Somalia war in pictures: worst fighting in 18 years

Within the past week, the western-backed Transitional Government of Somalia has lost its Internal Security Minister, a senior police commander and an ambassador. The three men were killed by Islamist insurgents fighting to topple President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

A Somali fighter firing a heavy machine gun in Mogadishu. Prolonged chaos has left Somalia flooded with weapons.

A Somali fighter firing a heavy machine gun in Mogadishu. Prolonged chaos has left Somalia flooded with weapons.

Somali nationals say the fighting in Mogadishu and other parts of the countryside is the worst since the country plunged into chaos back in 1991. Though Somalis are eager for peace, armed groups are getting financial and military support from international players. This is the reason why fighting in Somalia is so brutal. The guilty parties are: The United States, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Gulf Arab states. Minor players include Egypt, Yemen and Libya.

A Somali teenager taking position during heavy fighting between pro-government forces and Islamist militias. In Somalia, armed groups frequently shift their loyalties making it extremely complicated for foreigners to understand the situation.

A Somali teenager taking position during heavy fighting between pro-government forces and Islamist militias. In Somalia, armed groups frequently shift their loyalties making it extremely complicated for foreigners to understand the situation.

Though Kenya supports the Transitional Government, it has not had a major military intervention deep into Somalia. With growing attacks on Somali government officials, Kenyan foreign minister Moses Wetangula said that Kenya will get involved though the depth of involvement has not been clarified.

Bodies of combatants left to rot in the streets. Without a functioning administration, there is nobody to collect and bury the bodies. There are no mortuaries to preserve the bodies.

Bodies of combatants left to rot in the streets. Without a functioning administration, there is nobody to collect and bury the bodies. There are no mortuaries to preserve the bodies.

Needless to say, foreign intervention in Somalia has created more death and misery to a nation that has become synonymous with chaos.

A woman carrying a wounded child to hospital. Civilians have suffered heavy casualties as combatants fire rockets and mortars indiscriminately. Iraq-style roadside bombings and suicide attacks have lately emerged in Somalia. Picture by the Kuwait Times.

A woman carrying a wounded child to hospital. Civilians have suffered heavy casualties as combatants fire rockets and mortars indiscriminately. Iraq-style roadside bombings and suicide attacks have lately emerged in Somalia. Picture by the Kuwait Times.

Somali citizens using public transport vehicles to flee from the escalation of fighting in the capital of Mogadishu.

Somali citizens using public transport vehicles to flee from the escalation of fighting in the capital of Mogadishu.

A US Airforce AC-130 gunship. The US has used this aircraft in its military intervention in Somalia. The AC-130 is an attack version of the popular C-130 transport aircraft.

A US Airforce AC-130 gunship. The US has used this aircraft in its military intervention in Somalia. The AC-130 is an attack version of the popular C-130 transport aircraft.

Kenya has no choice over Al-Shabaab

With fighting raging in Somalia, pirates running amok in the Indian Ocean and the internationally recognized government about to fall, it would appear that the Al Shabaab Islamic movement will soon be having the last laugh.

Mogadishu residents converge around the body of a government soldier who caught fire during intense fighting.

Mogadishu residents converge around the body of a government soldier who caught fire during intense fighting.

Though Kenya is a key backer of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, there is nothing that can be done to save his position. Al-Shabaab is growing from strength to strength capturing territory and key towns in central and southern Somalia. Recently, the Islamic youth group gained significant potency when it joined forces with fighters from the Hizbul al-Islam party. Meanwhile, Somali government soldiers are reportedly suffering from poor morale in the face of inevitable defeat.

Kenya has increased military patrols along its porous border with Somalia. However, with the Somali ethnic group straddling both sides of the border, movement has continued unhindered despite the fact that the border is officially closed. The Somali people move freely as they have family on both sides of the long, desert border. As a measure of how difficult it is for the Kenyan government to secure its borders, one of just a dozen of its Hughes 500 military helicopters crashed last month in unexplained circumstances.

As Kenya joins the United States and Ethiopia in supporting President Sheikh Sharif, the question arises as to how to deal with Al-Shabaab. That is, if anything can be done about the powerful movement.

Al-Shabaab is an offspring of the Union of Islamic Courts, the Islamist organization that created Somali’s first home-grown government in 2006. The United States and Ethiopia accused the Islamists of harbouring Al-Qaeda. In December 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia with US backing and drove the Islamists out of Mogadishu. At the time, Sheikh Sharif was among the Islamists who included Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.

Kenya contributed to the invasion by sealing its border to prevent Islamist fighters from fleeing. Hundreds of Islamist fighters were massacred by Ethiopian and American aircraft as they were stranded at the border points.

Sharif and Aweys fled to Eritrea while the internationally recognized Transitional National Government took over the capital, Mogadishu. However, January 2007 marked the beginning of the worst phase of fighting since Somalia’s collapse in 1991. An Iraq-style insurgency erupted as Al-Shabaab made itself felt for the first time in Somalia. By December 2008, fighting was so bad that the Ethiopians fled the country.

The Transitional government fell into political chaos and somehow, Sheikh Sharif ended up as President. However, by accepting to work in the US-backed Transitional government Sheikh Sharif fell out with Sheikh Aweys, his former ally. Indeed, it is Aweys who is now openly leading Al-Shabaab and Hizbul al Islam in fierce insurgency against the Somali government.

What can Kenya do to stop Al-Shabaab from taking over power in Somalia and declaring the Islamic Republic of Somalia?

The answer is: NOTHING.

Kenya lacks the military capability to engage Al-Shabaab in a long-drawn engagement inside Somalia. Stronger armies including the United States and Ethiopia have not succeeded. Kenya, with 20,000 troops led by a wobbly coalition government, cannot stomach an engagement that could last years. The fact that the Kenya Navy is yet to capture a single Somali pirate just goes to prove our military capabilities.

The safest option is to keep the border closed but this does not work. The border is hundreds of kilometres long across harsh, semi-desert terrain. The local Somali people are very familiar with the territory and are crossing in and out of Kenya despite the “closure.” Though the border was officially closed in December 2006, smuggling of consumer goods, foodstuffs and firearms continues with impunity. Human trafficking has taken root in the area.

By any interpretation, it appears that an Islamic Republic of Somalia is going to become a reality. Somalia will have some measure of Shariah administration, something that the US-backed Transitional government has accepted. The tendency for Somali’s neighbours to sponsor so-called secular movements is the reason why chaos reigns in Somalia.

An Islamic government in Somalia does not necessarily mean that Kenya is under threat. Though Al-Shabaab has threatened to annexe the Somali-dominated North Eastern Province of Kenya, this is unlikely to happen in practice. Somalis have extensive business and family interests in Kenya that they would not wish to disrupt. During the 20 years of chaos that Somalia has experienced, Kenya has provided investment opportunities for Somali business, money that is later ploughed back into Somalia.

An entire generation of young Somalis got their education in Kenya and have come to appreciate Kenyans. In a sense, Kenya has provided Somalis with a place of refuge where they can recuperate from the fighting back home. It has even been reported that Somali fighters and pirates have been seen in Nairobi suburbs taking a much-needed physical and psychological retreat.

From the 2006 experience, it is obvious that only an Islamic leadership will have the capacity to rescue Somalia from anarchy. The world should engage with them in a dialog that will result in an Islamic Somalia at peace with its neighbours. Otherwise, it is futile to continue sponsoring warlords in fighting a losing battle with Islamic militants who are getting bolder by the day.

Emerging Crisis in Ethiopia: A Bush Legacy?

by Scott A Morgan

Most critics of American policy in the Horn of Africa generally focus on the fiasco in Somalia. But recent reports indicate that a key regional ally could possibly be in danger of collapsing.

ogaden

One of the most contested regions in East Africa is the Ogaden Region which lies along the border between Ethiopia and Somalia. The two countries fought a border conflict in 1977 which saw the Soviet Union switch its allegiances from Mogadishu to Addis Ababa. After that conflict, the area became a hotspot in the Cold War.

After the demise of the Soviet Union the governments of Ethiopia and Somalia collapsed. Currently there is a pro-Western Government in Addis Ababa while Somalia lacks a government.

