The War in Somalia is an ongoing armed conflict involving largely Ethiopian and Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces versus the Somali Islamist umbrella group, the Islamic Court Union (ICU), and other affiliated militias for control of the country. The war officially began shortly before July 20, 2006 when the U.S. backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to prop up the TFG in Baidoa. Subsequently the leader of the ICU, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, declared "Somalia is in a state of war, and all Somalis should take part in this struggle against Ethiopia". On December 24, Ethiopia stated it would actively combat the ICU.
Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, said Ethiopia entered hostilities because it faced a direct threat to its own borders. “Ethiopian defense forces were forced to enter into war to protect the sovereignty of the nation,” he said. “We are not trying to set up a government for Somalia, nor do we have an intention to meddle in Somalia's internal affairs. We have only been forced by the circumstances.”
The ICU, which controlled the coastal areas of southern Somalia, engaged in fighting with the forces of the Somali TFG, and the autonomous regional governments of Puntland and Galmudug, all of whom were backed by Ethiopian troops. The outbreak of heavy fighting began on December 20 with the Battle of Baidoa, after the lapse of a one-week deadline the ICU imposed on Ethiopia (on December 12) to withdraw from the nation. Ethiopia, however, refused to abandon its positions around the TFG interim capital at Baidoa. On December 29, after several successful battles, TFG and Ethiopian troops entered Mogadishu relatively unopposed. The UN also stated that many Arab nations including Libya and Egypt were also supporting the ICU via Eritrea. Although not announced until later, a small number of U.S. special forces troops accompanied Ethiopian and TFG troops after the collapse and withdrawal of the ICU to give military advice and to track suspected al-Qaida fighters. Both American support for the TFG and various Arab Nations' support for the ICU were isolated cases from the central motive of the war between the allied Ethiopian & Somali government forces and the allied ICU & Eritrean forces.
As of January 2007, Ethiopia said it would withdraw "within a few weeks but the TFG, US and UN officials oppose Ethiopian withdrawal because it would create a "security vacuum," while the ICU has demanded immediate Ethiopian withdrawal.
The two sides had traded war declarations and gun fire on several occasions before. Eastern African countries and international observers fear the Ethiopian offensive may lead to a regional war, involving Eritrea, a long-time enemy of Ethiopia, who Ethiopia claims to be a supporter of the ICU.
More recently, boundary disputes over the Ogaden region date to the 1948 settlement when the land was granted to Ethiopia. Somali disgruntlement with this decision has led to repeated attempts to invade Ethiopia with the hopes of taking control of the Ogaden to create a Greater Somalia. This plan would have reunited the Somali people of the Ethiopian-controlled Ogaden with those living in the Republic of Somalia. These ethnic and political tensions have caused cross-border clashes over the years.
While it is true the ICU made threats to carry the war into Ethiopia, the circumstances referred to were in part due to prior Ethiopian actions in response to historical conflicts in the region. Before proxy wars between Ethiopia and Eritrea began in the late 1990s, ICU was helping rebels inside Eastern Ethiopia against the Ethiopian government. Thus Ethiopia's involvement in Somalia had begun months before, with the intercession of forces to support the establishment of the transitional government, and to support other regional governments considered more acceptable to Ethiopia so that ICU won't be able to support more insurgents inside Eastern Ethiopia.
Even before the beginning of the war, there have been significant assertions and accusations of the use of disinformation and propaganda tactics by various parties to shape the causes and course of the conflict. This includes assertions of falsification of the presence or number of forces involved, exaggeration or minimization of the casualties inflicted or taken, influence or control of media outlets (or shutting them down), and other informational means and media to sway popular support and international opinion.
On October 9, it was reported Ethiopian troops seized Burhakaba. Another article seemed to indicate the Ethiopian control was a troop convoy passing through. Islamists claim the town reverted to their control after the Ethiopians departed. SomaliNet reports the elders asked the government to leave in order to avoid bloodshed in their town. The article said it was government troops, and not Ethiopians who had come to the town.
An Ethiopian column of 80 vehicles was hit by landmines and then attacked with gunfire by a group of about 50 troops loyal to the ICU on November 19, 2006 near Berdaale, 30 miles (50 km) west of Baidoa. Six Ethiopians were reported killed in the attack. Two Ethiopian trucks burned and two were overturned.
An exchange of mortar shells between Islamic Courts Union and Ethiopian forces occurred in Galkayo, on November 28, 2006, with both Islamists and Ethiopian forces facing off. Ethiopian and Islamist forces in Galkayo, central Somalia, were less than 5 kilometers away from one another.
