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Somalia: Talibanistan In East Africa

10:05 AM, Jan 15, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
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Have you ever wondered what Iraq might have looked like had the United States quit the country Iraq in 2006 after it was on the brink of civil war? Look no further than Somalia, where the Ethiopian Army has completed its withdrawal of Mogadishu and is preparing to pull out from other bases in the countries just two years after ousting the al Qaeda-backed Islamic Courts Union. From CNN:

Islamist militants took almost full control of Mogadishu on Thursday, less than 24 hours after Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somalia's capital, a witness reported.

The Ethiopian forces pulled out their last remaining bases in the city late Wednesday after two years propping up Somalia's transitional government.

Forces from different Islamist groups -- including the hard-line al-Shabaab, which the United States has designated a terror organization -- immediately seized every base the Ethiopians abandoned.

"The city is almost under Islamist rule," said a local journalist who did not want his name revealed. "You can hear different names of the Islamist groups taking control in many parts of the city."

Shabaab and a "moderate" pro-government Islamist group called Ahlu Sunna Waljamaa have been battling for control of central Somalia as Ethiopian forces pull out of the lawless country. The fissures between the hard-line Islamists and "moderate" Islamists, while real, will likely be patched over as the Islamist factions seek to consolidate power in the eastern African state and impose sharia, as they did when they gained power in 2006. The Islamists will likely set their sights on the semi-autonomous states of Puntland and Somaliland in the future.

The fall of Somalia is a major victory for al Qaeda. Unlike Afghanistan, which sits in the backwaters of South Asia, Somalia sits astride one of the most transited sea lanes on the planet, where piracy is already a major problem. Somalia serves as a bridge between African and the Arabian Peninsula. Across the Gulf of Aden sits Yemen, another failed state riddled with al Qaeda operatives. Like it or not, Somalia has moved up the list of problems facing the incoming Obama administration.