Zenawi In Quagmire: Islamist insurgency grows in Somalia – Xan Rice, The Guardian
The Islamist-led resistance in Somalia is growing in scale and aggression, (more…)
The Islamist-led resistance in Somalia is growing in scale and aggression, with insurgents openly taking on Ethiopian troops and African Union peacekeepers in the capital Mogadishu, in fighting that has killed dozens, possibly hundreds, in the past three weeks.
Early on Saturday two groups of rebels fired grenades at Ugandan peacekeepers and briefly entered their post before being repelled. The attack, which coincided with an internet call by a Somali Islamist extremist, Adan Hashi Ayro, for peacekeepers to be targeted, came after two weeks of fighting and reprisals between insurgents and the allied Ethiopian and government troops that caused a massive exodus from Mogadishu.
The UN estimates that 173,000 people have fled the city since October 27, adding to the 330,000 already displaced from the capital this year. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of civilians were killed, as both sides fired shells indiscriminately into residential neighbourhoods.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdullah, the UN secretary general’s special representative for Somalia, said last week that the huge displacement, coupled with high child malnutrition rates and extreme difficulty in delivering aid, had made this Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Few people believe that the situation is about to get better. Several experts interviewed by the Guardian say that the insurgents are becoming more powerful. A military analyst and a western diplomat to Somalia, neither of whom wished to be named, warned that the angry mood and conditions that allowed an Islamist movement to defeat a gang of warlords and take power in Mogadishu last year were returning. “We are on a merry-go-round and it’s back to 2006,” said the analyst. “The insurgents are gaining not only in physical strength, but in moral strength too.”
African Union commanders told diplomats last week that the insurgents were actively fighting in 70% of Mogadishu’s neighbourhoods. There are also signs that the resistance has spread beyond the capital. Islamic courts are reported to have taken control of two towns in the far south, while Hassan Al-Turki, a radical Islamist on the US terror list, is understood to be expanding his influence up the coast from his base near the Kenyan border.
Analysts say that the situation reflects a chronic miscalculation by the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, who sent his troops into Somalia late last year, and by the US, which backed that decision. The goal was to rout the Somali Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC), which had brought a measure of calm to Mogadishu for the first time in more than a decade, but which was accused by Washington and Addis Ababa of close links to al-Qaida.
Ethiopian troops easily swept through the Islamist fighters and installed the weak and unpopular Somali government in Mogadishu. The calm did not last long. Remnants of the SCIC’s military wing, the Shabaab, launched a low-scale insurgency, using hit-and-run tactics and remote-controlled bombs to target Ethiopian and government troops. Many ordinary Somalis also resented the presence of tens of thousands of troops from Ethiopia. Soon warlords, clan leaders and businessmen were aiding the resistance with money, arms and their own militias.