Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chronicle of a war foretold
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1204 16/12/2006

Alarm bells rang in the neighbouring countries when the heads of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) referred to “greater Somalia”, the ideology responsible for the war in the Ogaden thirty years ago, as well as calling for support from international Jihadists. A race to get into the lead then ensued. Ethiopia wants to protect itself from possible Islamist bombings inside the country and at the same time is preparing itself to give military support to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. The radicals of the UIC want the TFG to fall and to take Baidoa before international forces arrive on the scene. For its part, Eritrea is waging a war by proxy. It is supporting the UIC as part of its strategy of making mischief with the sole purpose of destabilising Ethiopia at any price.

Meles fears bombings. This month the Ethiopian army has undertaken coordinated searches in Addis Ababa and in other towns to find the arms and explosives that are believed to have been brought secretly into the country with the aid of Eritrea and ethnic Somalis (see p.2). At the same time, military recruitment operations are under way, including prisoners released on condition they join the army. Because the government of Addis Ababa does not want an engagement in Somalia to weaken its northern front, the border with Eritrea. An emergency committee on Somalia has been formed around Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. It includes Seyoum Mesfin, General Samora Younis, General Bache Debela, Abaye Tsehaye and at a lower level, colonels and heads of the country’s regional States. Special forces, trained by American instructors at the Bulaten camp, near the Kenyan border, are ready to fight in Somalia. But Meles Zenawi has not yet succeeded in creating national unity against the Somalian Islamist peril, as he had done during the war with Eritrea. Opposition MPs refused to vote a motion in Parliament at the end of November to give him the authority to undertake military action in Somalia. And even the MP widow of the former Minister Abdul Mejid Hussein, from the Somali People’s Democratic Party (SPDP, pro-government) abstained in this vote.

Islamists rearm. The leaders of the UIC want to arm with modern anti-tank weapons in order to be able to confront the Ethiopian army if need be. But their main objective is to get into the lead. In order to draw up their military strategy to take Baidoa as soon as possible, they have begun consultations with former Hawiye generals, like Mohamed Nour Galal and Mohamed Warsame Dholey. Trained in the former Soviet Union (1966-1969), a commander in the Dire Dawa sector (Ethiopian Ogaden) during the war with Ethiopia (1977-1978), General Galal has always been a staunch opponent of the warlord Aïdeed. After serving President Abdulkassim Salad Hassan (ION 942) he drew closer to the UIC. By brandishing the threat of a foreign intervention, the UIC has silenced critics of its decisions (such as banning Khat) in Mogadishu and has been able to impose taxes on commercial transactions to finance its war effort. It also obtained the return of 14 vehicles armed with machine guns and other weapons from the three telecoms companies operating in Mogadishu.

Kampala hesitates to intevene. After actively defending the idea of Ugandan participation in an African force to intervene in Somalia, President Yoweri Museveni backtracked. He was wary of opening up a military hornets nest. A Ugandan battalion has however been training since this summer at Singo, a military camp 80 km north of Kampala, ahead of its deployment in Somalia. It was trained first by British servicemen from the British Peace Support Team (BPST), normally based in Karen in the suburbs of Nairobi and then by French servicemen from the 13th half-brigade of the Foreign Legion based in Djibouti under the command of the Joint French Forces commander Major General Michel Arrault. Around thirty French legionnaires trained these Ugandan forces in peace-keeping tasks from 7 November until 1 December, such as escorting convoys, checkpoints and sensitive points in Baidoa, where they should be deployed to protect the Somalian presidency and the Transitional Federal Government.