The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has some good ideas about, well, combating terrorism. Not so good is their advice for preventing Al Qaeda from finding refuge in failed states (Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.), and doing so without too many ground troops. Consider:
While a concern with security vacuums is warranted, the implication is not that we must consistently prevent security vacuums. That takes immense resources, as the largely unsuccessful effort to end the security vacuum in Iraq [prior to 2007] show. Indeed preventing all security vacuums would be a Herculean task involving American power in numerous failed and failing states around the world. However, denying terrorists the benefits of security vacuums is likely a more feasible strategy.
The massive troop deployment in Iraq has so far [through 2006] denied terrorists the use of that country as a staging ground for attacks in the West. Meanwhile, terrorists are denied the benefits of a potential Afghan security vacuum with 18,000 troops, while CJTF HOA [task force in Djibouti] effectively denies jihadis the use of Somalia and the rest of that region with only 1,600 troops — in both cases, these deployments are far less resource-intensive than would be required to actually end the security vacuum. A more cost-effective strategy, we believe, may be to maintain the capability to act decisively when necessary in security vacuums, without embarking on an unsustainable mission to end security vacuums worldwide.
The problem is that the 1,600 troops in Djibouti are part of a strategy that is destabilizing Somalia. Far from being a failed state, for several years prior to 2006, Somalia was actually getting better, with the spread of the hardline Islamic Courts regime providing a measure of security that enabled real economic investment and governance. While some Al Qaeda operatives were possibly hiding out in the countryside, it’s unfair to say that Somalia was becoming a terror haven under the Courts — or becoming a worse “security vacuum.”
Then the U.S. supported the Ethiopian bid to capture a Somali port. That invasion, and subsequent occupation, has resulted in Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis and an ongoing insurgency. The chaos has given the U.S. troops in Djibouti free reign to attack suspected jihadis with drones and gunships. But the cost to hundreds of thousands of Somalis is devastating … and the long-term effect for extremism in the region is hard to predict.
In Somalia’s case, U.S. strategy actually created a failed state in the interest of destroying “terrorists.”