US backs Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia


Richard Moore

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US backs Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia
By Ann Talbot
28 December 2006

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The Bush administration is openly backing Ethiopia's invasion of its 
neighbour Somalia.

Ethiopia is waging a proxy war on behalf of the United States. In the 
space of a week it has routed forces loyal to the United Islamic 
Courts and advanced to within 55 miles of the capital Mogadishu.

Ethiopian jets have attacked the international airport in Mogadishu 
and Balidogle military airfield in southern Somalia. The Red Cross 
has reported hundreds of casualties.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated that as many as 1,000 
people died and 3,000 were wounded in fighting outside the town of 

On December 26, US State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus 
described Ethiopia's illegal attack as a response to "aggression" by 
Islamists and an attempt to stem the flow of outside arms shipments 
to them. Washington was also concerned about reports that the 
Islamists were using child soldiers and abusing Ethiopian prisoners 
of war, she added.

Ethiopia could not have carried out such an extensive assault without 
a green light from the Bush administration. The United States has a 
military base in nearby Djibouti and is able to monitor troop 
movements in the area by satellite. It would have known about the 
build-up of Ethiopian forces. The former US State Department official 
John Pendergast admitted, "We are now giving a yellow-slash-green 
light to Ethiopia's policy of containment by intervention."

Not only is the Ethiopian invasion an act of aggression, it is also 
an act of extreme recklessness. A conflict in Somalia has the 
potential to involve the whole region and to extend even beyond the 
Horn of Africa.

The United Islamic Courts (UIC) took control of Somalia earlier this 
year after they defeated US-backed clan warlords. Until the current 
Ethiopian offensive, most of the country was in UIC hands with the 
exception of Baidoa, the base of the Transitional Federal Government 
(TFG). The TFG was set up by the United Nations in 2004 and was 
heavily backed by the US and Britain, but it has little support in 
Somalia and never succeeded in extending its authority beyond Baidoa. 
It has relied on the support of Ethiopian troops.

Fighting between UIC forces and Ethiopian troops broke out around 
Baidoa on December 19. The following day the BBC reported that 
Ethiopian tanks were advancing into Somalia. On December 25, 
Ethiopian air strikes began and the UIC forces were reported to be in 

Washington's proxy war against the UIC is bound up with the US 
debacle in Iraq and the losses suffered by the Republicans in the 
November elections in the US as a result of mass antiwar sentiment. 
Dismissing all calls for a change in policy in Iraq itself, the Bush 
administration has responded by preparing to step up its military 
offensive in that country. At the same time, it has escalated its 
sabre-rattling against Iran.

Now it has encouraged Ethiopia to launch an invasion against what it 
regards as a hostile Islamist force in the strategically vital Horn 
of Africa.

The US has consistently opposed European calls to establish a working 
relationship with the UIC, denouncing it as a terrorist front. One of 
the UIC's leading figures, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, is on the US 
list of wanted terrorists. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa 
Jendayi Frazer claims that the UIC is controlled by an East African 
Al Qaeda cell with links to the 1998 bombings of US embassies in 

Washington is making it clear that it will not be satisfied with 
anything less than the installation of a client regime in Somalia.

The US and other imperialist powers such as France and Italy are 
politically responsible for the emergence of the UIC and its Islamic 
fundamentalist ideology in this impoverished country. Colonialism 
first created a patchwork of states in the Horn of Africa as 
elsewhere on the continent, which it was able to control and exploit. 
It then prepared the way for a series of internecine conflicts in the 
period after independence, when the region became a focus of Cold War 
struggles between the US and the Soviet Union for regional influence.

Washington and Moscow poured arms into the Horn of Africa as they 
struggled to gain control of the strategic region, which overlooks 
the sea lanes used for Middle Eastern oil shipments.

Somalia was a Soviet ally until the "Derg" military junta under 
Mengistu Haile Mariam overthrew Ethiopian Emperor Hailie Selassie in 
1974 and the Soviet Union shifted its support to the new Ethiopian 
regime. The US government took the opportunity to form an alliance 
with Somalia, arming the regime there with millions of dollars worth 
of sophisticated weaponry.

The US supported the dictator Siad Barre despite his pretensions to 
"scientific socialism." During the late 1970s and 1980s, Somalia 
became the largest recipient of US aid in Africa. Most of this money 
went to military projects.

Under US patronage, Siad Barre created the conditions of famine and 
the militarization of society that led to the anarchy and civil war 
of the last decade and a half. He fomented the clan rivalries that 
have subsequently torn the country apart.

The UIC was able to come to power this year with its anti-democratic 
policy of imposing sharia religious law because the Somali 
population, in particular its business interests, were weary of the 
rival warlords' bloody battles for precedence.

When Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, a unit of US Marines was 
diverted from the Gulf to evacuate the US embassy. A year later, the 
US returned in force under the pretext of a humanitarian operation. 
The reality was that the 30,000 combat troops, attack helicopters and 
warships deployed by the senior George Bush in Operation Restore Hope 
were sent to regain control of Somalia and consolidate the Middle 
Eastern gains that the US had made in the Gulf War of 1991.

The American intervention in Somalia was continued under President 
Clinton, but the US was forced to withdraw ignominiously in 1993 when 
two Black Hawk helicopters were brought down and 19 soldiers were 
killed in the capital Mogadishu. Since then, the significance of 
Somalia has increased rather than diminished, as the Horn of Africa 
has been identified as the location of important mineral resources, 
including oil.

