Viewpoint : The 843-day War – By Alemayehu G. Mariam

November 2nd, 2008 Print Print Email Email

It’s Time To Cut and Run!

In mid-July 2006, Zenawi sent his troops to Somalia to prop up the so-called transitional government in Baidoa. (more…)

It’s Time To Cut and Run!

In mid-July 2006, Zenawi sent his troops to Somalia to prop up the so-called transitional government in Baidoa. By late December 2006, his tanks rolled into Mogadishu to dislodge the “government” of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and crush the “Talibanic” Al Shabab. Zenawi justified his invasion as an act of pre-emptive self-defense: “Ethiopian defense forces were forced to enter into war to protect the sovereignty of the nation. 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.” But everyone knows the invasion was about empowering one faction of the warlords against the rest.

By mid-October, 2008, Zenawi said he has had enough. It is time to cut and run! He told his parliament: “If the Somali political scenario improves and its stakeholders assure us of their commitment, we will remain to help them out. Otherwise we will leave as no other option will be available.” Last week, it was announced that following a ceasefire agreement that takes effect on November 5, Zenawi will begin a “phased withdrawal” of his troops from Somalia.

Accordingly, by November 21, Zenawi’s soldiers will be withdrawn from the capital Mogadishu and Beledweyne, near the Ethiopian border. The second phase is expected to take place in 120 days. By then African Union peacekeepers, militiamen loyal to the transitional Somali government and certain elements of the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation (ARS) will form a 10,000-man police force to maintain law and order.

A humbled Zenawi struck a conciliatory tone with his erstwhile jihadists enemies as he prepared to pull out: “If the people of Somalia have a government, even one not positively inclined to Ethiopia, it would be better than the current situation. Having a stable government in place in Somalia is in our national interests.” (In December, 2006, Somalia had a “stable” government which enjoyed popular support after securing Mogadishu from competing warlords and thugs). On October 28, Zenawi’s foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin blamed everybody but his own regime for everything that went wrong in Somalia after the invasion:

“Somalia’s problems are not security, but political [and the transitional government] failed to create any institutions of governance to speak of. The continuing feud within the leadership had contributed to the paralysis of the TFG. Of course no one could assume that, speaking now on behalf of my country, Ethiopia will continue to keep its troops in Somalia. In all honesty, the international community can hardly be proud of its record in Somalia. But this is no excuse for the kind of egregious lack of responsible behaviour that we continue to witness on the part of all those in positions of authority in Somalia.”

But the ceasefire was flatly rejected by the “hardliners” including Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, Al Shabab leaders and other insurgent and clan leaders. Mukhtar Robow, an Al Shabab spokesman defiantly declared: “We have already rejected the (peace) conference and its agreements. We are now saying again that we will not accept them. We will continue fighting against the enemies of Allah. I say Meles Zenawi must admit defeat, because he found people who hide his defeat after his power was severely weakened. We will continue attacks on Ethiopian and African Union forces.” On October 29, a coordinated attack by unidentified suicide bombers struck a United Nations compound and other targets in northern Somalia killing at least 22 people. Despite the announced ceasefire, there are continued reports of daily mortar attacks and gun battles with insurgent elements in the streets. According to one report, Zenawi now has less than 2500 soldiers left inside Somalia, down from an estimated 15,000-18,000 in the first year of the invasion. Secret plans are said to be in place to evacuate officials of the transitional government to Kenya once the troops are withdrawn.

The Logic of the Somali Invasion

Somalia has been without any central government since the downfall of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Clan warfare, warlords, armed thugs and bandits have made Somalia the archetypal “failed state”. The marauding and murderous warlords have left tens of thousands of innocent victims in their wake. Zenawi’s casus belli (justification for invasion and war) was framed against this backdrop of clan anarchy and the overshadowing specter of a Somali Talibanic-Islamist-Jihadist “bogeyman” rampaging throughout the Horn of Africa. The invasion was anchored in an unarticulated doctrine of containment of terrorism in the Horn where Zenawi expected to play a pivotal role in eliminating or severely restricting the sphere of influence of Al Qaeda and other homegrown terrorists in Somalia and the region. To ensure the unflinching support of the terrorism-obsessed Bush administration, Zenawi wanted to be seen as a star player in the “second front” on the war on global terrorism.