Since the fall of Somali President Siad Barre’s Government in 1991, Ethiopia has sent forces into Somalia on three occasions. On all three occasions the actions were seen to be proxy conflicts on behalf of the United States. The latest incursion in December 2006 had military support from the United States.

The US is concerned about the rise of Somali Islamists ever since the Day of the Rangers in 1993. In that battle 18 members of the US Special Forces were killed trying to apprehend Somali warlord, Mohammed Farah Aideed.

Ever since the controversial decision to prop up the Somali Transitional National Government (TNG), there has been a plethora of problems for Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Obviously the move was not popular with the Islamists in Somalia but that decision also led to rising tensions with Eritrea. Eritrea fought for independence from Ethiopia leading to its independence in 1991. Now tensions are again rising along the border between the Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Eritreans have been attempting to have the UN Mission leave its territory.

The situation in Somalia is not the reason to be concerned with however. The area of concern should be the Ogaden Region of Ethiopia. Although conflict in Ogaden has not garnered major coverage in the international media it has been reported by various online media outlets from the region. According to some outlets, a new series of clashes occurred in March with heavy casualties on both sides. In the past, the Ogaden has been the base of the anti-Zenawi opposition in Ethiopia.

The United States has drafted several pieces of legislation that would tie US military assistance to the human rights climate in Ethiopia. The US should also assist civil society groups trying to promote good governance in Addis Ababa and other areas of Ethiopia. And it should work with Prime Minister Zenawi to promote a free, vibrant and independent media.

Now that there is a change in Washington, maybe that will happen.

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Scott Morgan publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet. It can be found at morganrights.tripod.com
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Uganda, Burundi to leave Somalia

By Scott A Morgan

If reports from East Africa are true then it appears that Ethiopia will not be the only nation pulling its forces out of Somalia. As a matter of fact the AU Mission in Somalia may be on the verge of collapse.

What could be the influence that would have both Uganda and Burundi consider pulling their troops out of the country? The two countries currently have just over 2800 peacekeepers in the country. The mission which has been in Somalia for a year has to this date failed to halt the violence that permeates the country.

The Transitional National Government which attempted to unify Somalia under a centralized administration is limited to its power base and seat of parliament at Baidoa and the war ravaged capital of Mogadishu. The rest of the country is either under the control of militias or have some form of autonomy that has not been challenged. The increase in the acts of piracy this year cannot be overlooked either.

The decision by Uganda to remove its peacekeepers should not be a huge surprise to many. A deadline for the LRA to once again sign a peace accord with the government has expired. Since there was an ultimatum in place who knows what actions will be taken? Also there has been a ratcheting of tensions along the border with the DRC. Tutsi rebels have seized several border towns and outposts in recent days. So it is possible that Kampala needs the boots back home.

The situation in Burundi however appears more stable. There have been some crackdowns against the political opposition this year and there are chances that Burundi could be drawn into the various conflicts that appear to on the verge of erupting in the Great Lakes of Africa.

At this time the African Union is asking for the UN to send a Stabilization Force to the Somalia. Twice before, the UN has attempted to restore order in Somalia and both attempts have failed. So will the third time be the charm for the UN? Could it restore a strong central government in Somalia or should this country be broken up? Time will tell which will be the proper policy.
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The author publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet and comments on US policy towards Africa. Confused Eagle is available at morganrights.tripod.com
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Somalia needs 3 State solution

By Scott A Morgan

The concern that has been shown by various governments including the United States regarding piracy in the Gulf of Aden has merit. But such as in similar crisis situations, it seems that the West and other maritime interests would rather address a symptom of the problem instead of the root cause.

There has not been a functioning government in Somalia since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Needless to say that there is no way to address social and financial problems that the struggling fishermen have. The breakdown in law and order in the country has created a situation where piracy has become a viable means to support families and communities.

So why have the Western and other powers suddenly become galvanized to take action in this situation? Well the numbers just happen to speak for themselves. In this calendar year, over 90 vessels have been seized in the Gulf of Aden. The payment of subsequent ransoms to free the hostages has netted the pirates an estimated US$150 million so far this year. So, several nations have deployed warships in an attempt to interdict this trade.