Preparations for the present war began this summer when the UIC took 
control of Mogadishu. As the UIC rapidly extended its control over 
the rest of the country, the US began to work covertly through 
private military contractors to re-establish itself in Somalia. 
Emails leaked to the Observer and Africa Confidential in June this 
year revealed that Select Armor, ATS Worldwide and Special Associated 
Services-private mercenary corporations-had met with the CIA to 
discuss operations in Somalia. They were assisting Ethiopian forces 
in the defence of the TFG in Baidoa.

One email claimed to have United Nations agencies "on-side." UN 
personnel in Nairobi are said to have been told that the mercenary 
operation had full US backing. The UN certainly did not raise any 
objections to either Ethiopia's or the mercenaries' presence in 
Somalia, despite the fact that this intervention was in breach of a 
UN arms embargo. Its silence is evidence of its complicity in the war 
that is now unfolding.

The latest phase of the operation was likely discussed during the 
visit earlier this month of General John P. Abizaid, commander of the 
US Central Command (Centcom), to Ethiopia. According to the New York 
Times, Zenawi assured Abizaid that Ethiopia could cripple the 
Islamist forces "in one to two weeks."

Abizaid was well aware that an Ethiopian invasion would "create a 
humanitarian crisis across the Horn of Africa" according to Centcom 
officials. US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Frazer has also 
admitted, "If this thing goes to a military fight, it's a bloodbath."

UNICEF estimates that 8 million people, including 1.6 million 
children, are on the brink of starvation in the Horn of Africa. The 
area has been hit by severe drought and flooding. Aid agencies are 
already struggling to cope with half a million displaced people. 
Crops have failed and livestock has died. Malnutrition levels in 
southern Somalia are said to be acute, with one-fifth of children 
malnourished. Only a tiny proportion of those children are getting 
emergency food. The war can only make things much worse.

A new "Scramble for Africa"

US-domination of the Horn of Africa and the rest of the continent is 
under threat from rival powers, particularly following the debacle in 
Iraq. As Chester A. Crocker, who was an assistant secretary of state 
for Africa under President Reagan, recently told the BBC, "Africa is 
in play again."

Crocker pointed out, "It is a more competitive playing field which 
gives greater influence to African leaders as well as to potential 
competitors or 'balancers' of US diplomatic leverage. It is not just 
China: it is Brazil, the Europeans, Malaysia, Korea, Russia, India."

"America still has a lot of influence," said S. O. Mageto, a former 
Kenyan ambassador to Washington, "But not like it used to."

Nowhere is this more evident than in Sudan, which despite sanctions 
has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and certainly 
the fastest in Africa, due largely to Chinese investment in its oil 
industry. "We learned that we don't need the Americans anymore," said 
Lam Akol, Sudan's foreign minister. "We found other avenues."

The US response is once again to assert its interests by force of 
arms. Britain and the US have also threatened to impose a no-fly zone 
on western Sudan and are considering the possibility of carrying out 
air strikes.

African leaders are falling into line to act as puppets of US 
imperialism. Ethiopia's Zenawi is already acting as a proxy for the 
US and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is reportedly eager to send 
troops into Somalia.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Ugandan Foreign Minister 
Sam Kutesa in Washington last week and told him that Uganda had a key 
role to play in the region. Museveni, who has already invaded Congo, 
has extensive regional ambitions and the oil-rich southern provinces 
of Sudan to his north are a tempting target.

The fighting that has taken place in Somalia over the last week may 
prove to be just the opening phase of much longer war that involves 
many more countries. According to a recent report by the UN 
Monitoring Group on Somalia, the UIC is being supplied with arms and 
military training by Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Saudi 
Arabia and Syria, as well as Hezbollah of Lebanon.

The UIC is said to have surface-to-air missiles and second-generation 
anti-tank weapons. Eritrea has provided at least 17 deliveries of 

The allies of the UIC cannot allow the Ethiopian advance to go 
unanswered. The UN monitoring Group report warned that Somalia could 
turn "into an Iraq-type situation replete with roadside and suicide 
bombs, assassinations and other forms of terrorist and insurgent-type 

Eritrea cannot afford to allow Somalia to come under the domination 
of Ethiopia, with which it fought a bitter war in which hundreds of 
thousands were killed between 1998 and 2000. Even Middle Eastern 
states may be drawn into the conflict.

The Arab Union has condemned the Ethiopian action. The African Union 
has apparently supported Ethiopia, but African states are divided. 
Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen are supplying the TFG. Libya and Sudan may 
well line up behind the UIC.

More ominous still, while the US has tried to pre-empt its rivals by 
orchestrating the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, it may only have 
ensured that the Horn of Africa becomes a focus for ever more 
explosive imperialist rivalries. European Union envoy Louis Michel 
was trying to negotiate a power-sharing deal between the two sides as 
Ethiopia launched its offensive. His diplomatic efforts are now in 

France, China and Russia recently blocked a US-British attempt in the 
UN Security Council to empower neighbouring countries such as 
Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya to act as a UN peacekeeping force in 

Salim Lone, the spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq in 2003, 
described Ethiopia's actions in a column in the December 26 
International Herald Tribune as "a reckless US proxy war." Warning of 
its implications, he wrote, "Undeterred by the horrors and setbacks 
in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Bush administration has opened 
another battlefront in the Muslim world . . .

"The US instigation of war between Ethiopia and Somalia, two of 
world's poorest countries already struggling with massive 
humanitarian disasters, is reckless in the extreme. Unlike in the 
run-up to Iraq, independent experts, including from the European 
Union, were united in warning that this war could destabilize the 
whole region even if America succeeds in its goal of toppling the 
Islamic Courts."

See Also:
US continues covert action in Somalia
[27 September 2006]
US policy threatens war in Horn of Africa
[23 August 2006]

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