Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Somali Crisis Still Burns Hot

Remember the other U.S. war – the one we ignore totally because it is Ethiopian rather than U.S. troops who are on the frontlines? On Feb. 11, the U.N. announced suspension of its operations in Somalia, the country recently called the worst place on earth for children because its local headquarters were attacked. Last fall, when the mainstream media in the US condescended to mention Somalia for a short while, it was reported that some 300,000 people had been displaced as a result of the Ethiopian war against the Islamic Courts Union that had succeeded in nearly unifying the country for the first time in two decades. It’s not over – 40,000 additional people have fled the capital in just the last two months – while the country’s plight was being totally ignored in the west.

Newsweek recently summarized the Somali situation as:

Worse than Darfur. That was the assessment two weeks ago of the United Nations' top refugee official in Somalia, who called the country Africa's worst humanitarian crisis. Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has effectively splintered into three separate states: Somaliland in the north, Puntland in the center and chaotic southern Somalia. In December 2006, U.S.-supported Ethiopian troops invaded the country to oust an Islamist government that briefly controlled Mogadishu and the south, triggering a civil war. Islamist and clan-based militias have battled Ethiopian troops and supporters of the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG). A small force of African Union
peacekeepers has been powerless to halt the violence. The war has forced 1
million people from their homes.

With the world still trying to prop up the Transitional Federal Government at the expense of the opposition (composed of the Islamic Courts Union and members of the TFG who opposed the Ethiopian intervention), it may be difficult to achieve peace even if African peacekeeping troops do eventually succeed in implementing current plans to replace the Ethiopians. For one thing, the extent of direct U.S. involvement remains unclear.

According to a recent report,

Djibouti City's Camp Lemonier serves as the base for the US Combined Joint
Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Most members of the 1,800-strong task
force appears to be engaged in fairly mundane activities - improving
military-to-military ties, training members of allied regional militaries and
humanitarian projects. However, the CJTF-HOA mission was clearly defined by its
first commander as combating "transnational terrorist groups posing an imminent

There have been unconfirmed reports of special operations raids in
neighboring Somalia which may have been launched from Djibouti airport or from
the multinational taskforce patrolling the nearby Somali coast and adjacent
shipping lanes.

On the other hand, both the new TFG prime minister and the opposition have expressed a willingness to talk.

Stay tuned; as we have seen repeatedly over the last few years, one-sided external intervention in a civil war tends to aggravate and prolong the pain endlessly.

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