Terrorism: The Next 10 Years

Al Shabaab fighters in Somalia. Image via Somalia Report.

Nine Eleven turned ten. Bin Laden is dead. We still get the occasional somebody's-about-to-bomb-us scare, but the international storyline is generally that Al Qaeda is in decline and increasingly out of touch with the Arab mainstream.

That's the good news. That bad news is that in the coming decade, our biggest threats are likely to be as opaque to us now as Bin Laden was to us then. Just as nearly none of us could pronounce Qaeda ten years ago, the global actors most likely to produce tomorrow's terrorist attacks are, once again, flying under the radar.

So now that we've made it through yet another 9/11 anniversary, allow us to introduce you to a name you should know. Three names, actually, all of which belong to the same man: Indha Hadde. White Eyes. Or, as he's officially known, Gen. Yusuf Mohamed Siad.

Siad has gotten a lot of press this week, for understandable reasons: he's a former warlord, alleged murderer, suspected drug trafficker, and terrorist sympathizer who has become the latest American proxy in Somalia -- world's most dangerous failed state and home to Al-Shabaab, the group most likely to succeed Al-Qaeda as our next big terrorist threat. Here's how the Nation describes Adde/Siad:

Perhaps more than any other figure, Indha Adde embodies the mind-boggling constellation of allegiances and double-crosses that has marked Somalia since its last stable government fell in 1991. And his current role encapsulates the contradictions of the country’s present: he is a warlord who believes in Sharia law, is friendly with the CIA, and takes money and weapons from AMISOM [the US-sponsored African Union force that currently occupies large swaths of Mogadishu]. There are large parts of Mogadishu that are not accessible without his permission, and he controls one of the largest militias and possesses more technicals (truck-mounted heavy automatic weapons) in the city than any other warlord.

Siad's maraudings in the 1990s earned him a gruesome nickname -- "the butcher" -- and he's still bragging about how much CIA money he turned down to help fight on the side of Shabaab. He tells the Nation he thought Bin Laden was "a good man."

As The Diplomat points out, the embrace of warlords like Siad is part of a larger U.S. strategy that was recently on display in Libya. The fall of Tripoli, the magazine says, offers a hint of how American interventionism is likely to change over the next few years:

It’s called ‘offshore balancing,’ and it’s an approach meant to minimize long-term deployments of large ground armies by emphasizing air and naval forces working in conjunction with local and regional ‘proxy’ armies. In coming years, offshore balancing could guide the United States’ interventions in world crises, particularly in the Asia-Pacific . . .

For advocates of the strategy, there are reasons for hope. US offshore balancing in Somalia came together gradually, almost by accident, as separate interventions chased the converging problems of famine, terrorism and piracy. Today, this increasingly unified US effort seems to finally be bearing fruit, as American-supported foreign armies rapidly gain ground against al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist fighters.

Well, that's one way of looking at it. But at what cost? For starters, the Obama administration is making some ugly bedfellows. And Siad isn't the only one. Earlier this month, the New York Times and others reported on another of the U.S.'s proxies in Somalia: an American contracting outfit called Bancroft Global Development that runs a Blackwater-like mercenary force, powered by State Department cash, to "advise" African Union troops. The Bancroft mercs are run in-country by a notorious soldier-for-hire named Richard Rouget, whom the Times quotes thusly:

“Give me some technicals” — a term for heavily armed pickup trucks — “and some savages and I’m happy,” he joked.

Great. So while U.S. troops begin to roll home from Afghanistan, the U.S. expands a covert war in hostile territory, via unmanned drones, piles of cash, and thuggish douchebags. It doesn't take a history degree to wonder whether we're taking the first steps in creating a primordial ooze of guns, thugs, and lawlessness that could come back to haunt us in unexpected ways.

Such as? Here, look at this. The-Diplomat points to danger-zone reporter Robert Young Pelton's online news startup Somalia Report, which has shown that "under-paid [African Union] peacekeepers routinely sell US-supplied weapons and ammo to intermediaries who then sell it to Al Shabab, allegedly providing the majority of Al Shabab’s arms, in some categories. ‘The UN’s own records confirm this,’ Pelton writes. ‘An RPG captured from Al Shabab was analysed and determined to have been delivered by DynCorp to the Ministry of Defense in Uganda.’ "

That's right: Somali terrorists are already using U.S.-bought weapons against us -- or at least against the UN.

And that's part of a catch-22 cycle that's seeing American contractors streaming into Mogadishu in search of a payday. On September 10, Somalia Report published the first in a series of investigative reports into the new sector, declaring "Somalia could be the perfect paradise for contractors due to the State Department's policy of 'We do not want an American foot print or boot on the ground' " -- adding, as if we needed reminding, that the country is also "the perfect storm of terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, famine, destroyed infrastructure, and piracy with a geo-strategic position in the Horn of Africa."

Welcome to the rest of your decade.

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