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Islamists Claim a Victory in Somalia's Capital

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

And Islamic militia is claiming control of the capital of Somalia, and the Islamists are promising to bring order to a place that hasn't seen it for years.

The militia won control of the capital after weeks of fighting an alliance of local warlords. They were battling in Mogadishu, the capital of a country on the east coast of Africa that has not had a functioning government since 1991.

To help make sense of this conflict - if there is any sense to it - we called John Prendergast, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group. He monitors Somalia.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Senior Advisor, International Crisis Group): Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is there any chance that the Islamists could provide the stability that they're promising?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, I think that in the areas that they are controlling, and have controlled in Mogadishu, you see quite a reduction in lawlessness and in petty crime; so I think that there is a track record because their pursuit of justice is swift and fairly draconian. I think that people generally accept this in Mogadishu, because they're looking for some sense of stability.

What they don't accept is everything else that comes along with their draconian justice, which is, you know, shutting down people's social rights and political rights. So this is the double-edged coin - on the one hand, increased security, on the other hand, no rights.

INSKEEP: This Islamist group was battling a group of warlords, an alliance of warlords, and you've been quoted as saying that the CIA was providing money to those warlords. How do you know that, and what does it mean?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, I've been traveling in Mogadishu a number of times in the last few years and interviewing extensively a number of the militia leaders who are receiving the assistance from the United States. That assistance has increased over the last year in anticipation of greater military engagement with the Islamic militias.

And, as we see, the success of the strategy on a number of levels is nonexistent. In fact, I think that the U.S. policy of attempting to use these warlords to further our counterterrorism objectives has failed miserably.

INSKEEP: Are the warlords finally defeated?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think that's - in Somalia, there's no such word as finally. These guys will be back; they'll get assistance. I don't know if the U.S. is going to increase its support or realize that the policy has failed and has got to change it, but I know other governments in the region will be interested in supporting them to try to make a comeback against the Islamic courts.

INSKEEP: Mr. Prendergast, I have to ask if this could be a new Afghanistan. You've got a failed state, you've got Islamists now in charge in the capital; You've got fears that it could become a haven for terrorists. And the Islamists seem to be doing some things that people may actually like, in the neighborhood, anyway.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah, there's no question there are analogies that are very, very disturbing between Somalia and Afghanistan. And the handwriting has been on the wall, literally, for 15 years now.

And it's extraordinary that the United States, going back through three administrations, has not engaged in state reconstruction in an attempt - in the only country in the world that doesn't have a government, to rebuild the state so we could have a partner for counterterrorism efforts going forward.

INSKEEP: You're even including the Clinton administration, of which you were a part in the '90s in that failure?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Why has everybody ignored it?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think that the horror with which everyone turned away after Black Hawk Down was bipartisan and universal. And I think that we ignore these kinds of situations at our peril, with lessons learned over and over again. We've got to engage in the four corners of the earth, especially places in which al-Qaida has a history of penetration.

So I think that the lesson has been learned one too many times. We've got to get involved. We've got try to see what we can do to help rebuild the state in Somalia, or else there will be tremendous repercussions directly for United States interests.

INSKEEP: Mr. Prendergast, thanks very much.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: John Prendergast is a Senior Advisor at the International Crisis Group. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.