Friday, December 29, 2006
only so long fake thugs can pretend:
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross might want to take some remedial reading-comprehension classes. Matt and I are not, contra DGR, "question(ing) whether the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) -- the radical group that Ethiopia is currently battling in Somalia -- is really linked to terrorism." There are lots of jihadist entities in Somalia. But the issue for the United States is not terrorism, the issue is al-Qaeda. (And remember, when I use "al-Qaeda," I mean the broad bin-Ladenist movement.) Speaking strategically, the question is whether the ICU is in bed with al-Qaeda right now or whether Somalia under the ICU will in the future develop into some sort of sponsored haven for al-Qaeda.

As I wrote in my original post, the evidence for the right-now scenario is murky at best. Perhaps within the intelligence community or the military better evidence will emerge that establishes a direct connection. Indeed, Aweys, the nominal leader of the ICU, strikes me as perhaps the most direct evidence of a connection, making it all the more significant that no one in the administration or, to my knowledge, the IC is making Aweys the issue.

But DGR presents a fusillade of conflations and circumstantial evidence passing as a definitive answer to the right-now question. For instance, on the matter of al-Sudani, Nabhan and Mohammed, who were involved in the 1998 embassy bombings:
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, members of al-Qaeda's Somali cell, had returned to Somalia. They were financed by Sudanese al-Qaeda operative Tariq Abdullah (a.k.a. Abu Talha al-Sudani), who operated between Somalia and the UAE. Mohammed and Nabhan were involved in preparations for the 1998 embassy bombings, and masterminded the November 2002 Mombasa attack on the Paradise Hotel. They were aided in the Mombasa attack by Somali associates Suleiman Ahmed Hemed Salim (a.k.a. Issa Tanzania, captured in April 2003), and Issa Osman Issa. After the attacks, the group returned to Somalia. The ICG report notes that "[t]he members of al-Qaeda's Somalia cell are today among the most wanted fugitives on the planet."
Does it really need to be said that the presence of these guys in Somalia is not evidence of ICU partnership with al-Qaeda? Somalia before the ICU was for all intents and purposes chaos. To the best of my knowledge, these three returned to Somalia before there even was an ICU. This International Crisis Group report cited by DGR is rather informative about the presence of jihadists in Somalia. What it does not do by any stretch is establish a connection between al-Qaeda and the ICU. Is this so difficult to comprehend?

Again: perhaps further, more definitive evidence will arise settling the right-now question. It certainly wouldn't surprise me that the ICU would function in this manner. The issue is precision, which is badly lacking on this question -- and without precision, we can expect a morass of poor judgment and improper decision-making. And where might we have seen that before?
--Spencer Ackerman