We have heard that this is an attempt to solve the piracy issue but what about the root cause? There have been several recent reports that indicate that the Transitional National Government (TNG) is on the verge of collapse. Its influence has been degraded to the point that it only maintains power in Mogadishu and Baidoa. If the TFG collapses as many expect, what will be the next course of action?

In early 2009, the breakaway region of Somaliland will hold elections for President and Parliament. This region has had a massive PR campaign to show that it is a stable part of Somalia. The region of Puntland has been aggressively targeting the pirates as well. The Islamists are in control of Southern Somalia meaning the old state of Somalia may not return at all.

If there is a solution that unites the perpetually clan-driven politics of Somalia into a central government, this would be welcome. But it appears that the two year long effort to have the TNG restore a legitimate government to Somalia is failing and could collapse in the near future. It is possible that if the TNG falls then the incidents of piracy could actually increase both in numbers and in the specific search of targets.

Whether or not the TNG fails may not be a bad option. Having three regional governments (Somaliland, Puntland and the Islamist South) with strong central powers and appropriate international backing and/or aid may be something that has to be considered. This could be the impetus for some form of intervention.

Failure to address the problem now could spread it to neighboring states such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Yemen. This will not be a problem that could be easily solved by throwing money at it. Instead, it requires some nation building but on a scale that is yet to be determined.

It appears that the easy answer is to have naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden. But when will the real issue be addressed?

West to blame for Somali piracy

The escalation in piracy attacks by Somali gangs is a consequence of poor judgement exercised by Western powers in replacing an Islamist government with warlords who have no interest in peace.

Unfortunately, the Kenya Navy is missing in action if recent events are any indicator.

The decision to destroy the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in 2006 was backed by the East African nations of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Ethiopia sent its own army to occupy Central Somalia and the capital, Mogadishu.

With the port of Mombasa under threat from Somali pirates, Kenya must be regretting its decision. Then again, the fear of Islam could blind the Kenyan authorities to the realities of Somalia.

By mid 2006, the UIC had won control of central and southern Somalia from clan warlords. A great chunk of Somali territory came under the UIC after joint consultations with respective clan elders. After 16 years of lawlessness, Somalis were finally ready for peace.

After taking over Mogadishu, the UIC began consolidating a home-grown administration. Courts were formed to administer justice and arbitrate between the people. Police forces were set up, checkpoints were abolished altogether. The prices of consumer goods dropped drastically because it was no longer necessary for businessmen to bribe bandits who used to place road blocks at every street corner.

More relevant to this story, the UIC completely stopped sea piracy during its short tenure of office. Piracy in Somalia is controlled by criminal gangs with some affiliation to ethnic militia. These are exactly the kind of groups UIC wanted to stop in order to bring lasting peace to Somali people.

With the end of lawlessness in Somalia, a mini-boom emerged. People returned to long-abandoned suburbs of Mogadishu. Business people living in exile in the Middle East began returning to Somalia. Aid shipments, which had stopped because of rampant piracy perpetrated by warlords, resumed. Rehabilitation works began at the ports of Mogadishu and Kismayu.

Alas, the fear of Islam in the region began taking hold. Kenyans are known to be skeptics but when it comes to Islam, it’s easy to believe anything thrown their way. Kenyans were told that the UIC wanted to conquer the whole East African and create an Islamic Caliphate, where everyone would be forcefully converted to Islam.

The propaganda machine was incredible considering that the UIC did not even manage to control the whole of Somalia. The northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland were still outside the UIC.

UIC, perhaps, made a mistake by getting involved in the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict. By accepting weapons from Eritrea, the UIC drew the wrath of Ethiopia. It was not long before the Ethiopian Army drove into Somalia in December 2006, with the assistance of US intelligence and AC-130 cannon fire.

Needless to say, chaos engulfed Somalia from January 2007. The UIC top command fled to Eritrea as rank and file were annihilated from the air, the ground and the sea. Kenya blocked its borders to fleeing refugees, as suspected UIC fighters were arrested at Ras Kamboni. Many of the detainees were sent to Ethiopia.

