Horn of Alarm

Horn of Alarm

The massive U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to oust Al-Qaeda from the area is like a failed deer culling operation in the Skokie lagoon. It’s just pushing the vermin elsewhere.

And that “elsewhere” is the Horn of Africa, mostly Somalia, but recent events including the attempted Northwest Airlines bombing two days ago, suggest Yemen may be growing unstable enough for Al-Qaeda infiltration, too.

Yemen is a terribly misunderstood society. After the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and the numerous publicized connections between terrorists and radical imams in Yemen, it’s been wrongly presumed that the country is an universal den of iniquity.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Last month’s military raid which included fighter bombers on a presumed Al-Qaeda outpost in the Yemeni wilderness was at the least a joint effort between the Yemen government and the U.S. Many think it was completely a CIA operation, given wide support by the Yemenis.

What Yemen is can best be summarized by the fact that even during the Cold War, a Marxist (if Maoist) revolutionary government in the south befriended and worked with a highly capitalistic and western-oriented government in the north, until the two were unified in 1990.

Since then, what the U.S. has proudly termed “fair elections” have democratically created a somewhat autocratic politic that overseas some of the Mideast’s most celebrated intellectuals, religious fanatics calling for each other’s extermination, and a society that is trying desperately to remain open.

And that’s the problem. If you think the U.S. is polarized between Republicans and Democrats, you can’t imagine the polarization among educated, activist Yemenis.

So far, more or less, so good. Somehow this ancient and educated society has managed to hold its remarkably disparate pieces together. And it’s more important than ever that the developed world – particularly the U.S. – find quick and effective ways to support democratic Yemeni society.

Because now, for the first time in maybe … 2000 years, Yemeni society may be fraying at the seams.

It began with the country’s open policy towards refugees. The Yemeni government claims there are currently 95,480 refugees cared for by a mixture of Yemeni and U.N. support. Human Rights Watch and others, however, claim it is closer to 150,000.

According to the latest UNHCR estimates, 74,000 refugees fled to Yemen from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia just this year. That’s a 50% increase over 2008.

Reflecting its hugely varied cultures and politics, Yemen has the most welcoming policy to refugees of virtually any country in Africa or the Mideast.

Strategically positioned reception centers on the coast take in the boat refugees that survive the treacherous Red Sea crossing. In addition to providing temporary shelter and assistance, Yemeni authorities counsel refugees on how to obtain U.N. refugee status, provide job placements within the Yemeni society, run job searches throughout the Mideast for more qualified persons and even provide some job training.

But the remarkably humanitarian policy is coming under increasing strain just by the numbers now fleeing the Horn of Africa.

I reported last month how the Al-Qaeda Somali offshoot, Al-Shabaab, had consolidated its grip on most of southern Somalia. In response, ten days ago Ethiopian troops began reentering Somalia and engaging Al-Shabaab.

Hundreds of Ethiopian troops were photographed Saturday at the Kalaber intersection about 10 miles north of Beledweyne town in central Somalia, an area previously claimed by Al-Shabaab. This is a strategic point that some believe could define a demarcation of Somalia into two countries: the more developed north with Mogadishu as its capital, and the less developed pirate-infested south with Kismayu as its capital.

And last week Kenya sealed its nearly 1000-mile border with Somalia. The Kenyans are even refusing entry to wounded refugees.

The Minister for Internal Security and Provincial Administration, Prof. George Saitoti, claimed the move was necessary to keep terrorists disguised as refugees from entering Kenya, and to restrict Kenyan Somalis from joining the conflict.

“The government takes seriously threats by one of the fundamentalist factions … that some Kenyans of Somali origin were being recruited to prop up the fledgling Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu and we will go out to ensure that partisans of the two factions fighting for control of the chaotic country do not cross the border disguised as refugees,” the Minister said at a press conference in Mombasa last week.

What is happening is that western Somalia is becoming more appealing to global terrorists than the increasingly stressful environment of Afghanistan. Like deer culling in America, though, we’re ridding certain suburban gardens only to have huge infestations pushed to less policed areas.

And Kenya and Ethiopia combined have not a fraction of the power of Pakistan to contain the spread of terrorism, despite their current valiant efforts. And Yemen is the intellectual bleeding heart liberal that increasingly can’t hold its own society, together. What a perfect safe haven the Horn is becoming for Al-Qaeda!

Military success in Afghanistan is pointless. Listen to the Horn of Alarm.