THE United States, heavily engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq in its global war on terror, is now fighting on a third front in Somalia (1). Washington assembled an anti-terrorist coalition in the Gulf of Aden in 2001 and it is clear from recent air raids and the deployment of US battleships that it regards the Horn of Africa as part of the theatre of operations in its battle against al-Qaida.
It is up against the Union of Islamic Courts, funded by Mogadishu traders who had had enough of Somalia's warlords and their multiple abuses. Union forces drove the warlords out of Mogadishu last June and began to bring order to Somalia after nearly 15 years of chaos.
The US takes a narrow view of the fight against terrorism. It had backed the warlords and was not prepared to accept the new order, especially as the Islamic Courts were rumoured to be receiving aid from Iran. The US had run a programme of military assistance to Christian Ethiopia since 2002 and the Pentagon encouraged it to launch an offensive against Somalia, providing aerial reconnaissance and satellite surveillance support.
The Ethiopian campaign was a blitzkrieg: the areas held by the Islamic Courts were occupied within a week, Mogadishu was taken on 28 December 2006 and 20,000 Ethiopian troops are now deployed in Somalia. The US-led International Somalia Contact Group, set up last June, met in Nairobi, Kenya, in January and called for the proposed United Nations peacekeeping force to be sent in urgently. So far only Ethiopia and Uganda have agreed to send troops. Washington has agreed to grant $16m in aid to the interim Somali president, Abdullahi Yusuf, as well as humanitarian aid and a further $24m, $14m of which is to be allocated to the peacekeeping force. The Bush administration has accused the Somali Islamists of sheltering terrorists Fazul Abdullah Muhammad and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, involved in the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaida number two, responded by calling on Islamist fighters to resist: "I appeal to my Muslim brethren everywhere to respond to the call for jihad in Somalia. The real battle will begin by launching your campaigns against the Ethiopian forces." He recommended "ambushes, mines and suicide bombs" and urged the Islamists to employ the tactics used by insurgents fighting US-led forces in Afghanistan and Iraq (2).
Abulrahim Ali Modei, spokesman for the Islamic Courts, claims his movement has not lost the battle (3). His men have regrouped south of the Juba river, on the border with Kenya, in a zone where the Ethiopians and US special forces have been pursuing the Islamists with backup from AC-130 fighter aircraft based at Djibouti. The capture of Kabul in 2002 and Baghdad in 2003 did not solve the problems of the Taliban or Iraq, and the capture of Mogadishu by the Ethiopians has not solved Somalia's problems. They are just beginning. ________________________________________________________
(1) Or possibly a fourth front. Bush declared that Lebanon was "the third front in the global war on terror" when Israel launched its offensive against Hizbullah in August 2006.
(2) BBC News, 5 January 2007.
(3) International Herald Tribune, 4 January 2007
Translated by Barbara Wilson
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 1997-2007 Le Monde diplomatique