As the situation in Somalia deteriorates and the al Qaeda backed Islamic Courts Union (or al-Ittihad Mahakem al-Islamiya) consolidates power in the capital city of Mogadishu, the Ethiopian military has crossed the border into Somalia. Approximately 200-300 Ethiopian troops, about two companies including two armored platoons, have pushed upwards to 100 miles into Somali territory. It is unclear if their goal is to secure the lawless border, make a land grab or engage the militias of the Islamic Courts. The Ethiopian government denies reports its military has crossed the Somali border.
Ethiopia has intervened in Somalia in the mid 1990’s and destroyed the al Qaeda backed Union of Islam (al-Ittihad al-Islamiya), as it was sponsoring separatist Islamist groups in Ethiopian border province of Ogaden. The rise to power of the Islamic Courts Union, the successor group to al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, must be of concern to the Ethiopian government. In Osama bin Laden’s latest speech (which has just been verified by the CIA) he backs the Islamic Courts and call for the continuation of Jihad in Somalia must also concern the secular government of Ethiopia. Osama essentially elevates the importance of Islamic Courts Union to the status of the Taliban.
The appointment of al Qaeda linked Hassan Dahir Aweys as the new leader of the Islamic Courts has shed the group’s thin veneer of moderation, an image it attempted to cultivate since seizing control of Mogadishu in the first week of June. In November of 2001, Aweys was identified by the U.S. Department of State as a as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.” The U.S. has insisted the Islamic Courts turn over three known terrorists involved with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Abu Taha al-Sudani.
In 2002, a confidential report indicated Somalia contained 17 known operational terrorist training camps (see attached map). The environment in Somalia is said to compare to that of Afghanistan during the heyday of the Taliban. Terrorists from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula are said to be flocking into Somalia to staff the camps or enter training. Camps are said to be training recruits to employ improvised explosive devices (roadside bombs or IEDs) to counter the expected Ethiopian armor. The Islamic Courts are also scouring the Communist-era weapons caches for anti-aircraft weapons, small arms, and explosives.
The failure of U.S. backed warlords comprising the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism has left southern Somalia with little indigenous opposition to the Islamic Courts. This is a vacuum Ethiopia may be attempting to fill. France is said to be very concerned about the situation in Somalia, and may consider deploying troops from the Foreign Legion to support any U.S. action.
The U.S. has assets at Camp Lemonier in neighboring Djibouti; Joint Combined Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA)is comprised of U.S. Marines, Special Operations Forces, civil affairs teams and a U.S. and international naval task force to patrol the Eastern African coast and vital straits of the Bab Al Mandeb, one of world’s seven oil transit choke point. JCTF-HOA’s primary missions have been the training of regional militaries to fight the spread of Islamist terrorist groups, ‘goodwill’ missions designed to improve the lives of and covert intelligence and hunter-killer missions. Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, al Qaeda’s chief operative in Yemen and a suspect in the October 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole” was killed by a Predator said to be operating from Djibouti.
The U.S. plan to back the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism has failed, and it appears there is no backup plan. The U.S. has “insisted that it will continue supporting any group fighting elements of terrorism in Somalia,” yet it appears there is no one left to turn to. The Transitional Government of Abdullahi Yussuf has no power base to rely on, and has been willing to negotiate with the Islamic Courts. The Transitional Government is based in Baidoa, 90 miles west of Mogadishu, and is waiting to be overrun by the militias of the Islamic Courts.
While the U.S. formulates policy on dealing with the rise of the al Qaeda backed Islamist Courts, the allies of al Qaeda consolidate power and continue to churn out terrorists from the multitude of training camps. Like the border provinces of western Pakistan, Somalia is now a de facto safe haven for al Qaeda and its allies to indoctrinate, train, arm, and deploy terrorists. Four years after the existence of the terror camps were made known, they still remain in operation.