With the war against Islamist fighters drawing to a close, Somalia’s transitional government and its foreign allies now face several Herculean tasks: bringing to heel the warlords and militias that have terrorized the country for fifteen years, winning over the various clans and sub-clans that dominate Somali politics, rebuilding the nation’s devastated infrastructure, etc, etc, etc.
In the interest of international security, I would add one more: recovering the dozens of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles reportedly distributed to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), and sanctioning the suppliers.
According to the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia – the group established to document and report on violations of the fifteen-year-old arms embargo – six consignments of shoulder-fired missiles were shipped to the UIC from Eritrea, Iran, and Syria in the second half of 2006:
• 23 July: “50 units” of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and second generation, infra-red guided anti-tank weapons from Eritrea (p. 13)
• 25 July: “45 units” of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles from Iran (p. 22).
• 26 July: unspecified number of surface-to-air missiles from Eritrea (p. 15-16)
• 17 August: 80 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and “rocket launchers” from Iran (p. 23).
• Late August: An unspecified number of “SA-6 ‘Gainful’ Low to Medium Altitude surface to air missiles and SA-7 ‘Grail’” shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles from Eritrea. (p. 14)
• Late August – Early September: 3 surface-to-air missiles from Syria (p. 28)
The Monitoring Group also claims that Eritrea provided training in the use of these missiles to hundreds of UIC fighters.
A disarmament program established shortly after the collapse of the UIC reportedly netted only two of the missiles, and it is unrealistic to expect the beleaguered transitional government to collect the rest itself. The government already has more on its plate than it can possibly handle and lacks the resources to track down the missiles on its own. The international community, and particularly those countries with large, sophisticated intelligence agencies and experience with missile collection programs, will have to pitch in by providing cash rewards for loose missiles, assisting with the collection, storage, transport and destruction of recovered missiles, and sharing “lessons learned” from other collection programs, such as Operation Missing In Action Stinger in Afghanistan.
Simply recovering the missiles is not enough, however. The missile transfers violate a critically important global norm against the transfer of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles to non-state actors. Upholding this norm requires decisive action, including a thorough investigation into the transfers. Iran, Syria and Eritrea have denied the charges, as have other governments accused of violating the arms embargo. Governments should act immediately to independently verify the Monitoring Group’s findings and, if there is sufficient evidence of Iranian, Syrian, and Eritrean government involvement in the transfers, impose sanctions. Minimally, arms sales and military aid should be suspended until the UN Monitoring Group confirms that sanctions-busting arms shipments from these countries have ended.
For more information on the proliferation of shoulder-fired missiles and violations of the arms embargo, see