Weighing the Options

Bowden wanted to give Petit’s approach a try, and directed his staff to set up a phone call with Derow. Meanwhile, he considered the minimum security requirements. There were at least three: the return of the armored vehicles and radio equipment, the assignment of a new security officer, and the negotiation of new security guarantees with Al-Shabaab. The radio equipment and armored vehicles were essential to operations and required under MOSS guidelines. The UN would need assurances that staff could communicate freely, without Shabaab oversight or interference.

As for a security officer, with DSS expelled OCHA would have to look for someone attached to a different UN agency. There was precedent for such a solution. Many UN entities—UNICEF, UNHCR, and WFP among them—had their own security teams and had used them for decades. In fact, at the time of the Baidoa raid, DSS was only four years old, and implementation of its new UN-wide security system was still in progress.[35] There were never enough DSS officers to go around, and Bowden had the authority to borrow an officer from one of the humanitarian agencies to serve in Baidoa if the need arose.

Whether al-Shabaab would accept such an officer was another question. Bowden himself was skeptical. “There was a high level of paranoia among Shabaab at that time,” he recalls, “a tendency to see all security people as intelligence [officers].” But no progress could be made until communications had been reestablished with al-Shabaab. Earlier security guarantees, negotiated in the spring with Sheikh Robow, were apparently no longer operative. “What had happened was a change in the Shabaab power structure,” Bowden remembers. “There were the beginnings of signs that [Robow] was far more marginal than we had thought… and that they had put in someone deliberately who wasn’t from the region that couldn’t represent local interests.”

[35] A failure of the UN’s new security management system was one of the major findings of a report on the Algiers bombing, Towards a Culture of Security and Accountability, Report of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises Worldwide, June 9, 2008. See:  http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/terrorism/PanelOnSafetyReport.pdf