The Transitional Federal Government took its time moving into Mogadishu. President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed has always preferred living in Nairobi. The irony of Somali’s Transitional Government is that its President is himself a warlord who declared Puntland a separate state. Inspite of leading the transitional government, the ailing President and his allies have not allowed the transitional government to exercise authority over Puntland.

Now, the interesting part is that most of Somali piracy is centered in Puntland. The region controlled by militia loyal to the Somali president is the same region where pirates are running amok! Is this a coincidence? It is very difficult to understand why the international community does not see the link between piracy in Somalia and the impotence of the transitional government. The Transitional Government is nothing more than a collection of ethnic warlords that have brought Somalia into global notoriety as a failed state. Why anyone expected the same people to unite and bring peace to suffering Somalis remains a mystery.

Now, the chickens have come home to roost for the Western world. Ships are getting attacked almost daily inspite of an armada of naval vessels in the Indian Ocean. Top Western naval commanders have publicly stated that there’s nothing much they can do about piracy without infringing on Somali’s sovereignty.

Kenya is also paying the price for its sins. The latest pirate hijacking took place not far from the port of Mombasa. Unless peace is restored to Somalia, there’s increasing likelihood that Kenya’s coast could be overrun by Somali pirates. Shipping activity to the entire East and Central African region will be paralyzed. Unfortunately, the Kenya Navy is missing in action if recent events are any indicator.

The next best option is to accept the reality of Islamic-led government in Somalia. An Islamic government cannot be a threat to the region because the problems in Somalia require hundreds of years to solve. They will need to rebuild roads, schools, power supply, water systems, judiciary, parliament and the rest of the institutions associated with governance. An Islamic government in Somalia will have neither the time nor resources to create the so-called Caliphate of Horn of Africa.

The Islamists have proved through practical action that they can eradicate piracy, smuggling and drugs trade in Somalia if given the chance. Well, the imposition of Sharia law certainly sends shivers across the Western world but a country that has been in chaos for 17 years needs a radical solution. Western style democracy cannot work in Somalia under the present circumstances of explosions, kidnappings and clan warfare. It’s better to have a strict government than no government at all.

One Somali migrant to Yemen was asked why his people risked crossing the Gulf of Aden only to land in the Middle East’s poorest country. The migrant answered that it is better to live in a poor country with peace than a rich country in chaos.

Blackwater sending ship to Somali coast

By kenyanobserver on October 23, 2008

The recent piracy off the coast of Somalia that resulted in the hijacking of a Ukrainian ship carrying heavy artillery and tanks headed for Kenya has caught the attention of Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial North Carolina based, military contractor.

According to a Forbes article, Blackwater is in the process of assembling a naval fleet. The first ship with a crew of 14, the MV MacArthur, is scheduled to head to the Gulf of Aden sometime before the end of the year. Blackwater is known to provide military support on land and air, so apparently they are now looking for ships should the demand for this service rise.

Blackwater says that they have been contracted by private shippers to provide security and passage through this part of the Indian ocean now known as the most dangerous waterway in the world.

Somali pirates have been operating with impunity off Somali’s coast and have been making with millions of dollars from ransom money. It was just a matter of time before a solution such as this came up. Judging by what we have seen in Iraq, these pirates are in for some very interesting times indeed.

Battle of Mogadishu Rangers remembered

As chaos reigns in Somalia, U.S. Army Rangers of the Regimental Special Troops Battalion conducted a moral run to commemorate the six Rangers who were killed in Mogadishu, Somalia Oct. 3 – 4, 1993.

72 Rangers ran in combat gear, simulating the Mogadishu Mile that was run by American Rangers and Delta Force Soldiers from a helicopter crash site to the Pakistani Stadium during the Battle of Mogadishu Oct. 4, 1993.

During the 1993 Mogadishu mile, the soldiers were originally supposed to take cover by running alongside a convoy of Humvees and armored personnel carriers. When the convoy outpaced them they were forced to run without support and with very little ammunition. No one was wounded on the 48 minute run but the convoy and soldiers on foot were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

Former 3rd Battalion commander, retired Col. Danny McKnight, was the guest speaker at the end of the run. McKnight and his wife Linda began a pilgrimage last month to visit with the families of the six Rangers that were killed 15 years ago.

“I cannot tell you how much it means to me to be here on this day with the Rangers,” said McKnight.

More on this story from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command >>

Somalia war returns to the limelight

Long forgotten by the world, the crisis in Somalia is back in the limelight as Somali pirates hijack dozens of ships, thereby threatening shipping routes in the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, Islamic insurgents have intensified attacks against a US backed government and now control Somalia’s port city of Kismayu. It is feared that renewed fighting will disrupt food supplies to millions of Somalis currently living in camps and ravaged by drought and flooding disasters.

Incidentally, most of the pirate gangs are based in the region of Puntland, controlled by militiamen loyal to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf. Recently, though, pirate activities have spread to the south of the country as violence rages.

Problems in Somalia worsened in December 2006, when the United States decided to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). By mid 2006, the UIC had succeeded in creating a functional government in Somalia for the first time since clan warfare wrecked the country in 1991.

During the short-lived reign of the UIC, piracy in the Indian Ocean almost ceased but with its overthrow, piracy has grown faster than before.

The United States fears that the UIC will create an Islamic caliphate in East Africa. Ethiopia, which is battling a Somali insurgency in its Ogden province, supported the US and sent troops into Somalia. Kenya, which also has a Somali minority, closed its border and arrested dozens of UIC fighters. US and Ethiopian airstrikes destroyed the Islamic Courts militia, forcing the movement underground and its leaders into exile.

This year, the Islamic Al-Shabaab youth group has intensified attacks against President Yusuf and the Ethiopian Army resulting in heavy losses on all sides. A few Ugandan soldiers in the African Union peacekeeping force have died in the fighting. In August, Al-Shabaab recaptured the southern city of Kismayu. Last Tuesday, Al-Shabaab threatened to shoot down any aircraft landing or taking off from Mogadishu Airport. Private airline operators kept off, further undermining the US backed government.

Between 1960 and the 1980s, Somalia was a theatre for proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Somali president at the time, General Mohamed Siad Barre, shifted loyalties between the two powers several times. Somalia is attractive to world powers because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea.

General Barre exploited rivalries between Somali clans to stay in power. By 1990, the countryside was plunged into lawlessness by clan fighting and defections from the Somali Army. General Barre was scorned as, ” the Mayor of Mogadishu.” In 1991, Mogadishu was no longer safe and Barre fled into exile. He died in Nigeria a few years later.

A United Nations intervention ended in 1993 after the UN and the United States got entangled in the complexities of Somali clan politics. Several UN and US soldiers were killed during the intervention. Meanwhile, warlords fought for control of highways, towns, plantations, airports and sea ports.

In 2004, the Somali Transitional government was formed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The transitional government was doomed to fail as it was composed of warlords. President Yusuf himself was a warlord in the self-declared Republic of Puntland, where Somali piracy is centred. Infighting among the warlords prevented the Transitional government from settling in Mogadishu.

Somali warlords are believed be sponsored by multinational companies, regional and international powers eager to influence events in Somalia. The biggest culprits are the Arab world, Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the United States.

Amidst the vacuum, Somali Muslim clerics united under the Union of Islamic Courts. They begin setting up administrative, judicial and security structures in Mogadishu. By 2006, the UIC controlled most of Somalia, except President Yusuf’s Puntland and the northern breakaway region of Somaliland.

For the first time in 15 years, the Somali people had a real chance of peace under a stable government with popular legitimacy. Unfortunately, the US war on terror crushed those hopes. The US accused the Islamic Courts government of sheltering terror suspects, and of having an expansionist agenda. Since the overthrow of the Islamic Courts, fighting in Somalia assumed a fresh intensity never seen since 1991.

As long as the Somali crisis was confined to the people of Somalia, the world could continue with business as usual. With Somalis now attacking ships and capturing hundreds of sailors from across the world, this may be the time to talk with the Union of Islamic Courts.

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