Gideon Rachman: Somali lessons for Afghanistan





[Gideon Rachman is chief foreign affairs commentator at the Financial Times.]

Whenever western leaders ask themselves the question, why are we in Afghanistan, they come up with essentially the same reply – “To prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state and a haven for terrorists.” Until Afghanistan is stable, so the argument goes, we cannot risk withdrawal.

Yet there is very little evidence that Afghanistan is becoming more stable. On the contrary, the fighting is intensifying, casualties are mounting and the Taliban is becoming more confident.

So perhaps it is time to rephrase the question. Rather than asking, “Why are we in Afghanistan?”, we should ask, “If we are in Afghanistan, why are we not also in Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan?” All three countries are now plausible bases for potential terrorists.

Somalia, in particular, looks increasingly like Afghanistan before 2001. It is an almost completely failed state and western nationals are known to be undergoing terrorist training there. Somalia’s central government controls little more than a few blocks around the presidential palace in Mogadishu and the airport. The rest of the country is home to a radical Islamist insurgency, as well as to pirate fleets that prey on international shipping. Somalia is also exporting terrorism to its neighbours, as a recent deadly bombing in Uganda has illustrated.

Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia and lies across the sea from Somalia, is also attracting increasing concern from western intelligence agencies. And it has long been known that the remnants of al-Qaeda’s leadership are now based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The west is fighting a war on terrorism in Afghanistan. But the terrorists are somewhere else. Meanwhile, our ability to combat threats around the world is sapped by the huge drain on resources caused by the Afghan war.

This observation leads in two possible directions...


comments powered by Disqus