Based on a content analysis of Zenawi’s public statements, one can discern a pretty slick set of fabricated arguments for the invasion of Somalia and regional hegemonism based on systematic demonization of Somali Islamists as die-hard terrorists and jihadists. Here are the elements of the casus belli: 1) Under the rule of the ICU and influence of the Al Shabaab, Somalia is in imminent danger of being transformed into a Taliban-style Islamic fundamentalist state. 2) The Taliban-style Islamic state in Somalia is sworn to provide a haven and training grounds for Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists and militants globally, and militarily threaten Ethiopia and other countries in the region. 3) The Somali Islamic state, unless opposed, will be in a strong position to support and expand Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism among Ethiopian Muslims and other Muslims in the region; and for this purpose the Islamic state will support other internal armed opposition anti-regime groups as proxies to destabilize Ethiopia and the region. 4) The Islamic Somali state is revanchist (expansionist) in its ideology and will aggressively try to combine the Islamic populations in the Ogaden, Djbouti and Eritrea in an effort to create a greater Islamic state or sphere of influence. 5) Unless militarily challenged by Ethiopia, the Islamists in Somalia will take control of the southern flank of the Red Sea (Gulf of Aden) and the coastal areas of the Indian Ocean providing a beachhead for Islamic terrorists (may be pirates). 6) Without the active support and participation of the Zenawi regime, U.S. anti- terrorism strategy in the Horn, and possibly even in the southwestern Arabian Peninsula, is doomed to failure. 7) Ergo, only Zenawi can save the Horn from the plague of global terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and regional instability.

Winners and Losers: A Ceasefire is Not a Substitute for Victory!

Governments who believe in war as an instrument of foreign policy understand that war is about victory over the enemy and winning. Invading a country and waging war on it is not a picnic. Fighting a war to victory requires great sacrifices in human lives and resources. This holds true even in a limited war (where the objects of the war are well defined and military confrontation does not require maximum military efforts). It has been said that the invasion of Somalia is not about “trying to set up a government for Somalia” or “to meddle in Somalia’s internal affairs.” The limited objective of the war, we were told, is to neutralize and eliminate the “jihadists”. Thus, war against “jihadists” means vanquishing them and bringing them to their knees. Offering them a ceasefire is not victory. Settling with anyone willing to sign the instrument of a ceasefire to save face while cutting and running is not victory. Retreating under the sustained onslaught of the “enemy” is not victory. As General Douglas MacArthur said, “In war, there is no substitute for victory. War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision.”

Why is there no “victory” in Somalia? There are military and political reasons why “victory” in Somalia is impossible. Militarily, there are three reasons why Zenawi could not win the Somali war. First, to defeat the Somali “jihadists” and “Islamists” it was necessary to apply overwhelming force. That was accomplished in the initial stages of the invasion when Zenawi’s troops swiftly routed the ICU and Al Shabab in a blitzkrieg using heavy armor and air support from U.S. AC-130 gunships stationed in Djbouti. After the initial onslaught and “victory”, Zenawi fell into “prolonged indecision”. The nature of the conflict changed as the “jihadists” began to fight guerilla-style against the occupation forces. Zenawi was forced to change from an offensive action to waging a defensive war. But as General MacArthur cautioned, “You can’t win a war fighting it defensively.” The “jihadists” had scattered to the south and began regrouping to wage a war of liberation. Within months, Zenawi’s and the transitional government’s troops had lost the offensive and the insurgents were putting up effective resistance. Al Shabab operatives were busy laying roadside bombs and attacking targets with small arms fire and mortars often hiding in neighborhoods and civilians areas. Zenawi’s troops would respond indiscriminately by bombarding residential areas killing hundreds and causing the flight of hundreds of thousands of people from Mogadishu and other areas. By the Fall of 2007, the “jihadist terrorists” had been transformed by the invasion. They had become insurgents dedicated to ridding Somalia from foreign invaders and occupiers. Defending Somali sovereignty had become far more important to them than their own internal squabbles or allegiance to a particular political orientation, ideology or system.

Second, from the tactical perspective it appears Zenawi completely underestimated the insurgents and the Somali people and overestimated the military prowess of his troops. He really did not know the Somalis as much as he thought he knew them. He underestimated their resolve to fight a force that had invaded and occupied their country. His public statements reveal that he completely underestimated the bravery, strength, resilience, resolve and military experience of the Somalis and the nationalist political dynamic the invasion was bound to foster in the creation of an unyielding insurgent fighting force. Zenawi and possibly some of his generals foolishly and arrogantly believed that defeating the jihadists would be a cakewalk. It is possibly this infantile optimism about their own military prowess that led them to declare in January, 2006 that “we’ll be out of Somalia in a few weeks”. They just did not know their “enemy” or have a healthy respect for him.

