Tuesday, 24 November 2009

War in Somalia, An Analysis

Somali Shabab forces struck at an AU base in the capital, Mogadishu, killing 14 enemy soldiers on 17th September 2009. The slain men included 10 Burundian troops and 4 Ugandan soldiers. Among the dead was also the deputy commander of the pro-American AMISOM mission stationed there.

This was the latest round of spiralling changes following Ethiopia’s alleged re-entry in Somalia earlier in September. The World media announced Ethiopian forces had annexed a town without firing a shot; a report immediately denied by Addis Ababa.

The previous month, pro government militias including the AJW were in jubilant mood following the tactical withdrawal of the Hizbul Islam, a Muslim group allied to the Shabab from the town of Luuq on 19th August. In another area of Somalia, Bulahara, a second town, was immediately fortified following the Shabab’s temporary retreat two days earlier on 17th August

Both towns were quickly seized and easily recaptured by the respective pro-Shariah groups. On Thursday 20th August Somali government forces fought fierce battles with the Shabab in the town of Buloborte and withdrew in humiliation from there some time later.

Earlier, the key town of Jowhar, north of Mogadishu, fell to the Shabab on 17th May 2009 after the pro-government chief militia withdrew from their positions after a day long siege.

Jowhar was selected as the temporary seat of parliament since 2005 and is the hometown of the country’s pro-US President Sheikh Ahmed Sharif. The government has been losing ground for weeks but has downplayed its defeats.

The Shabab had similarly annexed the City of Hudur, close to the border with Ethiopia on 25th February 2009. It was their second major success since the election of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the Somali President in January 2009. The Somali government had shifted to Hudur last month when Baidoa fell to the Shabab in January.

Hudur is 180 miles northwest of Mogadishu and fell to the Shabab after a short battle with government militias. The militias withdrew from the city leaving the Shabab in control. The fall of Hudur is just one of several other conquests including Buloborte and Elbur, also north of the capital taken by the Shabab in the last six months.

The Ethiopian Army left Somalia on Friday 15th January 2009, a process it had started in the first week of the year. It permanently left behind 3, 773 comrades on Somali soil as a reminder of its invasion three years earlier.

As it withdrew its forces, the last remaining outposts were dismantled and then the power vacuum which several secularists and other anti-Islamic hardliners had long since forewarned materialised.

The Ahlus Sunnah Waljamaca (ASW), a self-styled so-called ‘Islamic’ group’ is likely to be have been armed by withdrawing Ethiopian forces, and is waging the weak Somali government’s war on the Shabab with varying success.

No one had heard of the group until very recently and to this day, no one seems to be interested in its origins, ideologies, strategies, sources of military arsenal and actual purpose. Ethiopia and the US are their likely arms suppliers and sponsors.

The fact that the World Media calls them ‘Islamists’ sheds some suspicious light on them, the US hates any group that says they are all for Islamic governments, so why the silence on the ASW and lack of condemnation.

The Shabab meanwhile are still the most powerful army in Somalia and the sudden emergence of the ASW, is likely to have been a response to contain the Islamic forces from assuming office and delay the inevitable; an Islamic Emirate in the African continent.

African Union forces (AU) from Uganda and Burundi currently make up 3, 500 soldiers, but insists on shying away from direct military involvement with any of the various militias. Their role, they say, is to protect the Somali Presidential Palace, Parliament and senior politicians.

They were nowhere to be seen however; when the presidential palace was heavily shelled from hilltops overlooking the building on the same day the Ethiopians completed their withdrawal.

Both before and after the Ethiopian military left Mogadishu, fierce fighting between the Shabab and the ASW erupted and has left scores dead from either side. The Shabab now control most of Somalia in the south while the ASW is the largest rebel faction to oppose it and the only one not to be spoken against by the fledgling Somali government.

Interestingly, the AU forces have not condemned the ASW, which shows tacit approval from their side and similarly the new Somali President, elected in February 2009, is only interested in moving against the Shabab alone.

The AU however have since lost any popular public support if ever they had it after opening fire on civilians when one of their convoys was attacked via a roadside bomb in early February 2009.

The resulting gunfire from AU troops left over a dozen Somali men, women and children dead and a growing distrust towards foreign forces and their exact intentions. The AU suffered no casualties both from the earlier explosion or the ensuing firing by their own troops.

