"For aid donors and humanitarian agencies, it is a Faustian bargain: reach and save tens of thousands of people on the verge of starving to death. The price: come to an 'understanding' with one of the most active affiliates of al Qaeda, and perhaps help it retain control of large swathes of Somalia.
Such is the equation in the Horn of Africa, where the worst famine in a generation threatens more than ten million people. Many of them live -- or rather cling to life -- in areas of Somalia controlled by the militant Islamist group al Shabaab, which has sworn allegiance to al Qaeda and is designated a terrorist group by the United States.
Previously, al Shabaab has either refused to allow aid agencies to operate in areas it controls, or imposed tight conditions on their work. In 2009 it banned many foreign aid organizations from providing aid in southern Somalia -- describing them as western spies and Christian crusaders. In January 2010, the UN World Food Program pulled its workers out of the region after they were threatened and harassed by the group. That worsened an already parlous humanitarian situation. But now al Shabaab says it is prepared to allow aid groups back into areas it controls."