On November 30, an Ethiopian military convoy in Somalia was ambushed by fighters loyal to the Islamic Courts Union. Eyewitnesses said a truck was blown up and there was an exchange of fire. The ICU claim 20 soldiers died. Ethiopia's parliament voted the same day to authorize the government take "all necessary" steps to rebuff any potential invasion by Somalia's Islamists.
On December 8, 2006, fighters from Somalia's Islamic Courts Union clashed with Somalian government forces, allegedly in cooperation with Ethiopian troops. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, head of the Islamic Courts, told a crowd in Mogadishu that fighting had started in Dinsor in the south, and called on all Somalis to "stand up and defeat the enemies". Another official said Ethiopian troops had shelled the town of Bandiradley. The Deputy Defence Minister of the Somali government, Salat Ali Jelle, confirmed the fighting but denied any Ethiopian troops were involved. The Ethiopian government has denied repeated claims that its troops are fighting alongside Somali government militia.
Witnesses in Dagaari village near Bandiradley said that they saw hundreds of Ethiopian troops and tanks take up positions near the town with militiamen from the northeastern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
On December 9, fighters from Somalia's Islamic Courts and government soldiers clashed in a second day of fighting. The fighting occurred 40 kilometers from the interim government's headquarters in Baidoa. Mohamed Ibrahim Bilal, an Islamic Courts official, said that the government had launched a counterattack at Rama'addey village, while Ali Mohamed Gedi, the prime minister, claimed that Islamic Courts fighters had attacked government positions.
On December 13, a Reuters report said that the ICU claimed 30,000 Ethiopian troops were involved in Somalia, while 4,000 foreign fighters were involved on the side of the ICU. Ethiopia denied having troops other than "military advisors" present.
On December 23, Ethiopian tanks and further reinforcements arrived in Daynuunay, 30 kilometres east of Baidoa; prompting ICU forces to vow all-out war despite a commitment to an EU-brokered peace. Heavy fighting continued in Lidale and Dinsoor.
On December 24, Ethiopia admitted its troops were fighting the Islamists, after stating earlier in the week it had only sent several hundred military advisors to Baidoa. Heavy fighting erupted in border areas, with reports of air strikes and shelling, including targets near the ICU-held town of Beledweyne. According to Ethiopian Information Minister Berhan Hailu: "The Ethiopian government has taken self-defensive measures and started counter-attacking the aggressive extremist forces of the Islamic Courts and foreign terrorist groups."
On December 25, Ethiopian and Somali forces coptured Beledweyne. Defending ICU forces fled Beledweyne concurrent to Ethiopian airstrikes against the Mogadishu and Bali-Dogle airports. Heavy fighting was also reported in Burhakaba.
On December 26, the ICU was in retreat on all fronts, losing much of the territory they gained in the months preceding the Ethiopian intervention. They reportedly fell back to Daynuunay and Mogadishu.
On December 27, Ethiopian and Somali government forces were en route to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu after capturing the strategic town of Jowhar, 90km north from the capital. The ICU were in control of little more than the coast, abandoning many towns without putting up a fight. Also, the UIC top two commanders, defense chief Yusuf Mohammed Siad Inda'ade and his deputy Abu Mansur were away on the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.
After the Fall of Mogadishu to the Ethiopian and government forces on December 28, fighting continued in the Juba River valley, where the ICU retreated, establishing a new headquarters in the city of Kismayo. Intense fighting was reported on December 31 in the Battle of Jilib and the ICU frontlines collapsed during the night to artillery fire, causing the ICU to once again go into retreat, abandoning Kismayo, without a fight and retreating towards the Kenyan border.
Military events in January 2007 focused on the southern section of Somalia, primarily the withdrawal of ICU forces from Kismayo, and their pursuit using Ethiopian air strikes in Afmadow district concurrent to the Battle of Ras Kamboni. During this battle, the U.S. launched an airstrike conducted by an AC-130 gunship against suspected Al-Qaeda operatives. A second airstrike was made after the battle later in January 2007.
Within a week of the TFG and Ethiopian army’s arrival in Mogadishu, the first insurgent attacks began. Ethiopian and TFG forces responded by sealing off areas around the attack sites and conducting house-to-house searches. The TFG also passed a three-month emergency law in parliament and called for a disarmament of the militias on January 13, 2007. The provisions of the emergency law gave the TFG much wider powers and allowed President Yusuf to rule by decree.
Between January and March 2007, insurgent attacks took several forms: assassinations of government officials; attacks on military convoys; and rocket-propelled grenade or mortar attacks on police stations, TFG and Ethiopian military bases, or other locations or individuals deemed by the insurgency to be political or military targets. For instance, several hotels known to accommodate TFG officials, such as the Ambassador, Global, and Lafweyne Hotels, were repeatedly hit with RPGs and mortar rounds and were the site of attempted assassinations of TFG officials.
