Though 98% Muslim and long without a functioning government, southern Somalia has not, so far, ripened into the fully fledged terrorist threat that many have feared it would. This week, however, as Ethiopia engaged Islamist Somali militiamen, Somalia became the site of a nascent regional war. The primary combatants are Somalia’s secular Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is internationally recognized and politically supported by the U.S., and the Islamist “Islamic Courts Union” that holds sway on the ground. They are backed militarily by two fierce rivals, Ethiopia and Eritrea, respectively. The military balance appears indeterminate. Ethiopia has deployed 15,000 to 20,000 troops in Somalia. Eritrea has provided arms to the Islamic Courts militias and sent only about 2,000 troops to support them; but the Islamic Courts hold more territory than the TFG and have greater indigenous assets and popular support. Even if Somalia does not become a terrorist redoubt, it could become a potent fount of regional geopolitical instability and perhaps the next “field of jihad” unless diplomatic attention is rallied to rescue the situation.
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The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia proceeds apace, and from all reports, it proceeds at a much faster clip than anyone — including me — expected. Western journalism is struggling, and failing, to keep up.
We know about the rapidity of the Ethiopian advance thanks to the news reports that filter out of the darkness of the Horn: the NYT’s stringer reports that the front line is now near the town of Wanlaweyn, well over halfway from the campaign’s starting-point of Baidoa (itself halfway from the Ethiopian frontier to the sea) to the prize, the Somali capitol of Mogadishu. (For reference, a map of Somalia is here; rather improbably, Wanlaweyn itself has a Meetup page.) Beyond this, details are sparse: journalism fails where journalists fear to tread, and so we are reduced to reading propaganda releases from the opposing sides — see, for example, and in an indication of the rather different values in this part of the world, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi bragging about the fatality rates amongst Islamist casualties — and the reports of the few Westerners on the ground. In Somalia’s case, the latter are mostly European aid workers and the odd United Nations official. Naturally, their reportage focuses upon things that affect them, and the wishes of the men with guns closest to them. Thus media from Islamist-controlled Mogadishu cites as its only two sources the Islamists — and the International Committee of the Red Cross. And so we see in the Washington Post unsourced passages telling us: “Aid workers said … thousands of civilians battered by drought, floods and now by rockets and mortars continued to flee villages in droves.” Worse: “United Nations officials warned of a dire humanitarian crisis inside Somalia, while fears remained high that Ethiopia’s campaign could have disastrous consequences across the Horn of Africa.”
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Austin Bay has The Ethiopia-Somalia War
Soldiers patrol in the streets Somalia after government and Ethiopian troops advanced in a decisive turnaround in the battle for control of Somalia.
Attacking at dawn, Ethiopian and Somali government troops on Wednesday drove Islamic fighters out of the last major town on the road to Mogadishu, the Islamist-held capital.
Former warlord Mohammed Dheere, who controlled the town of Jowhar before it was captured by the Council of Islamic Courts in June, led the Somali government troops, said resident Abshir Ali Gabre.
“We will attack Mogadishu tomorrow, from two directions,” Dheere told the crowd, although his statement appeared to overstep his authority. Dheere does not speak for the government or the Ethiopians.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari confirmed the capture of Jowhar and said his troops were heading toward Balad, an agricultural village about 18 miles from Mogadishu. Smaller than Jowhar, it is the last town before the capital.
Thousands of Ethiopian and Somali government troops were seen in tanks heading toward Balad, said Nadifo Ali Tifow, a resident in Qalimow, a village 25 miles from Balad.
Fighting could still be heard at a military camp south of Jowhar and in the village of Lego. An Islamic official said his troops were simply entering a new phase in their battle.
“Our snakes of defense were let loose, now they are ready to bite the enemy everywhere in Somalia,” said Sheik Mohamoud Ibrahim Suley. He did not elaborate, but some Islamic leaders have threatened a guerrilla war including suicide bombings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
Technorati Tags: Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea