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The Monitor's View

US takes stock after Al Shabab terrorist bombings in Uganda

America's policy so far amounts to containing this Somali terrorist group that has links to Al Qaeda.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / July 14, 2010



On Tuesday, senior US officials got on the phone with reporters to give a background briefing on the coordinated terrorist bombings that killed 76 people in the African nation of Uganda on Sunday as they were watching the World Cup.

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The US officials, however, did not sound particularly reassuring.

They acknowledged that “there are indications that Al Shabab was indeed responsible.” This is the Somali terrorist group of extreme Islamists that has ties to Al Qaeda, that has successfully recruited Americans and Canadians with Somali roots, and that, for the first time, has now struck outside its own country. Al Shabab poses a threat not only to Africa, but, potentially, to the United States. Indeed, an American was killed in the bombings.

The officials said that since Al Shabab was designated a foreign terrorist organization during the Bush administration, the group has been on the US "radar screen" and the US has been “trying to monitor” any hints of plans to carry out a terrorist attack. They said the US needed to “take stock” of recent developments and “take a look and see what it is that we need to do as a result of those attacks.”

That amounts to a lot of looking, watching, monitoring, and taking stock. But what about doing?

The truth is, America’s options here are limited, but that does not mean they are of no value. They amount, basically, to a policy of containment from afar, or mostly afar – a stark contrast to the boots-on-the-ground approach to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Full-scale US military engagement in this lawless Muslim country in the Horn of Africa might end up badly – just as one in 1993 did. During that US-led intervention, 18 American soldiers were killed in pursuit of a Somali warlord, dramatized in the film “Black Hawk Down.” [Editor's note: A previous version mischaracterized the intervention.]

The US simply doesn’t have the military resources right now (one expert says it would take 100,000 “peacekeepers” to stabilize Somalia). And this failed state is in far worse shape than Afghanistan or Iraq.

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