Al Qaeda in Full-Blown Offensive to Capture West African “Waziristan”
Barack Obama‘s running mate, Senator Joe Biden, was over-optimistic when he predicted that the incoming US president would be tested in the first six months of his tenure. Al Qaeda did not even wait for his election.
Already, Osama bin Laden‘s jihadists and allies are in full swing to capture all of Somalia, the Muslim sections of Ethiopia, the Somali tribal lands of South Kenya and the Muslim regions of Uganda and Burundi. They are carving out a geographic strip of 50,000 sq. km. – 4.5 times the area of North and South Waziristan, the al Qaeda-Taliban sanctuary belt on the Pakistan-Afghan border – and designed for the same purpose.
They have lost no time in setting up in captured territory a jihadist version of the US Army’s Sunni Awakening Councils which helped defeat al Qaeda in Iraq, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources report. The newly-armed local militias have seized control of most of the highway arteries running through Somalia, West Ethiopia, southwest Kenya and southern Uganda. Bustling convoys are transporting quantities of explosives and arms for distribution among local forces willing to join up with al Qaeda and fight American and any other pro-Western forces.
Kenya begins to clamp down
Kenya intelligence reports that the fresh flare-up of violence between the Murule and Gharri clans in Mandera, where most of the population is ethnic Somali with close ties to kinship groups across the border in Somalia, was triggered by the arms and funding brought in by Somali clans aligned with al Qaeda and the extremist al Shabaab movement.
In the third week of October, Kenyan police and army began a large-scale operation in Mandera, where clan warfare had become a threat to national security.
In mid-October, Uganda declared a military alert in Kampala and other towns, following a US intelligence tip-off that al Qaeda was preparing large-scale terrorist attacks there to overthrow central government. Roadblocks and armed checkpoints were thrown up on main highways.
Burundi in central Africa is similarly beleaguered.
This most ambitious al Qaeda offensive in West Africa is being run by Harun Fazul (Fazul Abdullah Muhammad), the master terrorist badly wanted for years for masterminding the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 and subsequent terrorist exploits.
An ethnic Egyptian, Fazul is rated one of al Qaeda’s most gifted tacticians.
His first objective in the current offensive, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror experts, is to knock out the two Ethiopian divisions of 55,000 men and the 3,000-strong Ugandan and Burundi peacekeepers propping up Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, before Barack Obama moves into the White House in January, 2009.
A fait accompli for the new US president
Fazul means to install the al-Qaeda backed Islamic Courts opposition in Mogadishu and other Somali towns as a fait accompli for the new American president.
If he pulls it off, he will have won his spurs as the “Abu Musab a Zarqawi” (the al Qaeda strongman of Iraq who was killed by the Americans two years ago) of East and Central Africa and confronted the new US president with a third warfront after five years of fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This front is uncomfortably close to key US and Western oil shipping lanes through the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea and sits on the back doors of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Playing in Al Qaeda’s favor are the global economic crisis and the famine raging in the Horn of Africa and its neglect by the West.
The Ethiopian ruler Meles Zenawi, with 10 million of his 80 million population facing starvation, cannot afford, any more than the rulers of Uganda and Burundi, to maintain large-scale forces in Somalia, least of all for mounting counter-offensives against al Qaeda. The United States and Europe too lack the funds for new military expeditions to stop al Qaeda.
Indeed, the Ethiopian troops who in early 2008 lost to al Qaeda the southern port of Kismayo, near the Somali and Kenya borders, are held back by lack of money from regrouping and recapturing the strategic port. Al Qaeda is therefore safely ensconced in its valuable acquisition, an Indian Ocean deep-water port.
Our military sources report that the Ethiopian divisions are barely functioning because of shortage of funds and poor logistics. Tanks and vehicles are grounded for lack of spare parts, fuel and oil and reduced food rations are too meager to keep an army in fighting shape.
Ethiopian pullback begins
The Ethiopian units have therefore pulled back to Mogadishu and the two military air fields of Lower Shabili in central Somalia and Bradley in the southwest. Restricted to defensive mode in these pockets, the Ethiopians are increasingly battered by al Qaeda forces and forced to fall back.
The military stakes are weighty enough for Zenawi to begin considering withdrawing the Ethiopian army from Somalia. He recently promised parliament in Addis Ababa that his decision would be a purely Ethiopian one, meaning that Washington would not be given a say.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Horn of Africa sources say that if the Ethiopians quit, so will the African peacekeepers and Somali will fall into the hands of the Islamic Courts and Al Qaeda.
Fazul will have succeeded in the main part of his scheme for the seizure of the Horn of Africa.
According to our intelligence sources, two revealing documents found in southern Somalia near the Kenya border reached Washington this week. They were left behind by an al Qaeda force when it ran away in fear of being bombed or raided by American special forces.
Both are unsigned and carry the same message. These passages appear under the heading: Strategic Assessment for the Horn of Africa:
“After centuries of Christian attacks on Muslims in the Horn of Africa, for the first time a historic opportunity is presented for a counter-offensive to conquer all of Somalia and start cutting away Muslim territories from Ethiopia… starting with the Ogaden desert and moving onto the Oromia region… In this way sections of Ethiopia can be integrated in western Somalia.”
It must have been clear that urgent decisions cannot be avoided when the East African Somali crisis came before the Bush administration’s national security council and the national security transitional team of president-elect Barack Obama. He was updated Thursday, Nov. 6 in his first White House intelligence briefing.
Recurring shades of “Blackhawk Down” in Mogadishu
The president-designate will have to overcome a tough dilemma before sending US troops to Somalia, namely, the traumatic memory of the biggest military humiliation suffered by the last Democratic president before him. In 1993, Bill Clinton saw al Qaeda beat US troops in the Black Hole of Mogadishu (the subject of the epic work Blackhawk Down). He was then forced to pull defeated American troops out of Somalia, just as the Ethiopian ruler Zenawi will have to now.
Most likely Obama, like Bush today, will be extremely reluctant to put American forces back into the Somali quagmire. But the alternative is also pretty painful. If the crisis is allowed to slide into free fall, Obama may find that his swearing-in ceremony on January 20, 2009 takes place against the jarring strains of an al Qaeda-backed regime’s inauguration in Mogadishu, at the peak of Osama in Laden’s conquest of the Horn of Africa.
It will be interesting to see if Obama’s decisions on Somalia are complicated by his being the first US president with African antecedents and his close kinship ties in Kenya, which is acutely menaced by al Qaeda’s conquering advances.
The jihadists are not offering days of grace. They released a statement upon his election win Wednesday, Nov. 5, the gist of which is this: It makes no difference to us if the elected president is black or white. He is the president of the USA and as such al Qaeda’s enemy. For us, Barack Obama is an especially bad choice because he is a Muslim who abandoned the faith. This makes him worse than a non-believer because the punishment decreed for apostates is instant death.