How should U.S. respond when Somali militants threaten famine relief?

Somali mother cradles her malnourished, ill child
UN

The Al-Shabaab Somali militants affiliated with Al Qaida have vowed to continue their attacks on civilians after taking responsibility for a suicide bombing in Mogadishu that has killed anywhere from 70 to 100 people.

The UN refugee agency says this is likely to make the already difficult famine relief effort harder. An estimated 750,000 are at risk of dying from starvation and malnutrition.

CNN reports ‘scores dead’ and that many of those killed were students:

A truck filled with explosives barreled into a government complex in the heart of Somalia’s restive capital Tuesday, a brazen strike killing dozens of people, including students registering for an education program.

As the Boston Globe reports, many had thought the capital city was safe after the militants fled in August:

Although the Islamic fighters made what they called a “tactical withdrawal” from their bases in Mogadishu amid an AU offensive in August, they had vowed to carry out devastating suicide attacks.

And now they have, vowing more such attacks.

The UN refugee agency’s spokesman Adrian Edwards has pleaded:

“We urge all armed groups and forces in Somalia to avoid targeting civilian areas and to ensure that civilians are not being placed in harm’s way.”

The role of the U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to IRIN news reports, has repeatedly asked the Somali militants to allow food aid into famine-affected parts of the country. So far, Clinton hasn’t heard back.

And, as the IRIN story noted, humanitarian organizations aren’t even sure if U.S. law would allow them to work with Al-Shabaab because it is considered a terrorist organization. So that’s confusing, and can’t help.

Also confusing (to me anyway) is that Clinton is asking permission of terrorists to help the famine victims. Huh? We’re condemning them as terrorists and also asking their permission to do aid?

The U.S. is the biggest contributor of aid to Somalia, but our policy approach seems timid, confused and perhaps not very effective. The new international doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect” was invoked to justify the NATO-led assault in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi.

The doctrine would seem to apply in a lot of desperate situations, and maybe we don’t want our military in all those countries. At what point would there be a Responsibility to Protect in Somalia?

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

  • courtneyyyyyy

    Let them starve I guess.