The Shabab meanwhile have assumed actual consolidation of Baidoa, pockets of Mogadishu and the outlying areas as well as most of Somalia itself. The Shabab have promised to protect the interests and rights of all people and legislate according to Shariah law alone. In this manner, perfect justice will be exercised, implemented and exerted across the land as a whole.

Its chief rivals, the ASW, have since largely disappeared from sight, but briefly took the empty police stations and checkpoints across the capital following the Ethiopian withdrawal.

A so called ‘moderate islamist’ (in reality a US supporter and US friendly interpreter of Islam) was elected President (not by the common masses, but by politicians outside Somalia) some time later.

11 Burundian soldiers were killed in February 2009 after a vehicle carrying explosives crashed into a military building used by the AU troops. Burundi condemned the attack and vowed to send a battalion of 850 soldiers. Heavy fighting escalated following the incident.

Somalia 2006-

Officially there are only three fronts the US has declared a multinational coalition war on, the third being Somalia, but only the first two have deep and meaningful US military involvement.

Ethiopia, pulled out its forces in January 2009, and did America’s bidding in Somalia from 1996 ousting the popular Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) administration that ruled large parts of the country under Shariah law for six months in 1996.

Despite International press reports, only southern Somalia is in a state of war. The North is like a different country with peace, relative harmony, little insecurity, no scarcity of food, no reports of kidnapping, rape, torture, corruption and certainly no displaced populations because of conflict and disease.

Aside from that, the Somali government, once supported by Ethiopian troops backed by US weapons and subsidies from Djibouti (where US forces are stationed), controls only Mogadishu and until early 2009 held Baidoa (where the Somali Parliament is situated) in addition to a few army barracks.

Despite this it is still recognised as the legitimate government by the International community led by the United States, who overthrew a popular, more stable and strong administration.

The Somali President, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a US puppet ruler who resigned in late December 2008 over problems he encountered with the Prime Minister and his ministers in dealing with the Mujahideen, had little authority or jurisdiction outside the capital, Mogadishu.

In November 2008, he further admitted the errors of his own government in tackling the nation’s anxieties and the Somali Mujahideen, known as the Shabab, were now as invigorated as ever.

“Islamists have taken over everywhere else, so if I ask you parliamentarians: do you know the situation we face? Who causes all these problems? We are to blame.”

The following month, Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, announced African forces in Somalia namely from Uganda and Burundi, supporting them now also want to leave the country soon.

His comments came during Prime Minister’s Question time in the Ethiopian Parliament, which showed the seriousness of his statements. The two named countries then promptly denied this.

Members of the al-Shabab group now control most of the country and had advanced to the suburbs of Mogadishu, as well as Baidoa, he added. People have spoken of seeing the Shabab even inside the Capital itself, who neither harass nor kill civilians.

The Al Shabab have since consolidated their gains and are now fully in control of all conquered territories. Shariah law is legislated, implemented and regulated with adherence to the strict guidelines of the Sunnah and the Qur’an.

Nationalist militias and different warlords with a variety of agendas (some local, others tribal and a few regional) across the country also make their presence felt with much greater effect than the government and pirates roam in the sea.

All organised military factions are held together by one common aim- the expulsion of the Ethiopian presence in their country. There is further displeasure at American interference of their national affairs and forcing their government to spend less on the economy and overcoming poverty and more on waging war against the pro-Shariah Somalis .

In December 2008, a new group incorrectly calling itself the Ahlus Sunnah Waljamaca, declared war on the Shabab. The new group is made up of several creeds and factions with little or no connection to one another and are not interested in the legislation, implementation or enforcement of Shariah, only in causing confusion and anarchy among Muslims in Somalia and abroad through its name and Western media support.

The new group is indirectly supported by the US to divert attention to the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces and assist the fledgling Somali government for as long as possible which is otherwise due to collapse once all foreign troops leave.

The group is said to be strong and has engaged in several confrontations with the Shabab allegedly with some level of success, the probability is it was supplied with weapons, military information and surveillance from Washington.

The Shabab themselves, projected as the villains of the Somalia with links to Al Qaeda, however, are different from the six-month old Islamic administration of Southern Somalia of 2006, known as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).

