Sunday, December 24, 2006




Less than two weeks ago, the prime minister of Ethiopia declared that his country had finished preparations for war with the Islamic Courts now controlling most of neighbouring Somalia.

This followed the meteoric rise of the Islamist movement in Somalia, where in less than eight months they have seized control of the Somali capital Mogadishu, taken control of key port cities and facilities and have surrounded the small town where the US-backed interim government is biding its time, protected by troops from Ethiopia.

Where this has the looming potential for all out war across the Horn of Africa is that Somali neighbour Eritrea has sent its own troops in to back the Islamists. Eritrea and Ethiopia have long regarded each other as hostile enemies.

Ethiopia, meanwhile, regards the presence of the Islamic Courts in Somalia as a "clear and present danger" and they fear not moving fast enough to stop the spread of the Islamists control and influence.

Ethiopia is a majority Christian country, but there are still millions of Muslims living peacefully, for the most part, as a quiet minority. Ethiopia fears what may happen if the Islamists can rally support amongst Ethiopian Muslims. Ironically, that will be far easier to do if Ethiopia launches a full-scale war against Muslims in Somalia.

The United States, meanwhile, backs Ethiopia, claims the Islamic Courts are actually Al Qaeda, and is preparing to deploy an African force, as well as establishing an Africa Command.

Yesterday and today, Ethopia launched jet fighter attacks against what it said were Islamist positions. Ethiopians tanks and attack helicopters have now entered Somalia.

From :

Ethiopian forces defending Somalia's weak interim government have launched airstrikes against Islamist fighters in an escalation of a conflict that threatens to engulf the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopian Information Minister Berhan Hailu said the operation targeted several fronts including Dinsoor, Bandiradley and Baladwayne and the town of Buur Hakaba - close to the administration's encircled south-central base Baidoa.

It was the first use of airstrikes and Ethiopia's first public admission of its military involvement in Somalia, whose government is surrounded by fighters of the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) backed by mortars and machineguns.

"After too much patience, the Ethiopian government has taken self-defensive measures and started counter-attacking the aggressive extremist forces of the Islamic Courts and foreign terrorist groups," Berhan told Reuters, saying "anti-Ethiopian" elements had massed along the border.

Both sides have rained rockets, mortars and machinegun fire across several parts of a slim frontline near Baidoa.

Amid the explosions, pick-up trucks armed with heavy weapons have ferried supplies forward and collected the injured.

In the Islamist port city of Kismayu, hundreds of women and children waved goodbye to 1,000 men who had volunteered for the frontline.

Dressed in a ragtag of fatigues, the men sped off in camouflage-painted trucks to the chants of "Victory is ours".

Further north in Mogadishu, scores of women and children gathered in one of the main markets to badger men walking along the streets to join the war.

"They told me to wear their clothes if I will not go to war," said Abdi Rashid. "They said I'm not a man, because all men are on the frontline, so I should wear women's clothes."

Military experts estimate Ethiopia has 15,000-20,000 troops in Somalia, while Eritrea has about 2,000 behind the Islamists.

The conflict kicked into a higher, more deadlier, gear less than two weeks ago, when the Ethiopian prime minister declared that his nation was preparing for a full-blown war with Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts. The Islamists, for now, control the Somali capital Mogadishu, key port cities and most of the southern and central regions of the country.

The US-backed Somali transitional government is now holed up the small town of Baidoa, where they beg for help from Ethiopia and the West, while Islamists train mortars and machine guns on the government compound.

The United States quickly announced it would support a deployment of African troops into Somalia to protect the government from Islamists. The US accuses the Islamic Courts of being in league with Al Qaeda, a charge the Islamists regard as a fiction, and more US propaganda.

Some background on the conflict, and how it became a reality of 'The Fourth World War.'

From :

Somalia lost its central government in 1991 when tribal warlords toppled former president Mohammed Siad Barre. Peace talks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum have ended in failure early this month after Islamic Courts demanded that all Ethiopian forces in the country leave.
The major problem for the United States and Ethiopia right now is that the Islamic Courts are not altogether unpopular with Somalis, who utterly despised the warlords that ruled and destroyed their nation for more than a decade.

The Islamists have chased out most of these warlords, and the locals are happy. They're not so happy about the introduction of Islamist Sharia Law, but from the wealth of media coming out of Somalia and Ethiopia, it appears just how hardcore the Sharia Law in use depends on where you live in Somalia.

In some towns the local clerics don't allow music and dancing or uncovered women, but in other villages the rules are far more lax.

