The Somalia Battlefield on 12/28/2006.
ICU leaders flee to unknown location; Ethiopian and TFG troops enter the capital
After less than two weeks of fighting against Ethiopian and Somali government forces, the al Qaeda backed Islamic Courts Union has fled the capital of Mogadishu for part unknown. Ethiopian armored columns and forces of the Transitional Federal Government have now been sighted entering the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
“Hassan, an eyewitness says he now sees Ethiopian armored vehicles and tanks passing by the Market of Livestock (Suqa Holaha) in Mogadishu,” reports Shabelle. “Many Somali people around the streets of Mogadishu were clapping for the troops.” “The allied troops of Ethiopia and Somalia arrived from two directions, north and south and received a sweeping welcome,” according to SomaliNet. This means the Ethiopian advance swung south of Mogadishu at some point, perhaps through Afgooye or Audeggle, although clashes in these areas have not been reported.
Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the leader of the Islamic Courts executive committee, announced the ICU forces have left Mogadishu, obstensively to save the Somali people. “We ICU leaders are right now leaving the capital and we have done this because of doing favor for the civilians and avoid fresh fighting in the city… History will mention our genuine activities in Somalia and we were an example that peace can be restored and lead the country into tidy way.” This follows the resignation of Sharif, Hassan Dahir Aweys and other senior ICU leaders, as well as the turnover of their weapons to clans that support the TFG takeover of the city.
Despite the abandonment of Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts has yet to fully surrender to the TFG. “Unconfirmed reports say that the ICU hardliners and its fighters have gone to Ras-kamboni, a small island in southern Somalia, the Islamist’s former base,” notes SomaliNet.
Fighting is still ongoing in parts of the Lower Shabelle region of southern Somali. Garowe reports the ICU is still battling the TFG and Ethiopians outside of the town of Lego, where the Islamic Courts retreated, and “many deaths” have been reported. “One Islamist fighter named Abdi Ali told Garowe Online that Ethiopian troops launched an attack on Lego but met heavy resistance from the Islamists,” notes Garowe. Lego was the scene of Ethiopian air strikes just days ago.
The Islamic Courts still controls territory north of Mogadishu up to Puntland, and south of Mogadishu, including the strategic port city of Kismayo, which has been the scene of opposition to Islamic Courts rule.
If the Transitional Federal Government and the Ethiopians want to prevent the re-emergence of the Islamic Courts and an insurgency, they must pursue the Islamic Courts leaders and al Qaeda and ‘foreign fighter’ operatives relentlessly. The geographic location of Somalia gives some hope of sealing the borders. Puntland, which is hostile to the Islamic Courts, lies to the north, Ethiopia to the west, Kenya to the south, and the Indian Ocean to the east. Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa must mobilize all naval assets to prevent the exodus of Islamic Courts and al Qaeda leaders from the region.
If the news that the Islamic Courts leaders have fled to an island off the coast, the island must be blockaded and Ethiopian forces should be sent in to finish off the leadership. Hassan Dahir Aweys was instrumental in the rise of the Islamic Courts predecessor, al-Ittihad al-Islamiya. The Ethiopians destroyed al-Ittihad al-Islamiya in 1996, only to leave the group intact to fight another day.
Several American military and intelligence sources have informed us that the Ethiopians are not taking ‘foreign’ prisoners on the battlefield – al Qaeda fighters are being summarily executed. Some advantages the Ethiopians possess over the United States is a willingness to use all means necessary to eliminate the ICU and al Qaeda, and a willingness to ignore international condemnation for its actions.
The Ethiopians have signaled they may quickly withdrawal from Somalia and leave the TFG to deal with the aftermath. The Ethiopians should first ensure the ICU leadership has been decapitated and its forces in the field have been fully defeated, and the TFG can handle the security and follow on operations needed to stabilize Somalia. A precipitous withdrawal will only mean a future Ethiopian expedition to destroy the next iteration of the Islamic Courts.