Into Somalia Again

December 5, 2011: Ethiopia never really left Somalia, but the Ethiopian military has publicly returned to Somalia’s endless war. This time Ethiopia is acting as one member of what has essentially become the East African Allies. The surface enemy is Somalia’s Al Shabaab Islamist group; Eritrea is the deeper enemy, the one behind Al Shabaab. Kenya launched Operation Linda Nchi (“Protect the Nation” in Swahili) in mid-October. That incursion was originally cast as a border area operation, designed to remove Al Shabaab militias and terror cells from bases in the border region. However, Kenyan forces have penetrated to the port of Kismayo (Kismayu), which is about 250 kilometers from the border. Heavy rains bogged down the Kenya offensive, but so has resistance from Al Shabaab. Kenya began lobbying Ethiopia for help (and some of Kenya’s other allies, including the US). Ethiopia may see this as a chance to damage or even destroy a few of Al Shabaab’s larger militia organizations in southern Somalia. In Ethiopia’s view, that would deal Eritrea a heavy blow. Eritrea has already been dealt a diplomatic defeat. Ethiopia is receiving regional political support in east Africa and international diplomatic support (Western Europe, the US and Canada, and the UN). The regional support is fairly robust. The African Union (AU) has lined up with Ethiopia. The AU has its AMISOM peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Al Shabaab considers AMISOM to be one of its many enemies. East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional development coordination group, is also providing support. IGAD, in fact, now acts a lot like it is an alliance forum for Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. AMISOM is also considering increasing the number of troops it deploys. On November 17 the African Union openly discussed asking Ethiopia to send troops to assist its AMISOM peacekeeping units which are primarily located in Mogadishu. AMISOM now has troop strength of approximately 9,500 soldiers. The figure of 12,000 troops has been mentioned. An increase of 2,500 troops implies a brigade-sized unit. It would be very convenient to add, say, a Kenyan or Ethiopian brigade-sized force to AMISOM. The Kenyan addition would be more likely, given Ethiopia’s history in Somalia’s war. But never say never.

December 4, 2011: Kenya has asked Ethiopia to deal with a tribal feud on their common border. This long-standing dispute resulted in a raid by Ethiopian tribesmen into Kenya, in which five people were killed.

December 3, 2011: The UN is discussing a new sanctions regimen that would permit investment in Eritrea. The offer is an undisguised attempt to see if Eritrea is interested in cooperating with the UN on several issues, but especially halting its support for Somalia’s Al Shabaab (The Youth) Islamic terror organization.

December 1, 2011: The Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) and the Eritrean Salvation Front (ESF) are once again claiming their rebel forces launched a successful attack on an Eritrean military installation. The rebel groups claimed they attacked an Eritrean military position near the town of Tsorono (near the Eritrea-Ethiopia border) and killed 17 Eritrean soldiers. There has been no independent verification of the claimed attack. Eritrea typically dismisses RSADO and ESF claims as propaganda and says that both organizations are proxy forces for Ethiopia.

November 30, 2011: Ethiopia opened a new camp for Somali refugees (from famine and al Shabaab). There are now nearly 100,000 Somali refugees in Ethiopia. These exiles won’t go home until there is peace in Somalia.

November 29, 2011: Eritrea’s UN delegation asserted that Eritrea does not support Al Shabaab or any other Somali rebel groups. Moreover, Eritrea wants the UN to reprimand Kenya for lying. The Eritrean delegation was responding to a case filed on November 27 by Kenya before the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee. Kenya and Ethiopia accuse Eritrea of arming and training Al Shabaab’s militias and its terror cells. However, the evidence that Eritrea provides support for Al Shabaab and (at times) several Somali clan militias is solid. Intelligence agencies claim to have tracked ship and aircraft supply runs to Somali militia groups that trace back to Eritrean territory or were aided by Eritrean government agents. Eritrea claims that Al Shabaab gets its support from Somalis who live overseas (the Somali diaspora).

November 26, 2011: Several hundred more Ethiopian Army troops crossed the Ethiopia-Somalia border. The military operation commenced one day after the Ethiopian government agreed to support Kenya’s incursion into Somalia. However, Ethiopian military forces were already operating in central and southern Somalia. The Ethiopian military is much stronger, better trained, and better supplied than the Kenyan security forces.

November 25, 2011: Leaders from several East African nations met in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to discuss Kenya’s military incursion into Somalia. The leaders met under the auspices of east Africa’s IGAD. Ethiopia agreed to support Kenya’s military operation, calling it an operation against terrorists. Ethiopia said that Kenyan and Ethiopian forces should cooperate with forces deployed by Somalia’s Transitional National Government (TNG, also Transitional Federal Government). Basically, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda have gone to war with Al Shabaab, which they regard as an Eritrean proxy force. Uganda has peacekeeping troops deployed with the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Somalia (AMISOM) and Al Shabaab repeatedly threatens Uganda with terrorist attacks. IGAD includes Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia (the TNG), Djibouti, South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. Representatives from each of these nations attended the conference, as well as an African Union delegation. Eritrea also nominally belongs to IGAD but –no surprise?Eritrea did not send a delegate to the conference.

November 24, 2011: Kenyan authorities reported several roadside bomb and grenade attacks and one landmine explosions in areas near the Somalia-Kenya border. Three people were killed and 26 wounded in the incidents, one of which took place in the border town of Mandera. Al Shabaab fighters are trying to disrupt Kenyans operations in Somalia.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) claimed that soldiers in its guerrilla army (Ogaden National Liberation Army) attacked an Ethiopian military base in Degahbour province (the Ogaden desert region) on November 16. The ONLF claimed its forces killed 12 Ethiopian soldiers.

November 19, 2011: Somalis living in Gurieel (central Somalia, Galgudud area) reported a truck convoy of Ethiopian troops moved through the town. Western media often get these reports from locals who carry cell phones. Ethiopian soldiers show up in Somalia all the time, so a report of a convoy is no big surprise. However, the Kenyan incursion into southern Somalia was a surprise. Kenya has been trying to get Ethiopia to send troops to help that operation.

November 15, 2011: Kenyan political leaders and media are telling the Kenyan government that the country does not want to engage in a long war in Somalia. They fear a quagmire. Kenyan security forces (meaning both military units and police) entered Somalia in late-October, with the goal of destroying Al Shabaab based and militia groups based in southern Somalia. Al Shabaab terrorists had killed several Kenyans living in the Kenya-Somalia border region, kidnapped others, and had threatened further attacks in Kenya. Kenyan diplomats are seeking more international political support for the effort and military assistance. It is very likely that the US is providing Kenyan forces with intelligence data. The US provided Ethiopia with intelligence and operational guidance when Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006.

November 12, 2011:Kenya claimed that some three-dozen members of Al Shabaab had accepted an amnesty offer from the government. Several of the Al Shabaab fighters accepting amnesty claimed Kenyan citizenship.

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