The latter still exist, but have no direct links or influence on the Shabab. The latter started as a junior member of the UIC, one of many groups who supported the UIC in its aims to legislate and implement Shariah law, but have since broken away. It is the Shabab now who hold the key to the best salvation for the entire nation.

While the UIC never assumed the reins of government in its entirety, the lands and territories that passed under their control were administered with fairness, tolerance, peace and a degree of prosperity not seen for 16 years.

They emerged initially as a formation of interests by different classes of people and quickly ascended in popularity. Representatives intervened on behalf of people wronged by warlords and championed their causes.

The US overthrew the Islamic presence with Ethiopian military assistance and re-installed the deeply unpopular and unstable present administration in the areas previously held by the UIC.

The Islamic successors to the UIC, the Shabab, upon assuming power, have attained personal popularity, brought law and order and a semblance of peace to an otherwise shattered nation in the areas they now hold.

The present Somali puppet government has declared the Shabab as the ‘Somali Taliban’ and the US similarly declared Somalia as being in grave risk of destruction if the Ethiopians withdrew.

The Ethiopian Army remained in Somalia for years despite its resentment by Somalis and the near bankruptcy of its own country because of famine, drought and its ongoing occupation of a nation it has been unable to consolidate or win the trust and support of.

However, in recent months, despite superior weaponry, military arsenal and larger numbers of servicemen and recruits, the Ethiopian military became bogged down and was unable to contain the onslaught of the new Muslim revolutionary forces.

At first, reports of defeat on the battlefield were played down and denied but as town after town fell and the fatalities started to mount heavily, the Ethiopians grudgingly started to come clean about its failures both on the ground and in the air.

It was airpower that enabled the Ethiopians to retake Mogadishu from the UIC in the 1990s but despite limited jet planes, the Shabab have the aerial advantage now too.

The Shabab first came to light in the mid 1990s, but were initially overshadowed by the larger, more powerful and influential UIC, whom it allied itself with voluntarily in its early years.

It was in June 2006 the UIC made headlines when they captured the Capital, Mogadishu from the government. In the months that followed more southern cities and major towns fell to them including Burkhaba, Jowhar and Kismayo.

No massacres, genocide, famine or pestilence came as a result. By December 2006, the Somali government felt it couldn’t stem the thrusts of the UIC Mujahideen, enter the Ethiopians.

Ethiopia had crossed into Somalia as early as July 2006, but only admitted it was sending in military trainers to help the government. The first column included 100 trucks and an undisclosed number of armoured cars.

The same month, the UIC launched a Jihad against the Ethiopian army. It was not until 25th October the Ethiopian government announced it was technically at war with the UIC.

In late November 2006, a resolution in the Ethiopian Parliament was passed allowing the government to take any legal and necessary steps against aggression by the UIC Mujahideen towards them.

In early December, the UIC Mujahideen announced they had been involved in a battle with the Ethiopians. Fierce fighting then erupted lasting almost the entire month between the two sides.

By January, government forces supported by an enormous Ethiopian army and air force using US arms, gun ships, helicopters and mortar fire carried the day. Since then a weak government supported by the US and Ethiopia ruled parts of the country with little actual control.

In mid 2008 however, the Shabab, the successors to the UIC Mujahideen emerged alone (and had since broken with the UIC) with more firepower, recruits and determination.

It has since had several successes in military terms this year, both against the Somali government and the Ethiopian army in addition to evading US missile strikes from across the border in Djibouti, where American warplanes, drones, military intelligence and possibly Special Forces are based.

In three short months they captured five major cities and are now on the verge of taking a sixth, the capital, Mogadishu, by storm. Somali government forces, the Ethiopian army and air force, pro-US local militias and warlords and even the African peacekeeping troops in the country, all failed to stem the thrusts of the Shabab.

In August 2008, the Shabab conquered the key port of Kismayo and installed Shariah law immediately. In September the Shabab drove out the Ethiopians from Beledweyne, a City along the border and close to the capital, Mogadishu.

In October, pro-government militias withdrew from Merka, also in the south and Shariah was again instituted there. All shops, merchants and trading stops at the call to Prayer and the Criminal Law of Shariah restored order, bringing a sense of security and life to the society that had been languishing in darkness. Residents welcomed the change arguing the old ruler had been tyrannical and despotic.