That the United States ended up backing Somali warlords against the Islamists is yet another ironic shock, considering it was some of these very same warlords who killed, or helped to kill, almost two dozen American special forces officers during the infamous 'Black Hawk Down' raids on Mogadishu in the early 1990s.

Why does this conflict between Ethiopia and the Islamists in Somalia have such potential to become a full-blown war stretching across the Horn of Africa?

From the London Times :
The Horn of Africa, one of the world’s most volatile regions, edged closer to war today after Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, said that his country had completed preparations to take on a powerful Islamic alliance in neighbouring Somalia.

Mr Zenawi told the Ethiopian parliament that the Islamists presented a "clear and present danger" to Ethiopia, whose main regional foe — Eritrea — was arming them.

He said that attempts to settle the crisis through dialogue and negotiation had proved fruitless.

The Islamists, who now control most of Somalia, later met in emergency session in the capital, Mogadishu, and vowed to defend the country against a "reckless and war-thirsty" Ethiopia.

However, at the same time the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia, a coalition of 11 Islamic organisations that wrested power earlier this year from local warlords, invited Washington to send an official delegation to Mogadishu for talks.

Council spokesman Abdurahim Muddey said: "We are inviting the United States to send a delegation to see what is happening in Somalia... The US delegation will be received by our foreign relations chief, Ibrahim Hassan Addow, who is himself an American citizen."

The United States has accused the Islamists of links to al-Qaeda and encouraged Ethiopia to send 5,000 troops to support a rump government based in the border town of Baidoa.

The Islamists’ supreme leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, has been designated a "terrorist" by the US, which earlier this month warned that Somali extremists may be plotting suicide attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Intelligence sources say Washington has indicated to Ethiopia that it would not oppose a military operation to remove the Islamists, but regional experts say such an action would ignite the entire region.

Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a devastating border war in 1998-2000 and have several unresolved border disputes.

It is feared both would soon be directly embroiled in any fresh conflict.

Washington previously ran a covert operation to support Somali warlords fighting the Islamists for control of Mogadishu that collapsed in June when the city fell.

The warlords carved up Somalia in 1991 after the Cold War dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre, was overthrown and since then has known nothing but anarchy.
The following story, from the Washington Post is a few weeks old, but it hits some of the same key points about why this conflict has the potential to spill out across the Horn of Africa :

Ethiopia acknowledges sending military advisers to Somalia, although Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has threatened to send tens of thousands of troops across the border if the Council of Islamic Courts attacks.

Experts have warned that Somalia has become a proxy battleground for Somalia's neighbors, Eritrea and Ethiopia. A recent confidential U.N. report said 6,000 to 8,000 Ethiopian troops were inside Somalia or near its border with Ethiopia, backing the interim government. The report also said 2,000 troops from Eritrea were inside Somalia supporting the Islamic militia.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The current administration was formed with the help of the United Nations two years ago, but it has failed to assert any control outside the town of Baidoa.

The Council of Islamic Courts, meanwhile, has steadily gained ground since taking over Mogadishu in June and now controls much of southern Somalia.

The United States has accused the Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

And so, then, how to avoid such a war becoming a reality?

From the Toronto Star :

If a full-scale war in Somalia is to be averted, the international community must first look to its meddling neighbours and help Ethiopia and Eritrea resolve their unresolved tension, argues Terrence Lyons, an associate professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution in his paper "Avoiding Conflict in the Horn of Africa."

Lyons says the 2000 peace process that ended the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is falling apart – in particular, failing to demarcate a new border between the countries – and only by ending this stalemate can regional war be averted.

International involvement is now key – both in helping facilitate peace talks and avoiding strong-arm tactics that could draw foreign fighters and incite the wider war that Osama bin Laden called for during his last taped message

United States Turns To Uganda To Help Ease Somali Crisis

Across Africa, A Growing Sense That The United States' Power Really Isn't So Super

Ethiopia Moves Attack Helicopters And Tanks Into War Zone

Eritrea Urges Ethiopia To Begin Withdrawing Troops From Somalia

Experts Claim US Policy In Horn Of Africa May Be Aiding Islamists' Cause

Ethiopia Claims Thousands Of Jihadists From Pakistan, Egypt Pouring Into Somalia

Ethiopian Jets Bomb Somalia - Dead Lie In The Streets

Trial Militias Seize Police Station In Central Somalia

US Government Approves Deployment Of Peacekeepers

Ethiopia Confirms Counterattack On Somali Islamists

The Allure Of Africa's Oil