US backing Ethiopia’s Somalia intervention?

Thousands of Somalis chanted anti-US slogans at an Islamist protest against a Washington-backed plan to send foreign peacekeepers to prop up the country’s weak interim government Dec. 4. In a decrepit Mogadishu football stadium, Somalis shouted “Down with the USA!” as speakers accused the US and Ethiopia of planning to invade Somalia. (Reuters, Dec. 4) Meanwhile, an overview of reports from the region’s press picked up by BBC Monitoring indicates this intervention may already be in the works.

Ethiopian TV reported on the widely-overlooked visit to Addis Ababa by Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the US Central Command, on the same day as the anti-US rally in Mogadishu. Abizaid met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and discussed “further strengthening cooperation” between the two governments on regional stability in the Horn of Africa.

There are growing signs of this cooperation. The Somalia-based Somaaljecel website reported Nov. 27 that a “tripartite meeting among military officers from Ethiopia, America, and Yemen was held yesterday at a military base in Gode city in Ethiopia’s Somali regional state. Djibouti-based US military officers tasked with the fight against what is referred to [as] terrorism, military officers of Yemeni air and ground forces, as well as some high-ranking Ethiopian military officers took part in the meeting. The tripartite meeting discussed on the best ways to counter the Somali Islamic Courts and maintain security in the Horn of Africa. The meeting was concluded with the three sides agreeing to cooperate on the maintenance of security in the Horn of Africa while countering what is referred to [as] terrorists in the region. At the meeting, a coalition among the three countries was formed, and there is a plan to expand it to include Uganda and other unidentified countries.”

Somaaljecel also reported Dec. 3 that two military officers who defected to Mogadishu from the autonomous Somaliland region met with officials of the Islamic Courts Union and revealed “many secrets” on growing collaboration between Ethiopia and the breakaway Somaliland government. The two officers, Ali Du’ale Abubakar and Muhammad Abdullahi Abbas said “they had come to their Muslim brethren to participate in the jihad” against Ethiopia. They claimed they had recently completed training in field artillery and anti-aircraft guns in Awasa, Ethiopia. “After I realized I was part of the forces being prepared to invade the country, I decided to join the Islamic courts and contribute my knowledge,” said Ali Du’ale. “Our conscience would not let us bombard our country.”

Kenya’s The Standard newspaper reported Dec. 4 on a mysterious mission by US Marines to the country’s North Eastern Province bordering Somalia, which “has raised eyebrows among the local Muslims amid fears that the province is likely to be used as the launching pad” for military intervention. The Marines’ unexpected arrival in a convoy of trucks with sophisticated military and engineering equipment reportedly “caused a stir” in Garissa town. “We thought we had seen the last of them when they left the province late 2004 after completing the humanitarian projects,” said Hussein Issa, Garissa chairman of the ruling National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). “Now that they are back, it seems they have a special attachment to northern Kenya – probably due to its proximity to Somalia.”

Ogaden Online reported Dec. 5 that Ethiopian troops have established checkpoints on the main road between Mogadishu and Baidoa, seat of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The report claimed these troops have actually planted the car bombs which have exploded in Baidoa recently (see Shabelle Media Network, Nov. 30), as a provocation which would be blamed on the Islamic Courts Union.

The Somalia-based Goobjoog website charged Nov. 25 that Ethiopia is arming the TFG forces in Baidoa, and that the TFG troops are actually wearing Ethiopian army uniforms.

Finally, the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement entitled “Foreign intervention will only destabilize Somalia,” charging that the pending Security Council resolution on a peacekeeping mission would only “sanction military intervention by foreign forces to prop up one political entity in Somalia.”

All above sources via BBC Monitoring.

See our last post on the Horn of Africa.