November 02, 2010

Quick Take: Looming Crisis Scenarios in Somalia

Over the weekend, the Somali radical Islamist group al Shabaab, which has a relationship with al Qaeda, announced the formation of a new battalion of militants to fight in Mogadishu. The group named the new brigade after an al Qaeda commander, Sheikh Mustafa Abu Yazid, better known as Sheikh Saeed al Masri, who was killed in a May drone strike in Pakistan. The new battalion increases the threat that al Shabaab poses to the very existence of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu.

An ongoing offensive waged by al Shabaab challenges the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers’ positions in Mogadishu. The TFG does not have the military strength to defend itself. Al Shabaab militants have come close to gaining control of the major supply route in the city, which would isolate the TFG from AMISOM headquarters. Neither the TFG nor AMISOM have been able to fully secure territory­—a suicide bomber penetrated Villa Somalia on September 20. The fall of the TFG would allow al Shabaab to claim control of Somalia’s capital.

The prospect of al Shabaab taking control of Mogadishu is alarming. It requires a much more careful examination of Western policies in the region than those policies have received. More importantly, however, possible military exigencies on the ground may lead to urgent requests for external military assistance. These requests would force decisions to be made at short notice, thereby increasing the likelihood that a U.S. response would be merely tactical, rather than strategic.

The Critical Threats Project examines some of the most likely scenarios that would require a rapid response from the U.S. in a new article, “Looking Ahead in Mogadishu: Tough Decisions.”