ICU attempts to distance itself from bin Laden; Ethiopia Army pushes into central Somalia
Osama bin Laden's endorsement of the Somali al Qaeda affiliate Islamic Courts Union has caused some consternation within the organization. Osama bin Laden referred to the Islamic Courts as "our kinfolk and brother mujahidin," and implored them to "Seek God's help and prepare the necessary means, especially tank mines and anti-armor RPG's. Be patient like your brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan in this world crusade against our Islamic nation. You have seen several years ago the defeat of the United States and its allies on your land."
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the leader of the ICU, has downplayed bin Laden's remarks. "Osama bin Laden is expressing his views like any other international figure. We are not concerned about it," said Ahmed. With the Islamic Courts seizing control of Mogadishu less than a month ago, the leadership is likely trying to obscure relations with al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden's offer of praise and support only draws undue international attention to the actions of the Islamic Courts.
The government of Ethiopia has not ignored the rise of the Islamic Courts. Over the past few weeks it has been reported the Ethiopian Army crossed the border into Somalia (the Ethiopian government vigorously denies this). Multiple sources indicate the Ethiopian Army has occupied the border towns of Berdale & Jawil in the Hiiran region (a region is analogous to a county in the U.S., see map of Somalia), undisclosed towns in the Gedo region, and have pushed as far east as Baidoa in the Bay region.
Baidoa is the seat of the Transitional Government run by President Abdullahi Yusuf who bin Laden singled out for elimination. "There must be no dialogue with Abdullahi Yusuf and his collaborators except with the sword. Don't waste your time. Fight them immediately," said bin Laden. The Ethiopian government backs Yusuf, and is said to be patroling Baidoa with infantry and armor to prevent the Islamic Courts from overrunning the city and toppling the government.
Yesterday we noted approximately 200-300 Ethiopian troops entered Somalia (about two infantry companies with two armored platoons in support). If the Ethiopians have pushed as far east as Biadoa (approximately 140 miles drive to the Ethiopian border), then more than two companies would be needed to secure the lines of communication which extend over three regions.
On Sunday, the African Union has unanimously approved a peacekeeping force to deploy into Somalia. "The African Union will give all its support to the interim government," said Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, the chairman of the African Union. The AU has also called for "dialogue" with the Islamic Courts.
The peacekeepers are to be comprised of African Union countries along with IGAD (the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development), a regional security group made up of the east African nations of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, and Eritrea. IGAD is based in Djibouti, the home of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. Expect CJTF-HOA to provide logistical, intelligence, communication and close air support to the Ethiopian and future IGAD/African Union peacekeeping forces. With the failure of the warlord Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism, the Ethiopian and African Union mission appears to be Plan B for the United States' efforts to prevent the Talibanization of eastern Africa. The al Qaeda backed Somali terror camps can no longer be ignored.