Saturday, March 14, 2009

Are Somali pirates helping al-Qaeda?

This past week the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency appeared before the Senate Armed Forces committee to provide an assessment of threats facing the United States. Lieutenant General Michael Maples' testimony received notice as he discussed Iran's nuclear capabilities and the various other ongoing threats, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. But within his statements was a small commentary on Somalia that has been overlooked by many, though it's ramifications are potentially far-reaching.

Lt. Gen. Maples touched upon the links between the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab and the more well-known al-Qaeda, stating that, "Recent propaganda from both al-Qaeda and the Somalia-base terrorist group al-Shabaab highlighting their shared ideology suggests a formal merger announcement is forthcoming."

Such an alliance would allow al-Qaeda to gain a more concrete base of operations in East Africa, within the territory that al-Shabaab already controls in the southern part of Somalia. Given that al-Qaeda has already carried a number of succesful terror attacks in the region, including the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and the seaborne assaults on the USS Cole and the MT Limburg, the transnational security risks this poses are great.

And since al-Shabaab is believed to receive at least some of its funding from pirate gangs operating within its sphere of control, this increases the reasons we have to both stem the tide of piracy off Somalia and address the land-based security issues.

For anyone who still thinks that Somali pirates are just a rag-tag bunch of opportunists whose continued criminal actions do not pose any real threats to us, perhaps Lt. Gen. Maples' testimony will sway you. It is clear, to this observer, that the lawlessness in the seas off Somalia and the anarchy ashore have the potential to create as grave a risk to our national securities as Afghanistan and the Taliban did. That's why we need to forcefully address it.

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