Terrorist Attack on Kenyan Shopping Mall Should Cause Americans To Pause

The horrible carnage inflicted by the Somali Al-Shabab Islamist group on a Kenyan shopping mall should cause the U.S. government to reassess its foreign policy of profligate worldwide intervention. Like most other reporting on terrorist attacks, the American and, to a lesser extent, foreign media seemed to treat this incident a senseless attack by Islamist crazies that came out of the blue, with its causation muddled at best. The US media did focus on the FBI’s investigation into the group’s claim that some of its fighters are Americans – with the implied threat that they could take their martial training and easy access to the United States to return and cause the same pointless mayhem here – without any analysis about why an obscure Somali group would want to threaten a faraway superpower. A little history is very instructive.

After corrupt, secular Somali warlords began to challenge Somali sharia-based Islamic judicial institutions, the Islamist Islamic Courts Union (ICU) paramilitary forces were created in 2005 to defend them. The ICU didn’t have that much popular support among Somalis until the CIA began funding the secular warlords in 2006. Experts cite CIA meddling as a factor in the resurgence of Islamist militias in Somalia, motivating them to launch successful pre-emptive strikes on the warlords. After what was called the second battle of Mogadishu in 2006 (the first resulted in US forces being expelled from Somalia in 1993 by Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid), the Islamist ICU grabbed control of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia.

An invasion by neighboring Ethiopia in late 2006, with foreign support including that of the US government, overthrew the ICU. The most radical portion of the ICU became the Shabab. As Somalis became angry at the harsh urban tactics used by the Ethiopians, who were perceived as crusading Christian invaders, the numbers of Shabab multiplied. The Shabab then conquered a large part of Somalia, but were then forced by other foreign invaders – the African Union and Kenya – to relinquish Somali cities. But although Western major media outlets have claimed that Shabab is "on the ropes," with the loss of much territory, they don’t understand guerrilla warfare. In the face of superior opposing forces, a smart guerrilla army will rapidly retreat, giving up territory and even fighters in exchange for time. All indications are that the Shabab retreated quickly and preserved their forces to fight another day.

Unfortunately, that day recently arrived in the Kenyan Westgate shopping mall, and prior to that in Uganda in 2010 with a Shabab bombing of soccer fans that killed 76 (in retaliation for Uganda’s participation in the African Union invasion force). Thus, the group is resorting to increased indirect attacks in Somalia and abroad.

And why Shabab’s implicit threats to the United States? The United States backed the Kenyan invasion of Somalia, has a large CIA station in Kenya, and has ramped up cooperation with the Kenyan military, especially in counterterrorism operations. Even before the Kenyan mall attack, there have been media reports on Somali-Americans going to Somalia to fight with Shabab. If these reports are correct, such fighters might get into the United States and launch retaliatory terrorist strikes here in response to US intervention, as did Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula of Yemen (allied with Shabab and responsible for the underwear bombing attempts) and the Pakistani Taliban (responsible for the attempted Times Square bombing).

No one can excuse terrorist attacks on innocent civilians – whether in Kenya, Uganda, or in the United States catastrophically on 9/11 – but the citizens of these target countries have been put at risk by their own governments. Their governments have meddled in the affairs of other nations.

Americans have been especially oblivious to their government’s rampant and needless intervention into the affairs of other countries and the fact that it causes heinous blowback terrorism – not only against American facilities, businesses, and people overseas but right here at home. After 9/11, Americans understandably wanted revenge but were blinded to what actually caused the attacks – and most Islamist terrorist attacks. Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Pakistani Taliban, Shabab, and other Islamist terrorist groups have all been motivated to retaliate against what they perceive as foreign meddling – especially non-Islamic intervention – in their homelands.

The American public needs to wake up and pressure its government (as do probably Kenyans and Ugandans their governments) to stop intervention in Somalia. After all, the CIA intervention in the country in 2006 caused the resurgence of Islamic militias there, and continued American meddling may be leading the Shabab from pursuing only local objectives into waging global jihad. In addition, Americans need to force their government to stop needless interventions in other parts of the world, especially in Islamic countries. Americans would then be safer and save a little money too.

Author: Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.