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Trivia and Discussion: Afghanistan and Somalia

Trivia: When was the last time Somalia had a stable, permanent government? What foreign powers sought influence in Somalia and Afghanistan in the past? 

Discussion: Why have international forces invaded Afghanistan but not Somalia?  What key characteristics do Somalia and Afghanistan share in common? What makes each conflict distinct? Should Somalia’s profile rise internationally, as Afghanistan’s has in recent years? 
Both Somalia and Afghanistan share a history of chaos, vacuums of power, extremism and the rise of Islamist militants.  
  • Before 1991, Somalia was contested ideologically by the Soviet Union and the United States, who sought greater influence in the Horn of Africa. After the end of the Cold War, Somalia dropped from both countries’ radars.
  • Since 1991, Somalia has existed without a functioning, permanent central government. The last stable president, Siad Barre, was toppled in 1991 by warring clan militias who afterwards battled each other for control of power.
  • The Islamic Courts Union, a loose group of Islamic groups and their militant militias, ruled Somalia for much of 2006, trying to establish strict order and provide the population with basic services. Meanwhile, the UN attempted to set up a transitional government.
  • Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 in support of the TFG, or Transitional Federal Government. The invasion galvanizes radical Islamist militants who unite to drive Ethiopian forces out. Al Shabaab is one of these groups.
  • Ethiopian forces withdrew in 2009 after militants gain control of most of southern Somalia. Al Shaabab aims to impose Sharia, or strict Islamic law, on the entire country and remove foreign influence – starting with the TFG, against whom the group declares war.
  • In February 2010, the al Shaabab officially announces its allegiance to al Qaeda. The latter has sent fighters to Somalia to train young radical Somalis how to fight and commit acts of terrorism.
  • Al Shaabab has declared an all-out war against the TFG. More than 1.4 million Somalis are displaced, while more than 200,000 have died due to conflict since 1991.


  • From 1979 to 1989, Afghanistan was occupied by Soviet troops seeking to expand the U.S.S.R.’s empire to south-central Asia. The United States began covertly supplying weapons and ammunition to Afghan rebels, the mujahedeen, battling the Russians. The Soviet army was finally forced to withdraw in 1989, in large part thanks to U.S. support of the Afghan rebels, many whom later form the Taliban and provide Osama bin Laden the base for al Qaeda.
  • Once the Soviet army departs and U.S. interest in the region wanes, a series of coups rock Afghanistan as different tribes vie for power. The country is poverty-stricken, devastated by the Soviet occupation.
  • By 1996, the Taliban has consolidated control of most of Afghanistan, imposing strict Islamic law and vowing to expel all foreign influence. The group rules with an iron hand but restores some semblance of order to Afghanistan. The Taliban is friendly with the global terrorist network al Qaeda and allows it to set up training camps within its borders.
  • Pakistan, Afghanistan’s neighbor, recognizes the Taliban. Its Inter-Services Intelligence agency provides monetary and political support to al Qaeda, thinking to use the militant Islamist organization as a proxy to defend itself against India if need be.
  • In 2001, NATO forces invaded Afghanistan to dismantle the Taliban regime and eliminate al Qaeda training camps. An interim government was established until elections were held 2004. Taliban militants and Al Qaeda operatives continue to fight coalition forces and oppose the Afghan government.

-Carolina Chacon, National Conflicts of Concern Education Coordinator

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