It may be some time before we learn whether Sunday's air strikes by an AC-130 gunship in southern Somalia succeeded in killing the terrorists who were the intended targets--particularly Abu Taha al-Sudani, reportedly an al Qaeda explosives expert, and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, mastermind of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. But the attacks--along with the deployment of a carrier battle group off the African coast--are welcome evidence that the U.S. has learned the lessons of May 19, 1996.The editors go on to respond to critics who argue that U.S. intervention on the Horn of Africa will fuel regional instablity. They note that the U.S. will not deploy militarily in Somalia, and that we're getting more cooperation against terrorists from Somalia's Transitional Federal Government than we get from Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf:
That's the date Osama bin Laden and his associates left Sudan for Afghanistan on a chartered plane. The Clinton Administration was aware that Sudan intended to expel bin Laden, and the U.S. might have easily tracked and destroyed the flight en route. The consequences of its failure to do so is only too well known, and the Bush Administration is right to be determined not to let terrorists get away again, whether by land, air or sea.
The strikes in Somalia are also a reminder that in the war on terror there is no "exit strategy" short of victory. The last U.S. military venture in Somalia is broadly remembered as a military and political fiasco, particularly after the notorious "Black Hawk Down" battle in which 18 U.S. servicemen were killed, in part for want of adequate armor.
Yet America's sheepish withdrawal from the country had consequences. Bin Laden viewed it as yet another sign that America can't take casualties and will retreat when hit hard. Somalia descended into anarchy and became a haven for al Qaeda operatives and affiliated terrorist groups. Last June, the capital of Mogadishu fell into their grip, and the rest of the country surely would have fallen as well had it not been for the timely military intervention of neighboring Ethiopia.
The story of Somalia is far from over, and America's involvement in the area will not soon end. But U.S. interests are well-served by putting terrorists on the run, wherever they may be. We will be better served still if we take the lesson that the only exit for us in the war against terrorists--whether in Somalia, Afghanistan and especially Iraq--is to make sure there is no exit for them.Let's hope the new Democratic congressional majority agrees with that assessment.