The international offensive against the Islamist al-Shabaab organization in Somalia appeared to take a new turn last week as hundreds of Ethiopian troops accompanied by armored personnel carriers reportedly crossed the border into the famine- and war-torn nation.
The U.S. had already expanded its drone war into Somalia over the summer, and Kenyan troops have been fighting al-Shabaab in southern Somalia since last month. A significant incursion now by Ethiopia could shift the dynamics of the already chaotic war.
But according to Bronwyn E. Bruton, deputy director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, it would be wrong to assume Ethiopia ever fully left Somalia after its violent and failed occupation of Mogadishu two years ago.
“There was a terrific fanfare when Ethiopia withdrew in 2009, but they really only withdrew from Mogadishu,” Bruton told Trend Lines last week. “Since then they’ve remained embedded in the Somali border region, maintaining proxies and making regular incursions over the border. So when we talk about them now re-engaging in Somalia, we’re really talking about a ramping up in response to a particular set of conditions.”
Ethiopia, she said, is above all driven by a desire to contain a long-running separatist movement gripping its own oil-rich Ogaden region, which borders northeastern Kenya and southern Somalia. The mostly Muslim region is populated by Ogaden ethnic-Somali clans and home to the pro-succession Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF