The Somalia Battlefield on 12/29/2006.
Islamic Courts massing in Kismayo; ICU fighters to be pardoned; Ethiopians indicated they will stay
The Ethiopian and Transitional Federal Government occupation of Mogadishu has begun. Shabelle notes that “over thousand Ethiopian troops accompanied by military vehicles” entered Mogadishu, and “hundreds of Mogadishu residents could be seen clapping and handing [wreaths] to the Ethiopian troops.” In an opinion piece about how the world views the Somali conflict, SomaliNet says the welcoming of the TFG and Ethiopian forces should not be surprising. “The overwhelming feedback SomaliNet received so far tells a unique story. The majority of the feedbacks we received were pro-courts in the first days of the war. As soon as the government started winning, the mood changed into nationalism, sense of [pride] and the possibility of a long awaited national government. The public loves winners no matter which side.”
Ali Mohamad Gedi, the Prime Minister of Somalia, spoke 20 miles south of the capital, and declared there would be months of martial law in Somalia, secured with the help of the Ethiopians. “This country has experienced anarchy and in order to restore security we need a strong hand, especially with freelance militias… No clan will be allowed to possess weapons of any kind. We will deal with people who claim they seized grounds according to the government laws… The capital will be secured by our good friends, the Ethiopian troops and the Somali forces.” Gedi later entered Mogadishu in an armored column.
Shabelle reports Ethiopian Prime Minister Males Zenawi said his country’s troops will withdraw “when the [Somali] government becomes able to handle its security and problems in the country.” The hunt for Islamic Courts leaders and al Qaeda operatives remains a major priority. “We are working with the international community that the radicals should not escape by sea or land”, said Zenawi.
Mohamed Dhere, a warlord that controlled the Middle Shabelle region, has indicated low level Islamic Courts fighters would be pardoned. “Only the members of the Shura Council of the courts will be brought to justice. Like Mohamed, government spokesman, Abdirahman Dinari, Prime Minister Ali Gedi and Colonel Abdi Qaybdid who controls lower Mudug and Galgudug provinces, all said they are not interested in revenge… The only wanted people are members of courts’ ruling congress and foreign fighters,” Somalinet reports.
With the capture of Modagdishu, the Islamic Courts units in central Somalia that were engaged in fighting in Puntland have been split from the units in the Lower Jubba region of the country. ICU forces still appears to be in the field, and have been reported to be massing in the strategic southern port city of Kismayo. “Some reports say many of the men want to cross into Kenya while others say they want to wage a guerrilla war and hide in dense bushes of Lower Jubba province,” SomaliNet notes.
“We will not run away from our enemies. We will never depart from Somalia. We will stay in our homeland,” said Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the leader of the Council of Islamic Courts, in an interview with The Associated Press.
Ethiopian forces have massed in Afgoe, about 20 miles south of Mogadishu. “There were more than 500 military vehicles in Afgoe,” notes a Garowe reporter. “Of those, approximately 200 were tanks and only 35 vehicles belonged to the Somali government.”
There is no word at the moment on the status of the southern cities of Bardera, Bu’aale and te costal city of Barawe. Also, there is no status update on the fighting in Lego, where ICU forces appeared to be making a lst stand just north of Mogadishu. The TFG and Ethiopian forces must pursue the Islamic Courts leaders to ensure they cannot reorganize and fight an insurgency. And as we stated yesterday, it is vital the borders be sealed and Combined Joint Tak Force Horn of Africa blockade the Somali coast to prevent Islamic Courts leaders and al Qaeda and other foreign fighters from escaping.
The TFG and Ethiopian military operation to oust the Islamic Courts is only the first step in ensuring the al Qaeda backed Islamic Courts does not return to power. The TFG must restore some semblance of order in Somalia (no small task in a nation torn by 16 years of war) and establish itself as a legitimate government. Ethiopian, the United States, the African Union and IGAD (the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) must not lose its focus on Somalia over the next few months and years as the fractious Somali clans and political parties vie for political power.