I recently saw this phrase turn up for the thousandth time in a comment thread about Afghanistan strategy.
"If they (AQ et al.) all now move to Somalia, what interest would the US have in Afghanistan?"
So I thought maybe I should react to it.
If the Afghanistan/Pakistan theatre, ceteris paribus, suddenly empties of al-Qaida, just because AQ, undefeated, really-really wants to puzzle everyone by migrating to Somalia, for no apparent reason and in order to conform to this abstract reasoning... Ok, there's no point in finishing this paragraph, right?
What if AQ are defeated? Well... if AQ are defeated, that's quite good, right?
And what if AQ, at a point near defeat, goes to Somalia? Really-really why could it be a problem for them? They just need to buy airplane tickets, pack the Kalashnikovs and some ammo in a briefcase, and before moving, put up a post at jihadi website for future wannabe recruits that they all are now supposed to be fighting infidels in the Horn of Africa... Ok, so let's imagine they do this. They quit the Afghanistan/Pakistan theatre for Somalia, in the spirit of a dynamic transnational corporation, calculating where they get the highest returns on jihad... Well, an interest then would be to avoid their coming back, right? You don't want to play whack-a-mole forever, do you? And for that you would need some degree of stability and reliable partners ruling Afghanistan, right? Will you get that in that country without a major investment in state-building?
On the other hand, if AQ get what they need in Afghanistan, a really safe haven, unlike the Pakistani areas where they can be sold out at times, or hunted by drones... well, then it will be up to them to set a strategy...
And if they (and their sponsors) decide to invest more in the jihad in Somalia, while their jihad is continuing in Afghanistan and Pakistan...? Based on historical experience where is it more likely that they will be sheltered in case they plot and execute transnational terror attacks? In Taliban-ruled Kandahar or in al-Shabaab/Hisb-ul-Islam (SOM)-ruled Mogadishu? Where would it be more important then to confront them? I am not against watching the Somali scene very carefully if such investment happens there. Or for what the impact of an Arab-sponsored opposition win there would hold for Western interests - to see if AQ may at some point seem to have more potential there. But for now, Afghanistan has much more potential from AQ's perspective. In fact, there are more reasons why, not just "historical experience." Afghanistan is landlocked so for US troops to initiate operations there is just a touch more complicated, you see, to name but one of them.
Alright, take this on the day of those Afghan elections which might just "save Afghanistan" according to the Telegraph... meh, of course not from AQ or South-Asian geopolitics, too bad.