Later in November, the Shabab annexed the cities of Barewe and Elasha, the former is a seaport 180 km from the capital. Although the government is still nominally in charge of Mogadishu, the Shabab are visible and present here as well, conducting training exercises, intermingling with the common people and implementing Shariah and justice.

Like the Ethiopian Army before them, Somali government forces and pro-US militias are in a state of constant and almost daily assault as the Shabab continue to encircle and re-conquer the south fully.

Time is all that is left for the present government to fade from history along with its supporters and lack of actual Western promises of economic or military assistance and aid.

Food, or the lack of it, is a bigger issue for both the Somali and Ethiopian governments as poverty, rising unemployment, excess inflation and a colossal increase in crime drives more and more people against both.

While Ethiopian forces were poised to leave in January 2009 while Burundi and Uganda, which make up the military relief columns of the AU (African Union) services earlier voiced discontent at being left to face the Shabab themselves once Ethiopia withdrew.

The Ethiopians were further undermined by a less than committed ally in the form of the United States. To defeat the Shabab, Ethiopian forces required more troops, Special Forces, more arms, greater surveillance equipment and more finance.

At the time of departure, they had none of those essentials and as such, preferred to leave Somalia to the Somalis. Once the Ethiopians exited, the Somali government, which is collapsing day by day, it was believed would almost certainly fall quickly.

Somalia is thus likely to be the first of the three fronts in the War on Terror to dissolve and end in defeat for the US. Washington is reluctant to despatch forces again (if its 1990s involvement is anything to go by) and few European nations desire to be hemmed in another conflict.

The AU has already announced it wants to protect certain figures and places only, not take on an offensive role or become the object of attack themselves. The AU hopes a full UN force arrives to relieve them soon. A US proposal to the UN recommending this change has been welcomed by Ethiopia and the AU.

There were 3, 000 Ethiopian troops as of January 2009 and now there are 3, 200 AU troops, from two African nations as well as the official Somali government military and a small number of militias and warlord factions who support the present administration.

The AU forces are present only in Mogadishu and Baidoa. The UN has ruled out an international force adding there is no peace to protect at all and dangerous to send UN troops at all.

While the Ethiopians left in January 2009, both Burundi and Uganda were to supply an extra battalion later while Nigeria said it would also despatch a force of 850 personnel in January as well, but didn’t.

US Involvement

The Americans maintain both the UIC and the Shabab are an offshoot branch of Al Qaeda in Africa and are as such sponsors of Terrorism, hence their principal cause of opposition to an Islamic Emirate in Somalia.

The US further stresses it voiced strong opposition to Ethiopian military involvement in Somalia before its invasion in 2006 to dislodge the UIC, but supported them after the first consignment of troops landed across the border.

The support was verbal alone and involved no military supplies as such, the Ethiopians agree to the first point, but not the second. It is because of failed promises of both economic and military aid to Ethiopia, the invaders are now leaving.

Pestilence, famine and economic ruin in Ethiopia itself as well as harassment across the frontier with tiny Eritrea (Ethiopia’s most dangerous adversary) and Somali tribesmen in the troubled Ogaden Province (the only area in Ethiopia where Somalis make up the majority and Somalia itself claims as its own) mean there is now only consequence, bankruptcy and political disaster foreseeable as long as it remains on foreign soil.

The official line to the Ethiopian withdrawal is an agreement drafted in December 2008 between the present administration and several factions including a former rebel group to form a new government once all ‘foreign forces’ leave.

Since no one liked the Ethiopian army, especially the civilians who staged a series of several peaceful protest marches over the years, the reference to ‘foreign’ was both open and blunt for all to see.

Meanwhile, the US itself operates a military base with a small contingent of troops in neighbouring Djibouti and the Somali government has since sold its sovereignty, soil, airspace and civilian population to American fighter bombers; the only military the USA is willing to send to Somalia themselves.

As it has planning permission to demolish Somalia from the air (and through shipments of arms and finances to its puppet Somali government continue its occupation of the Muslim State), it does so without international or UN condemnation.

