It is easy to see why the Americans are pleased at their success in killing a top al-Qa'ida suspect in a helicopter raid on a village in Somalia. Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was on the FBI's most wanted list because they believed he was behind the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 in which 200 people died. And because yesterday's raid was clearly based on good intelligence they have also sent a message to senior al-Qa'ida operatives that they are not safe even in a country so devoid of the rule of law.
It is true that the Shabab extremists, to which Nabhan belonged, are bolstered by foreign fighters and that Somalia has become a training ground for al-Qa'ida's violent international jihad. That is why the Obama administration, for all the president's talk of unclenching the fist and reaching out the hand of friendship, is quietly taking a harder line in Somalia than was there behind the sound and fury of his predecessor, George Bush.
But Washington needs to worry about a bigger picture in Somalia, a country of quietistic sufist Islam into which extremists have brought a brutal Wahhabism. For, as with Afghanistan, things are far more complex than a mere polarisation between the government of the moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and the extremists of Shahab.
Somalia has had no effective government since a group of warlords overthrew the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Since then, Somalia has become the epitome of a failed state riven by conflict between clan factions whose loyalties slip and shift between tribalism, religion, nationalism and a naked lust for power. It is too complex to admit easy military solutions, as Ethiopia's US-backed invasion revealed when it set out to oust an Islamist government but succeeded in replacing it with even greater extremism.
President Ahmed has done little yet to fulfil the hopes that he can unite the country or counter fears that Somalia will become a training ground for jihadists from Somalia's wide diaspora in the Arab world, the US and Europe. Shooting militant leaders from helicopters, however pleased Washington is at the achievement, is not a long-term substitute for the painstaking business of building a stable and secure state.Reuse content