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Africa Unscrambled: Three cows and a calf - the latest victims in America's 'war on terror'
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Not for the first time - and probably not for the last - the US has launched a missile strike inside Somalia aimed at a "known al-Qa'ida terrorist". Not for the first time - and probably not for the last - they missed. This time they killed three cows and a calf.

America's emphasis on the "war on terror" inside Somalia is stoking up a lot of anti-US sentiment. This anger is then being milked pretty effectively by the very people the US is trying to attack.

Somalia watchers worry that the more militant opposition groups inside the country are gaining support at the expense of the moderates. It is likely to get worse. The US is planning to designate Al Shabbab, the main jihadist insurgent group in Somalia, a terrorist organisation.

On paper, analysts would agree that Shabbab deserve the "award". Its leader, Adan Ayro, is believed to be the head of al-Qa'ida's East Africa operations. But in practice it could be disastrous. Diplomats are cautiously optimistic that peace talks between the transitional government and the opposition Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (a mixed bag of former parliamentarians, Hawiye businessmen and former Islamic Courts leaders) could take place soon.

At a meeting in Cairo last month between European diplomats and the opposition, including Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, some progress was made. The opposition dropped their demand that Ethiopian troops leave Somalia before talks start. Were Al Shabbab to be placed on the US's terror list it would completely derail negotiations, one diplomat told me.

The Shabbab (standing up to the West) would be strengthened, the Alliance (trying to negotiate with the West) would be weakened. If this sounds familiar, it's because it is.

After the Islamic Courts took control of Mogadishu in June 2006 European diplomats pushed for negotiations, arguing there were enough moderates in the Courts to find a peaceful solution. The US refused, arguing that the Courts were run by al-Qa'ida. The stronger the US rhetoric, the stronger the hardliners became. Calling the Courts al-Qa'ida became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Once again the US appears to be struggling to differentiate between the moderates and the hardliners. In the increasingly bizarre world of Jendayi Frazer, America's top diplomat for Africa, they are all terrorists. When asked in a recent Newsweek interview why the US-backed government had so little popular support she managed to cram the word "terrorists" into her answer three times.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation inside Somalia has deteriorated even further in the past six months. Two million of Somalia's 10m-strong population are now in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN. Chronic insecurity has made it all but impossible for aid groups to deliver proper help.

By Steve Bloomfield

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