militias that later turned on each other. For decades, generals, warlords and warrior types have reduced this once languid coastal country in Eastern Africa to rubble. Somalia remains a raging battle zone today, with jihadists pouring in from overseas, intent on toppling the transitional government.

No amount of outside firepower has brought the country to heel. Not thousands of American Marines in the early 1990s. Not the enormous United Nations mission that followed. Not the Ethiopian Army storming into Somalia in 2006. Not the current African Union peacekeepers, who are steadily wearing out their welcome.
Many Somalis have essentially given up on their government helping them. The country is constantly teetering on the edge of a full-blown famine.

The only time Mogadishu, Somalia’s war-torn capital, was remotely quiet in recent times was for six months in 2006, when an Islamist coalition controlled the city by itself. Today, the most stable part of the country is the breakaway region of Somaliland, which recently held elections and carried out one of the Horn of Africa’s rare peaceful transfers of power, despite little help and a lack of official recognition from the outside world.

Somalia continues to be a caldron of bloodshed, piracy and Islamist radicalism. That volatile mix has spilled over its borders in recent years, but perhaps most intensely in July 2010, when bombings in Kampala, Uganda killed more than 70 civilians and shocked the entire country.
Somali Islamist insurgents — egged on, or possibly aided, by Al Qaeda — claimed responsibility for the attack. There are currently 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in Mogadishu, but they are struggling to beat back the Islamist fighters, who are rallying around a group called the Shabab.
The American Navy has pleaded with ship owners to stick to designated shipping lanes when passing through the Arabian Sea, where Somali pirates strike with impunity, despite the presence of dozens of warships.

In February 2011, Somali pirates killed four American hostages who had been sailing on a yacht through Somalia’s pirate infested seas, one of the deadliest episodes since the modern-day piracy epidemic began several years ago. Officials had believed they were headed for a breakthrough in the four-day standoff, and the tragic conclusion raised questions about the crucial decision to detain the pirate leaders during negotiations.
The death of the four Americans was certain to add momentum to a wide-ranging review the Obama administration is conducting on how to combat the growing threat from bands of Somali pirates.

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