I have spent valuable days poring obsessively over reams upon reams of prints from the internet on Al-Qaeda in East Africa. In my mind is beginning to emerge the appalling extent of the influence of Cold War mistakes on the security and future of the Horn of Africa.
The region remains a pawn in a geopolitical chess game that began with the end of World War II in 1945.
In the 1980s, the American government, with the support of Muslim regimes in the Gulf and Pakistan, trained, armed and supported the radicalisation of youths from across the Arab world, the so-called Holy Warriors or Mujahedeen, who fought and expelled the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.
Sheikh Osama bin Laden was the emir of the fighters from the wider Arab world. Al-Qaeda then was not a dirty word.
The son of a wealthy Saudi family, he was a magnet for money and allegiance, not just from the Americans, but from other countries that shared his revulsion at Muslim lands being occupied by Communist atheists.
He recruited from the Gulf, North Africa and as far South as Comoros, Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya and Somalia. The fire of radicalism that was lit and nurtured into a fierce flame did not die when the Communists turned tail.
It continued to burn but found a new victim: the United States of America. In the minds of Osama bin Laden and his boys and the generations they subsequently radicalised and trained, the US became the new evil to be fought and exterminated at all costs. And that single fact will determine our security and that of our children.
The king rests, the pawns fight
Today, the Kenyan military is facing an army radicalised, trained and fighting on the doctrine of Al-Qaeda; that same doctrine and ideology taught in the mountains of Afghanistan. Al-Shabaab are students of, among others, the man they knew as Mu’alim Yaqub, more widely known as Abdullah Fazul, the Comoran terrorist recently killed in Mogadishu.
Osama bin Laden had particular interest in the Horn. When he was kicked out of Saudi Arabia, he settled in Sudan. His fanatical eye never strayed far from Somalia, which he regarded as the southern frontier of Arab lands.
In the early 1990s, he dispatched what became the Africa Corps of Al-Qaeda to East Africa. It is this cell, and the youth it trained, that was responsible for the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in which a US helicopter was brought down and troops killed.
From that time, the Africa Corps has trained possibly thousands of international terrorists and Somali youths in war and terror. Al-Qaeda power in Somalia reached its zenith when the Islamic Courts Union kicked the Abdullahi regime out of Mogadishu in mid-2000s.
Fazul, a truly dangerous man, working quietly in the background, basically took over Somalia. He trained and organised an intelligence network, he trained and deployed the bodyguards for the politicians of the courts and he controlled security at the port and airport.
When Ethiopia decided it had had enough and was going in to kick the courts out, it found Al-Qaeda divided. Fazul’s doctrine of war exhausted Ethiopia within its own lands, tormenting its forces with guerrilla strikes.
His rival, Abu Talha al-Sudani (Tariq Abdullah), the Hezbollah-trained explosives expert that Somali leaders such as Hassan al-Turki recognised as the Emir of Al Qaeda in Africa, was less subtle. He appeared to favour leading the hordes to fling themselves at the tanks of the infidel in headlong battle. Al-Shabaab fights with skills from the Hindu Kush.
Kenya did not choose or start this war. Those who did have suddenly found their morals, principles and love for international peace — all of which, naturally, did not apply to the Libyan situation. The king rests, the pawns fight