Third, the secret of the Somali insurgency and its obvious victory over the invading forces was foretold long ago by Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap in his book, How We Won the War, a narrative of how the North Vietnamese army and the Vietcong systematically countered the United States military and South Vietnamese troops until they swooped down from the north and captured Saigon in 1975. Giap said that “Any force that wishes to impose its will on other nations will certainly face failure.” Giap explained, “We had ingenuity and the determination to fight to the end. I appreciated the fact that they [U.S] had sophisticated weapon systems but I must say that it was the people who made the difference, not the weapons. And so they made mistakes. They did not know the limits of power. … No matter how powerful you are there are certain limits, and they did not understand it well. … We had the spirit that we would govern our own nation; we would rather sacrifice than be slaves.” The Somali insurgents could not be defeated because they had the “spirit” to govern themselves (even though they are having an extraordinarily difficult time doing it) and the “spirit” to resist aggression by any means necessary — hit and run attacks, ambushing unsuspecting patrols and convoys, using improvised explosive devices, mortar attacks and so on. In the end, the Somali insurgents understood Ho Chi Mihn’s famous statement, “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds you will lose and I will win.” They won!

The problems involved in bringing about a political solution to Somalia’s problems were vastly complicated by the presence of foreign troops and the military situation on the ground. Bringing order (let alone peace) to a country that has been stateless and racked by violence for seventeen years is daunting. They tried numerous peace conferences to bring the warring parties to the peace table. None of them worked out. Against this backdrop, in 2006 Zenawi rode into Mogadishu like a knight on a white horse seeking to “stabilize the internationally recognized transitional government” and drive out the terrorist. For nearly two years, he tried to impose a Pax Zenawi on them in the form of a negotiated power-sharing program. There were no takers. When a comprehensive political solution could not be achieved, he offered them a ceasefire, and put the blame on the transitional government for its internal weaknesses and the international community for failing to provide military muscle to backup his vision of a political solution for Somalia.

The political problems are not limited to post-invasion Somalia. They also focus on the reasons for the invasion. Why did Zenawi invade Somalia and how did he go about making that decision? Was the invasion absolutely necessary? The incontrovertible evidence is that there was no public discussion of the legitimacy or necessity of the invasion and war in Somalia. Neither the common Ethiopian folks nor the political elites openly discussed and debated the wisdom or utility of the invasion and the war. There was no real debate in the “parliament”. A few opposition leaders who dared to speak made it clear that they were not convinced of the justness or necessity of the invasion. Privately, many influential opinion leaders acknowledged that they felt that the invasion was insane. They were afraid to speak out. It is also incontrovertible that Zenawi’s justifications for the invasion were fabricated. He exaggerated the threat of a jihadist aggression and the regional threat posed by Al Queida and intentionally demonized the Islamists as Al Quieda stooges. He played the Bush administration for its knee jerk reaction to the word “terrorism”. By invading Somalia, Zenawi also saw an opportunity to burnish his image internationally and put a damper on all of the congressional activity aimed at sanctioning him for dismal human rights record. He wanted to convince the Bush administration that even though the international human rights organizations were saying nasty things about him, he is actually a pretty nice guy. Most of all, he is really trustworthy and reliable. In the end, Zenawi painted himself into a corner. He could not win a war he started nor could he impose his vision of a peaceful Somali state. In his retreat he is unable to explain the enormous sacrifices in human lives and resources fighting an illegal war of aggression.

The Question of War Crimes

Now that there will be a “ceasefire” (effectively ending the occupation and the war), there are serious questions of war crimes against Zenawi’s troops, the forces loyal to the TFG and the insurgents. The tip of the war crimes iceberg is evident in a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled, Shell Shocked: Civilians Under Siege in Mogadishu [1] HRW in its scathing report alleges that the insurgents would “launch mortar rounds within minutes, then melt back into the civilian population.” 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.” Specific “neighborhoods like Casa Populare (KPP) in the south, Towfiq and Ali Kamin around the Stadium, all along Industrial Road, and the road from the Stadium to Villa Somalia were heavily shelled or repeatedly hit by Ethiopian BM-21 multiple-rocket launcher and mortar rounds.” The impact of the shelling on the civilian population was “devastating”. HRW concluded, “The appalling consequences of indiscriminate attacks, the deployment of forces in densely populated areas, and the failure of all warring parties generally to take steps to minimize civilian harm is reflected in the thousands of civilians who died or whose lives were shattered by the injuries they sustained or by the loss of family members. It is also reflected in the staggering numbers of people who fled Mogadishu and in the scale of the destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, mosques, and other infrastructure in Mogadishu.”

Somalia: Mission NOT Accomplished!

