|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
U.S. Pessimistic About A Simmering Somalia
NAIROBI , Kenya, November 10, 2006 — A senior American military official today painted a dire picture of the escalating tensions in Somalia, but said the United States was at a loss about what to do.
“We do not have a plan to solve the Somalia problem,” acknowledged the official, who spoke to reporters in Nairobi only on condition of anonymity. Somalia, once again, is at a crisis point, with prospects rising of a major war between the weak, so-called transitional government and the increasingly powerful Islamic forces that rule Mogadishu, the capital.
Since 1991, the country has been synonymous with anarchy, but the senior military official said the current situation is even more explosive because it threatens to drag in Somalia’s neighbors.
“If there is a war,” the official said, “the fighting ends up protracted and long and spills across the border.”
A long-simmering problem is that each of Somalia’s neighbors — Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti — have significant populations of ethnic Somalis. Some of the Islamic clerics in Mogadishu have vowed to invade these countries in order to establish a “Greater Somalia.”
Another concern is that Ethiopia and Eritrea, bitter enemies who recently fought a war over a stretch of desert that cost 100,000 lives, are meddling in Somalia. Eritrea is suspected of sending advisors and weapons to Mogadishu to support the Islamists, while Ethiopian officials now admit, after initial denials, that hundreds of Ethiopian military advisors are in Baidoa, the seat of the transitional government. Western experts estimate the number is actually much higher, maybe as many as 10,000 Ethiopian soldiers, and growing.
Ethiopia is one of the United States’ closest allies in Africa, but the senior military official denied that the American government was using the Ethiopian army as a proxy force against the Islamists, whom American intelligence agents have accused of cooperating with Al Qaeda terrorists.
“We don’t want them in there,” the official said, about the Ethiopians.
Today, Reuters reported that a soon-to-be-released United Nations report accuses several Arab countries, including Libya and Syria, of also breaking the 14-year-old arms embargo on Somalia and funneling guns and money to the Islamist forces.
“Things have been increasingly volatile in the past two weeks,” the official said, though he did not go as far as saying war was imminent or inevitable. The official, and diplomats here in Nairobi, have pointed to talks this week between the speaker of the transitional Parliament and top Islamic clerics as a speck of hope.
Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden, the speaker of the transitional Parliament and one of the few politicians from Baidoa respected by the Islamists, spent several days in Mogadishu trying to coax Islamic leaders back to peace negotiations that started in June, though the latest round was broken off because the Islamists refused to negotiate while Ethiopian troops were in the country.
The Islamists, whose support seems to be growing in Mogadishu, were mildly optimistic about Sheik Aden’s visit.
“We expect to reach a solution because it is a known fact that if Somalis talk to one another they can make peace,” Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of Somalia’s Council of Islamic Courts, told The Associated Press this week.
But, Sheik Aweys added, the Ethiopians must first leave.
The United States has 1,800 troops stationed in Djibouti, at the mouth of the Red Sea. Their mission is to prevent terrorists from turning the Horn of Africa into a sanctuary. But the senior American military official said that if Somalia’s peace talks fail and full-scale war engulfs the region, American troops will not get involved.
“We’ll be watching this one,” he said.
Source: The New York Times