The insurgency was mobile, often using hit-and-run tactics in its attacks or setting up and launching mortar rounds within minutes, then melting back into the civilian population. After an insurgent attack on a convoy or other mobile target, Ethiopian and TFG forces typically sealed off the area and conducted house-to-house searches of the area. The Ethiopian and TFG response to mortar attacks increasingly included the return firing of mortars and rockets in the direction of origin of insurgency fire. In the beginning of March, the first 1,500 African Union Mission to Somalia soldiers begun arriving in Somalia.
By the end of March, the fighting intensified in Mogadishu and more than a thousand people, mostly civilians, were killed. Hawiye clan militiamen allied with the Islamists clashed with TFG and Ethiopian troops.
After the end of that battle in April in which heavy weapons were used and turned parts of Mogadishu into ashes, the allied forces of Somalia and Ethiopia were said to have won over the local insurgents. Since May 2007 it has been increasingly apparent that the March and April fighting did not stem the insurgency. The insurgents started a low level but very effective violence campaign including suicide bombings, hit and run missions and hunting high-profile government officials.
In December 2007, the Ethiopian troops withdrew from the town of Guriel, and the Islamists controlled Guriel after that. Ethiopia had a big military base there to secure the road linking the two countries.
By the end of December 2007, the ICU forces had taken control of about half of the port city of Kismayo, around half the districts of Mogadishu, and totalling around 80% of their former territories, leaving the Ethopiean-backed regime in the same precarious situation as it was in Baidoa at the start of 2007.
A report by AU Commission Chairman Alpha Konare on 18 January claimed that forces opposed to the Somali government have expanded their insurgent activities to areas that were previously peaceful and could be planning attacks in the Middle and Lower Juba regions. Armed elements, it added, were also reported to be using the Lower Shabelle region to ferry arms.
In February 2008, the Insurgents captured the town of Dinsoor after probing it several times. This marked a change in their strategy which previously focused mainly on the capital Mogadishu.. In late May after capturing the two towns near Kismayo. The Insurgents agreed not to attack Kismayo a city ruled by clan milita who took part in the Ethiopian invasion. They agreed to pay 30% to Al-shabab and 30% to the Islamic Courts. In addition to that the Islamists were bold enough to start an Islamic court 90 km away from the capital Mogadishu.
On March 3, 2008, the United States launched an air strike on Dhoble, a Somali town. US officials claimed the town was held by Islamic extremists, but gave few details to the press. It was reported that Hassan Turki was in the area. The same area was targeted by US bombers one year earlier. A successful air strike occurred on May 1 in Dhusamareb. It killed the leader of Al-Shabab Aden Hashi Eyrow along with another senior commander and several civilians. However the attack did nothing to slow down the Insurgency.
The Ethiopian military casualties are hard to verify. The Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi announced 500 dead in the initial invasion phase (Dec. 2006 - Jan. 2007). Hizbul Shabaab's senior commander said to Reuters on December 16, 2007 it had killed nearly 500 Ethiopian soldiers in the insurgency phase. The casualties of the Islamist and TFG forces are almost impossible to verify. The Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi said that 2,000-3,000 Islamists were killed in the first days of the invasion.
In a report in May 2008, Amnesty International condemned violence committed on civilians by all warring parties, especially the Ethiopians. According to it, witnesses told Amnesty International of an increasing incidence of what it locally termed as “slaughtering” or “killing like goats” by Ethiopian troops, referring to killing by slitting the throat. The victims of these killings are often left lying in pools of blood in the streets until armed fighters, including snipers, move out of the area and relatives can collect their bodies. Such crimes were exposed after the alleged Hidaya Mosque massacre, which occurred on April 20 2008 and saw Ethiopian troops slaughtering civilians according to AI.
In 2007, these closures were steadily increasing in duration, with Shabelle Radio and Simba Radio closed from November 12 until December 3 by the Governor of Banadir Region and Mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamed Dheere.
|Tanks||T-55, T-62, T-72||none||none|
|APC's/IFV's||BTR-40, M113, BTR-60||technicals||technicals Fiat 6614|
|Artillery||2A18, M1937 Howitzer, BM-21, 120mm mortars||120mm mortars||120mm mortars|
|Aircraft||MiG-21, MiG-23, Su-27||none||none|
|Helicopters||Mi-6, Mi-8, Mi-24||none||none|
|Small Arms, Light Weapons||AK-47, Heckler & Koch G3, PKM, DShK, ZU-23, RPG-2, RPG-7||AK-47, Heckler & Koch G3, PKM, DShK, ZU-23, RPG-2, RPG-7||AK-47, DShK, Browning M2, ZU-23, M79, RPG-7|
Articles Critical of US and Somali policy