US sponsors Ethiopian invasion of Somalia


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

December 25, 2006

Ethiopia Hits Somali Targets, Declaring War

ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, Dec. 24 ‹ Ethiopia officially plunged into war with 
Somalia¹s Islamist forces on Sunday, bombing targets inside Somalia and pushing 
ground troops deep into Somali territory in a major escalation that could turn 
Somalia¹s internal crisis into a violent religious conflict that engulfs the 
entire Horn of Africa.

The coordinated assault was the first open admission by Ethiopia¹s Christian-led
government of its military operations inside Somalia, where ‹ with tacit 
American support ‹ it has been helping a weak interim government threatened by 
forces loyal to the Islamic clerics who control the longtime capital, Mogadishu,
and much of the country.

Ethiopia¹s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, said in a televised broadcast that he 
had ordered the action because he had no choice.

³Ethiopian defense forces were forced to enter into war to protect the 
sovereignty of the nation,² he said. ³We are not trying to set up a government 
for Somalia, nor do we have an intention to meddle in Somalia¹s internal 
affairs. We have only been forced by the circumstances.²

According to witnesses, Ethiopian fighter jets bombarded several towns, 
obliterating an Islamist recruitment center and other targets, while Ethiopian 
tanks rolled into battle. The attacks set off riots in Mogadishu, Somalia¹s 
battle-scarred seaside capital, and fighting on several fronts in southern 

Ethiopia, which commands the region¹s most powerful military, did not disclose 
how many troops, tanks or planes it had sent into Somalia, but the United 
Nations has said at least 8,000 Ethiopian soldiers may be in the country. 
Casualties were reported Sunday, but reliable estimates were impossible to 

Until now, Ethiopian officials had denied that they had any combat forces inside
Somalia, saying instead that their involvement was limited to a few hundred 
military advisers.

Over the past few months, the Islamist clerics in Somalia have threatened 
Ethiopia for supporting their rivals, the internationally recognized 
transitional government.

On Saturday, after several days of heavy internal fighting, Islamist leaders 
announced that Somalia was now open to Muslim fighters around the world who 
wanted to wage a holy war against Ethiopia, a country with a long Christian 
history, even though it is about half Muslim.

³What did you expect us to do?² said Zemedkun Tekle, a spokesman for Ethiopia¹s 
information ministry. ³Wait for them to attack our cities?²

Even before Ethiopia¹s escalation on Sunday, there were alarming signs that the 
conflict in Somalia could quickly spiral out of control. According to United 
Nations officials, at least 2,000 soldiers from Eritrea, which recently waged 
war with Ethiopia, are fighting for the Islamists. They have been joined by a 
growing number of Muslim mercenaries from Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Libya who want
to turn Somalia into the third front of holy war, after Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Friday, residents of Mogadishu said they saw boatloads of armed men landing 
on the city¹s rocky beaches. On Sunday, after the bombings, Islamist leaders 
boasted of bringing in more. Still, from the Ethiopian government¹s viewpoint, 
the bombings may be delivering at least some of the desired effect.

For the first time since the Islamists came to power in Somalia in June and 
rapidly began expanding their reach, they seemed to be losing ground. In at 
least three places on Sunday ‹ Idaale, Jawil and Bandiiradley ‹ transitional 
government troops were pushing the Islamists back.

Residents of Beledweyne, near the Ethiopian border, said that after the 
Ethiopian jets pounded several armed pickup trucks belonging to the Islamists, 
the rest of the Islamist soldiers fled to the hills.

The bombs also destroyed a recruitment center and a fuel depot, killing at least
10 people, witnesses reported. Hours later, the transitional troops marched into
the area, and a new mayor was installed.

Many of Beledweyne¹s people seemed relieved, not so much about the change in 
government, but because the fighting appeared to have ended so fast.

³We¹re so sick of war,² said Ahmed Issa, a shopkeeper in Beledweyne. ³We¹ll obey

Much of Somalia has been mired in anarchy since 1991, when the central 
government collapsed, setting off a long, nasty interclan war. While the United 
Nations and donor countries struggled to get a new government on its feet, a 
grass-roots movement of Islamic courts began to gain power.

After Islamist leaders defeated the last of Mogadishu¹s warlords, they 
immediately restored a sense of law and order unheard of in the capital for 15 
years. Then they began pushing outward, eventually reaching the outskirts of 
Baidoa, the seat of the transitional government.

The transitional government has never been popular, and its military forces are 
divided between rival politicians, many of whom spend the majority of their time
outside of Somalia. This summer, Ethiopia began slipping soldiers across the 
border to protect both the transitional government and Ethiopia itself.

The Islamists had threatened to liberate Somali-speaking areas of Ethiopia and 
stir up Ethiopia¹s Muslim population.

American officials acknowledged that they tacitly supported Ethiopia¹s approach 
because they felt it was the best way to check the growing power of the 
Islamists, whom American officials have accused of sheltering terrorists tied 
with Al Qaeda. A State Department spokesperson in Washington said Sunday that 
the United States was assessing reports of the surge in fighting in Somalia but 
provided no further comment.

A major question going forward seems to be whether Ethiopian forces will advance
into Mogadishu and try to finish off the Islamist military, a possibility that 
many fear could spur a long and ugly insurgency, or simply deal the Islamists 
enough of a blow to force them back to negotiations with the transitional 

The rival authorities in Somalia have flirted with the idea of sharing power, 
but several rounds of peace talks have produced little but broken promises.

In a hint of a possible direction to come, Ethiopia¹s prime minister recently 
told American officials that he could wipe out the Islamists ³ in one to two 

But many analysts fear that the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia will 
only make matters worse, because of the history of conflict between Ethiopians 
and Somalis. The two nations have battled over contested border areas before, 
and the difference of religions, with Somalia almost purely Muslim, has often 
been an aggravating factor.

On Sunday, as word began to spread that Ethiopian planes were bombing Somalia, 
students in Mogadishu rushed into the streets and began rioting. They kicked in 
doors and smashed plate glass windows, yelling at the few shopkeepers still 
open: ³This is not time for business! This is time for war!²

The Islamists are using teenagers as their main fighting force. Last week, right
after heavy combat began between the Islamist troops and the transitional 
government forces, Islamist leaders closed all schools in Mogadishu to funnel 
more young people into battle.

Witnesses in frontline areas have said that waves of young, poorly trained 
Islamist fighters have been mowed down by Ethiopian troops. Ethiopia¹s military 
is trained by American advisers and is supplied with millions of dollars of 
American aid.

On Sunday, Abdulrahim Ali Modei, the Islamists¹ information minister, conceded 
at a news conference that many of the Islamist troops had been killed, but he 
did not sound discouraged.

³These are victories,² he said. ³Our soldiers are in paradise now.²

Yussuf Maxamuud and Mohammed Ibrahim contributed reporting from Mogadishu, 

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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