Friday, May 23, 2008

Somali Insurgent Offensive Vs. U.S.-Supported Ethiopians

While all eyes are focused on the complex dance of Lebanese clients and their international patrons, the U.S. confrontation with Islam continues apace in Somalia. As in Lebanon, resolution of local issues is complicated by the larger competition between external forces (in Somalia, al Qua’ida and the U.S. rather than Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., France, and Israel, as in Lebanon), which enflames the fighting, intensifies antagonisms, and imperils local efforts at conciliation. Unlike Lebanon (since the retreat of U.S. forces in 1983, the retreat of Israeli forces in 2000, and the retreat of Syrian forces in 2005), the Somali situation is further enflamed by the participation in the fighting of foreign ground troops.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Somali insurgent leader, announced plans to expel U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops from Somalia by force despite on-going indirect peace talks in Djibouti –
talks that were undermined before they could even get started by a U.S. missile strike that killed not only an insurgent leader but two dozen others.

Indeed, opponents of the Ethiopian intervention force fighting in Somalia since December 2006 seem to be on the offensive this week, making good on their promise to avenge that missile attack and enhancing their negotiating position vis-à-vis traditional enemy Ethiopia in preparation for reconvening the talks on May 31. The Islamic Courts Union reportedly seized the agricultural center of Jilib on May 17.

The U.S. missile attack was the fifth since early 2007 on Somalia, attacks which have highlighted a U.S. policy that, according to Lynn Fredriksson, Advocacy Director for Africa, Amnesty International USA, has placed short-sighted counter-terror concerns at the forefront of U.S. involvement in the region, while human rights and humanitarian concerns are routinely pushed aside.” According to Ms. Fredriksson, the attacks have led to “civilian casualties, destruction of civilian property and livelihood, and the widespread belief that the U.S. protects the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and backs up Ethiopian forces, without genuine concern for civilians.”

The UN has warned that half the population faces famine. Troops fired on “tens of thousands of rioters” demanding food earlier in May.

U.S. missile attacks on insurgents may not slow their military activities but do seem quite effective against negotiations. Meanwhile, an additional 50,000 Somalis have been displaced so far this year, for a total of over 10% displaced out of a population of 8,000,000.

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