Journal: Somalia, Special Operations, and Soft Power Not Present

Information Operations, Stabilization & Reconstruction

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SOF Targets and Soft Targets

Austin Bay

September 16, 2009

When American special operations forces (SOF) operating in Somalia killed a terrorist mastermind this past week, media reports focused on the drama and the bombast.

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Somalia is arguably the planet’s foremost “failed state,” with the Democratic Republic of Congo its basket-case competitor. Ethiopia and the African Union support Somalia’s Transitional National Government (TNG). The AU has a small peacekeeping force in Mogadishu (led by contingents from Uganda and Burundi), allegedly protecting the weak TNG. Al Shabab draws ideological support from al-Qaida but the nation of Eritrea supplies weapons and training. Eritrea and Ethiopia are fighting a proxy war in Somalia, an extension of their own unresolved border conflict. This war provides toxic fuel for the shadow war of terrorists, clans, pirates and SOF.

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The Somali people, however, are the real soft targets, and al-Qaida and its affiliate Al Shabab have no compunction about using them as sacrificial pawns and human shields.

Phi Beta Iota: The gap between those with power and those with knowledge is filled by those without either power or knowledge in the fullest possible sense.  Loyalty is substituted for professional judgement, and orders down are accepted as a substitute for knowledge up.  We cannot occupy the planet, although we have given it a good shot–as Winston Churchill likes to say, “The Americans always do the right thing–they just try everything else first.”  So many books, such as William Shawcross, Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict (2001), make it quite clear that neither force nor assistance alone can stabilize a failed state–the two together actually prolong the conflict and create black margets within which terrorism and crime thrive.  Somalia will remain a political, socio-economic, and ideo-cultural disaster zone for decades, not because it is a failed state, but because the USA has failed as a state and is incapable of doing Whole of Government and multinational multifunctional operations that create a prosperous world at peace.