After they make short shift of Somalia’s shambolic government—notwithstanding the last ditch attempt at the U.N. this week to shore it up with the appointment of a new International Contact Group—the (Islamic Courts) Union will turn its attention to destabilizing (neighbouring) Somaliland, whose democratically elected, secular government has already been declared anathema by the Union’s chief ideologist, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the al Qaeda-linked head of al-Ittihad. (This month alone, the Somaliland government has intercepted two major arms shipments destined for Union-aligned jihadis from well-wishers in Arabia.) Then the Union will turn on Ethiopia and Kenya, both countries with large ethnic Somali populations with significant pockets of jihadi infiltration.Can the US do much about this potential situation? Nearly anything the US does in Somalia, covert or overt, will be used to blame and discredit it regionally with moderate, important countries like Kenya. Already this is the media reaction locally. It is basically misplaced criticism, but it sells in the global anti-American market.
The US should rather rely on the natural ability of Somalis to implode and their penchant for pissing off everyone who happens to be their neighbour. This the Islamic Courts militia will surely do, sooner or later.
Meanwhile it should support openly the efforts of the regional AU group (IGAD) and the UN/European contact groups that are trying to build ( how I hate the word!) an "inclusive" solution.
I doubt they will succeed, but if then the Jihadis anger enough neighbours and clans, the US can use covert means, with proxy allies, to keep Somalia tied up in endless clan warfare, which traditionally renders them strategically harmless.
If an agressive, expansionist Jihadi state did emerge via the Islamic Courts, you would be surprised how quickly the US would be asked for help by various currently lukewarm "allies" like Kenya and Ethiopia.
I dont think Somalia seriously threatens any shipping lanes and is a poor choice for terrorist hideouts. The region is not vital to world energy or security, but due to large minorities of Somalis in Kenya and Ethiopia, plus Islamic ambitions to destabilize the Horn of Africa, the last thing the US should have is a searchlights-and-trumpets prescence, which will then be used by Islamists to rally a regional cause.
Tread softly, carry a big stick, shut up and keep one's eyes open. That's about it for US policy now.