The time to get out of Somalia was in the Spring of 2007. It was much easier to declare victory after chasing the “jihadists” out of town. As military or legally enforceable agreements, ceasefires do not amount to much. Ceasefires are about stopping armed conflict or suspending hostile action until one side determines it could get an advantage by resuming military action. Ceasefires rarely lead to comprehensive settlements. All over Africa ceasefires are signed and broken before the ink on the paper is dry. In 1973 President Nixon used the Paris Accords ceasefire agreements as a graceful way to exit the war in Vietnam. That was his peace with honor strategy. Two years later, the North Vietnamese Army swooped down on Saigon and took over. The “jihadists”, “Islamists” or whatever you want to call them will now feel emboldened in their ability to drive out the invader. They have defiantly declared they will not honor the ceasefire. Ironically, thousands of Somalis have been killed and over 1 million have been displaced. Many Ethiopian lives have been lost and resources wasted. All for one grand prize: A Ceasefire!

Perhaps in a few months the tanks and the artillery pieces will fall silent. But that will not signal the arrival of peace in Somalia. As long as heavily-armed insurgent groups, clan leaders, warlords, militants, pirates and other warmongers run amok, peace will remain elusive in Somalia. Hopefully, the ceasefire will give pause to the opposing factions to look inward for a durable solution. Ultimately, whether there shall be war or peace in Somalia will be in the hands of Somali people alone. Only they can choose their destiny. When the dust settles in Somalia, what will matter the most will not be the armies of the invaders and the defenders who signed or did not sign a ceasefire. To paraphrase the old saying, the only armies that matter will be the army of cripples, the army of mourners, the forgotten army of the innocent dead and the army of displaced persons and refugees. PEACE!


    | #1

    Dear SARA,
    First of all please check with your spelling horrible mistakes:

    You see sister (brother) SARA? Can you say now that you can criticize people?
    Yes English is not our mother tongue we can do mistakes – the question is not the language,
    But are we really capable to discuss things in civilized way and do we have enough knowledge on a given topic to contribute for a positive outcome in our common motherland.

    First of all you are one of the least competent individual to ruddily criticize the Honorable and respected professor who have taught and continued to share his outstanding knowledge with his fellow compatriots wherever we might be. It doesn’t matter where he lives, what matters is the genuine and just contributes. He and some other scholars like say: Obang Metho, Professor Mamo Muche and yes professor Mesfin are priceless and irreplaceable individuals whom Ethiopia as a country and we all as compatriots be proud of! They have everything they want if it comes about material needs and have achieved the highest peaks in their academicals fields. One thing such world class scholars lack is peace of mind and souls to hear and see that their mother land is going down on a daily basis thanks to the deadly and sworn enemies of her. They need to see a prosperous mother land not a symbol of famine and poverty, they need to see all wars stopped so that our people at least get time to burry their beloved ones in honor, they need to see the integrity of the country respected, they need to see the suffering of Ethiopians stopped democracy assured. That is why they use their talented and dynamic brains despite their loss of time money and nerves. Their satisfaction is to guide fellow Ethiopians to the right direction. They for sure have taught us a lot and we have to be thankful for their hard work

    Sister (brother) SARA it is you who should feel ASHAMED and you have to apologize for your statement labeled previously,

    Other wise have a nice day

  2. Sara
    | #2

    Wegeshaw, your respected and honrable professor (mesfin) was colonel Mengistu’s adviser. Today, he tells us that Wayanne is not an enemy. Is wayanne a friend of Ethiopians?

  3. | #3

    What a shame there is no Tigrayan on planet earth to say loud and clear: LEGESSE, PLEASE GET LOST BEFORE YOU MAKE EVERY TIGRAYAN AS AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE OF ETHIOPIA AND THE WHOLE REGION; however, their silence make them look as they are the beneficiaries of Legesse, Azeb, Seyoum, Bereket, and the rest of the mafia family. Legesse Z made for himself by sarcrificing nearly 123,000 during the Ethio-Eritrea war, he made a name to himself by slaughtering 193 or so during so called 2005 election, and now god knows how many Ethiopians have lost their lives in Somalia. The people of Tigry must awake and bring the 4+ gangho to the court of law or I’m afraid the consequence of their illegitimate rulers might lead them to uncertain feature for many generations to come!

    | #4

    Dear Sara,
    Yes professor Mesfin had been trying to alleviate the Ethiopian misery even at the time of Mengistu Haile mariam. He had been fighting with the evil at that time being from within and still struggling against even worst and deadliest foe as we speak. He is a hero as several of his flow scholars I mentioned above. For example – Honorable Dr. Jacob the UN selected Attorney who was one of the best arbitraries of the Rwandan genocide; unfortunately he had to languish in “KALITI PRISON” for laughable allegations of “Trisen” and causing an “INTER HAMWEY” kind of genocide in Ethiopia? This can happen only in the reign of the ignorant present brutal tyrannical regime of Ethiopia!

