Late last week, ForeignPolicy.com ran an illuminating article by Beth Dickinson about the U.S. shipments of arms, ammunition, and cash to Somalia in what sounds like more or less a last ditch effort to prevent the Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, from collapsing under the weight of an onslaught from extremist groups in Mogadishu. The shipments began in May, just as extremists affiliated with al-Shabaab and Hizbul al-Islam were ramping up their assault on the TFG, according to Dickinson. As one of the Obama administration’s first moves to engage with Somalia, the shipments were meant to send a symbolic message, in addition to bolstering the flagging government tactically. Somalia expert Ken Menkhaus explained:
"The symbolic [aspect] is a way of sending a message to Somalis that the United States is going to stand behind the TFG — that the United States will not allow it to fail and sees it as the only viable solution.”
But in a particularly distressing passage of the article, Dickinson describes what is happening to those arms now, a seemingly inevitable scenario. In August, a Somali radio station and online news source reported that weapons sent to the Somali government were being sold on the streets of Mogadishu, where AK47s can fetch upwards of $600 each. Quoting an unnamed region analyst, Dickinson writes:
"We didn’t see many leakages of weapons [at first] because they were too busy fighting. […] It now seems that the TFG forces have reached their capacity and can’t absorb much more in terms of arms and ammunition, so we’re starting to see and hear reports of leakages."
The article certainly leaves me wondering, ‘so is this really the best approach the U.S. can come up with for promoting peace and stability in Somalia?’