The ICU attacks in Puntland and claims to have advanced to 7 miles from Baidoa, the Ethiopians strike in Beletweyn
The Battle for town Baidoa, the seat of government of the beleaguered Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, and greater Somalia has entered its sixth day. Both the Ethiopian backed TFG and the al Qaeda supported Islamic Courts Union are claiming military victories during the battles on multiple fronts in central Somalia. The fog of war is making it difficult to determine the veracity of these claims.
The ICU claims to have advanced to within 7 miles (12km) of Baidoa. “The Islamic Courts commander in Bur Hakaba, Abdulahi Gedow, has told Shabelle by the phone that ICU forces have gone beyond Daynunay, some 22 km southeast of Baidoa and reached Gasarta quite close to Bai Provincial Township of Baidoa. Shabelle cannot confirm the claim. He also said they have blown up four Ethiopian tanks in the fight that took place in Daynuany.” The TFG, however, claims to be close to retaking Burhakaba, and its forces are within 2 miles of the city.
An American intelligence source informs us the Islamic Courts are using the same tactics that Hezbollah successfully employed against Israeli armor during last summer in the Hezbollah-Israel war in Lebanon. A United Nations report released this fall detailed Iranian and Hezbollah involvement with training the ICU and providing weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. While this report was dismissed by many analysts, the ICU has successfully employed anti-tank weapons against Ethiopian armored columns in the past, and is currently doing so during fighting around Baidoa.
Fighting has also been reported in Bandiredley in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland. Bandiredley is just several miles from the city of Galcayo. “Islamic Courts Union fighters and pro-government militia backed by Ethiopian troops [exchanged] heavy artillery fires and anti aircraft machineguns mounted with the pick-up trucks,” reports Somalinet. Both sides claim the other initiated the fighting.
On the Ethiopian-Somali border, the Ethiopians appear to be poised to reestablish secure lines of communications to Baidoa. Ethiopian fighter-bombers “hit a strategic road and a recruiting center for the militants,” in Beletweyn, according to an Associated Press source in the town. Shabelle and Somalinet back up the report of airstrikes in Beletweyn. [Updated: Ethiopian has stated it is conducting an air campaign in Somalia.] Beletweyn is a strategic border city that sits astride major roads running north-south and east-west in the Hiran district. An Ethiopian push southwest along the road can isolate the Islamic Courts units currently engaged in Puntland.
The ground attack aircraft in the Ethiopian Air Force consists of Soviet era MiG-23s, Su-22s, Su-25s, as well as Su-27s which can be used in a ground attack role. The Ethiopians also possesses Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters. The Islamic Courts are said to be in possession of anti-aircraft weapons, but there have been no reports of any downed Ethiopian aircraft at this time.