    Dear Eritrawi,
    I believe that all of us:
    Eritreans, Tigrayns, Ethiopians were and are intermingled by culture, language, religions and history. The only problem that amasses all our regions like the rest of Africa and the World is the problem we inherited from the time of brutal colonialism. Yes Eritrea had suffered a direct rule by Italians (may be due to some mistakes of our Kings or lack of enough knowledge, at that time), while Ethiopia had fought and defeated the aggression. The victory belonged to all the black races including Eritrean brothers and sisters of ours.
    The saddest part of the story is – some of the heroes of Ethiopia were Eritrean themselves not mentioning lots of other Eritreans who betrayed their own people and collaborated with Grassiani. Remember ZERAI DERS of Eritrean origin was a real hero who waged his life for his mother land Ethiopia. He gave away his life by defending the good name of his mothrland Abyssinia at that time! We remember also Moges Asgedom with Abreha Deboch!
    But all this was the glory of our great History we should be proud of whether we are Eritreans Ethiopians or Tigrayans as some of you try to divide us .
    This history is part of African peoples pride as a whole! But now all has been forgotten.
    Now we are talking in terms of EPLF, TPLF and EPRDF -The father, son and grand son.
    As the Amharic saying goes on “Asa sibelash ke chinkilatu new” or “Gim legim abreh azgem” or in English “Birds of the same feather fly together”,
    What have the wrong and deadliest policies of the ignorant EPLF the father, TPLF the traitor and EPRDF the slave brought to our people?
    Eritrea has become a police state where her children are deprived of their free choice-religions are prohibited. Her children forced to spread in the world to save their lives from brutality. Tigrayans have been deliberately left to be enemies of two brotherly people namely Eritreans and Ethiopians in the name of fake building of “Abay Tigray”, Ethiopia has become a battle ground where the “army” is slaughtering the very people it had to defend and selling away her land (that was dearly waged by our ancestress blood) to some known foes of the country! And became an enveder of a neighboring country (once a sovereign one), for the first time in her entire history.

    Dear Eritrawi,
    This is the real history of our country,
    I don’t think a poor and weak Eritra(sadly enough to say) could help poor and weak Ethiopia( sadly to say).Yes I agree with you Meles has to go, but one thing you forgot is that Isayas has to go also simultaneously. I believe this is the solution and for that we all have to unit as people. Meaning Ethiopians and Eritreans have to unit not mentioning Tigrayans as they are genuine Ethiopians as people.
    We have to unit against brutal tyranny and defeat them in both regions!
    W e have to say no to war and yes to peace, democracy and mutual prosperity!

    Thank you all

  5. | #5

    Ethiopiawi: as a peace loving person, as a surviver of the brutal derg, as a surviver of American bombs and later Russians I consider myself as one of the luckiest African on planet earth; and I consider myself as one of the luckiest to witness, feel, and see history was made in the horn of Africa- – PARTICULARLY ETHIOPIA, ERITREA, AND MAY BE SOMALIA. Now the main quetion or the most mysterious quetion would be: WHY DID THE WEYANE/TPLF/EPRDF ACTED POST 1998? WHY DID THE PEOPLE OF TIGRY NEVER HESITATED TO SAY, “THIS WAR DOESN’T REPRESENT THE STATE OR THE PEOPLE OF TIGRY”? There is no doubt quarrel or quarrels can take place between any human being but why 200,000 perished just to boost the ego of the, “ignorant EPLF the father, TPLF the traitor, and EPRDF the slave”? Why are Legesse Z, Seyoum Mesfin, Azeb, Bereket Simon, and the rest of the mafiesto continue to cause more blood shed and hatret? By no means I’m suggesting Issayas is god but at least he made himself clear: HE CAN’T STAND THE WEYANE LEADERSHIP OR THEIR MASTERS! My friend in conlusion what the entire horn need is peace with out Dr. Frazer of Yamatutu interference; the reason or reasons I object to American interference in region be it in Ethiopia or Eritrea they are only after their own interest: SHOW ME THE DOLLAR. They can teach as how to do business, trade, or build infrastructure that both countries needs, but when bombs come before anything then the prime responbilities for all of their deaths and distruction relies on the Ethiopian leadership- WEYANE-TIGRY AND THAT EQUATES TO TIGRYANS.

Comments are closed.