In early September 2009, the US launched a well rehearsed helicopter raid deep into Somali territory using commandos to kill Mujahideen leader, Saleh Nabhan, a sign of expanding American interest in the region and also of the dissatisfaction of its fledgling ally’s government ability to tackle the Muslim army on its own.

Somalis can aspire for, desire and dream of an Islamic Emirate under Shariah, but must get a democracy instead, so much for real representation of the people, by the people and for the people.

The present administration does not represent the population, is unpopular and controls less than 1% of Somalia, but gets the blessing of the US and its allies; the international community known to some as the ‘United Slaves of America’.

Somalia and the Ogaden Province

Few outside observers have noted the relevance, importance and necessary consequence of the Ogaden Province in Ethiopia in modern times, especially in light of the Ethiopian military presence in Somalia itself from 2006 to the present day.

Even before 1991, when Somalia last had a united and functional government under President Siad Barre (ruled 1969-1991), Ethiopia was seen as the country’s most hated neighbour and opponent.

It was chiefly due to Ethiopia’s occupation of the Somali-majority mineral rich Ogaden Province that provoked the two sides to despise and mistrust the other. Both countries have been in a state of war for several decades against internal opponents and as such have immense combat experience behind them including against each other.

However, since the 1990s, the Ethiopians hold the military advantage, thanks largely to a more stable government and earlier US munitions and weaponry in the form of gun-ships, modern helicopters, superior aircraft, armed convoys and larger numbers of supplies in general.

Against one another, the two nations have fought twice and continued a war of attrition across the border, but chiefly in and around the Ogaden Province for ten years after the second conflict between them. None of the three military encounters brought a lasting agreement or peace. Only more resentment and hatred for the other followed.

The first war in 1964 was brief, yet bloody nonetheless. Both sides gained little and no agreement was reached. The second, between March 1977-July 1978, lasted longer and almost resulted in a complete Somali victory until close to the end of the war.

Under the direction of Somalian President Muhammad Siad Barre, who had been a major before staging a coup in 1969, Somali forces occupied up to 90% of the Ogaden in the early phase of the war.

By July 1977, after just four short months, Somali forces had all but won the war and pushed the Ethiopians out. Ethiopia believed most of Somalia’s army and air force was used in the invasion in the early months.

Ethiopian forces rallied with fresh and regular supplies through heavy Soviet support throughout the war to push the Somalis out of the Ogaden. The resulting shift in fortunes ended in a crushing Somali defeat.

This was especially distressing since the Somali army and air force are actually stronger and more powerful than the Ethiopians. While Ethiopia itself is no pushover itself, the Somalis are more headstrong and fiercer in battle than its much larger neighbour in comparison.

Siad Barre had made the mistake of switching allegiances from the Soviet Union to the US just before launching a full scale invasion of the Ogaden expecting immediate assistance in the form of huge arms shipments and weapons from Washington.

Siad Barre had also misjudged the converse reactions of the USSR to his sudden departure. The Russians had not taken the snub lightly and quickly rushed supplies to his opponents, the Ethiopians, in the wake of the invasion. The Russians wanted an Ethiopian victory.

The US meanwhile under President Jimmy Carter, seemed dumbstruck by it, and sent in defensive support equipment as it had been their newest ally, Somalia, who had initiated the war itself. The Americans did not seem interested in a Somali victory, only in their own international image as patrons of a military aggressor.

The change in military terms gave Ethiopia a massive military boost and cut off Somali aid and reinforcements from abroad or anywhere else, while the Russians continued to furnish further provisions and food to its ally.

The terms of the ceasefire in 1978 were heavily in favour of Ethiopia and as a result of the one-sided clauses within the armistice; the two sides did not waver to wage an undeclared war on the border until 1988. An inconclusive peace between them followed, but again no real or lasting agreement arose and the problem remains to this day.

Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, and with his downfall, the natural consequence of instability; civil war in Somalia while Ethiopia continued its war with Eritrea (then a rebel province) until 1994, when it too became an independent country after almost thirty years of insurrection against the Ethiopians.

In the face of internal troubles between them, neither side looked to the Ogaden seriously, but now that the disturbances within each nation are coming to a close, the issue of the independence of Ogaden is likely to resurface once more.


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Anonymous said...