The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight



December 25, 2006

Ethiopia launched an invasion of Somalia yesterday:

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

The coordinated assault was the first open admission by Ethiopia’s 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.

This war has the potential to get rather dangerous rather fast, as Eritrea is sending troops to Somalia to buttress its neighbor against its rival, and the Islamist militias / government of Somalia calls for a wider, jihadist type of war.

While the US has not been officially in Somalia since the post-Blackhawk Down pull-out in 1994, the CIA had been funding some of the non-Islamist warlords, hoping to help them defeat and capture some other warlords.

[O]fficials said the CIA effort, run from the agency’s station in Nairobi, channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year to secular warlords inside Somalia with the aim, among other things, of capturing or killing a handful of suspected members of Al Qaeda who are believed to be hiding there….

Indeed, some of the experts point to the U.S. effort to finance the warlords as one of the factors that led to the resurgence of Islamic militias in the country. They contend that U.S. support for secular warlords, who joined under the banner of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism, may have helped to unnerve the Islamic militias and prompted them to launch preemptive strikes. The Islamic militias have been routing the warlords, and they now claim to have taken control of most of the Somali capital.

“This has blown up in our face, frankly,” said John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit research organization with extensive field experience in Somalia.

“We’ve strengthened the hand of the people whose presence we were worried most about,” said Prendergast, who worked on Africa policy at the National Security Council and State Department during the Clinton administration.

In a way, Somalia has eerie similarities to Afghanistan of about 8 or 10 years ago. A country in anarchy after a superpower pulls out, various factions and warlords vie for supremacy. None is strong enough to prevail, until an Islamic fundamentalist militia comes in, routs the feuding warlords, and imposes a sense of order over the country. The order is an improvement over the enduring warfare for the local people, but the government develops ties to a global Islamist jihadist network of forces, such as Al Qaeda.

So now, Ethiopia, with, it seems, more than tacit but not quite overt, US support, is moving in to tip the balance toward the non-Islamist warlords. I guess we’ll see how this turns out.

Oh, and for those of you who celebrate it, I hope you enjoy a nice holiday today.

I’ll be engaging in the very traditional Chinese food and a movie. I’m thinking maybe chicken and eggplant in garlic sauce and The Good Shepard.

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.