On the eve of Saturday, October 17, a bomb went off in Somalia’s capital near the Safari Hotel. With over 350 people pronounced dead and several hundred injured. This attack is by far the deadliest in the East African country’s history. Victims included senior civil servants, five paramedics, a medical student, an American-Somali man, and multiple children. No group has yet to claim responsibility for the bombing. However, fingers point toward al-Shabab, a Somali jihadist group that has been responsible for several terrorist attacks and the former military occupation of Somalia.
In the last week, several political figures around the world have addressed the tragedy in press conferences and speeches. The U.N.’s secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, urged for “unity” and the standing up against “extremism.” Despite the international condemnation, Somalia continues to be a country plagued by instability and radicalism, detrimental to the safety of its citizens.
Since the military coup of long-serving dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has been in a recurring state of civil war. The clashing between rival warlords and their clan-like militias has ultimately led to a non-governmental occupation of the country’s northern regions by distinguished, radical forces. This absence of a central government resulted in the U.N.’s withdrawal of its peacekeeping force in 1995. In the early 2000s, Transitional Governments were able to control much of the conflict, until 2006 when war broke out between al-Shabab and Ethiopian forces looking to seize southern territories. The establishment of the Federal Government in Somalia in 2012 marked the first permanent central government in the country since the start of the civil war. During this time, Somalia and its citizens have been no stranger to acts of terror. Since 2010, Somalia has seen over 800 deaths as a result of terrorism. In 2017 alone, it has already experienced two car-bombings, one targeting a hotel and the other the Ministry of Defense.
In the aftermath of the attack, the U.S. dispatched a military plane carrying medical and humanitarian supplies. Flying in from Djibouti, home to the American naval base Camp Lemonnier, the aircraft landed within 48 hours of the bombing. Washington released a statement condemning the attack “in the strongest terms,” affirming that it would “continue to stand with the Somali government” to support an international ally in the fight against global terrorism. Both the U.S. Embassy and the U.K.’s Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, described the attacks as acts of “cowardice” that only reinvigorated their respective countries commitment to assist Somalia and the African Union. Turkey, a country responsible for the recent construction of hospitals, roads, and schools throughout the nation responded by welcoming those wounded to be flown and treated in Turkey. 40 of the most severely injured victims were flown to Turkey within several hours of the attack.
For the U.S., fighting extremism based in the Horn of Africa became relevant throughout Somalia’s descendance into anarchy. Starting in 1992 under the George H.W. Bush administration, American troops were dispatched to Somalia to aide and reduce a famine that was responsible for the death of nearly 300,000 people. However, this humanitarian attempt became tense, because of a conflict between the U.N. and forces loyal to the ex-Somali dictator Mohamed Aidid (who still controlled a large territory). Troops were formally pulled from the country in October 1993 when U.S. special operations conducted a failed attempt to capture Aidid, resulting in the death of 18 American soldiers. Advisors from the U.S. military returned to Somalia in October of 2013 to assist 22,000 African Union soldiers who are fighting al-Shabab. Taking into consideration the gravity of recent terror acts in Somalia, President Trump granted additional authority to the United States Africa Command, requiring less vetting to carry out strikes against al-Shabab.
Although aide from its allies may always be guaranteed through their various forms of support, Somalia continues to be a country crippled by conflict. Its weak central government accompanied by the presence of radical militant groups renders its current situation a difficult one to overturn.