The Somalia Battlefield on 12/25/2006.
The Islamic Courts has lost strategic territory as the Ethiopian Army and Transitional Federal Government marches towards Mogadishu
After one full week of fighting between the al Qaeda backed Islamic Courts and the internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, backed by Ethiopia, the TFG appears to be gaining the upper hand after some bloody fighting in south and central Somalia. The deciding factor at this point in time is the Ethiopian Army and Air Force.
The Ethiopian Air Force has struck deep into the heart of the Islamic Courts held territory. The Mogadishu airport, as well as the Baladogle airport, which is about 70 miles south of the capital, have been hit in air attacks.
Ethiopian and TFG forces have retaken the strategic border town of Beletweyn after intensive air and artillery strikes, and are now advancing southeast (yesterday we predicted the TFG/Ethiopian force would advance in this direction.) Residents report the ICU retreated without a fight. Beletweyn sits astride the lines of communications to the north and south, and is on the road to Mogadishu. A push southwest from Beletweyn will split ICU forces engaged against Ethiopian and Puntland forces in the Galguduud state. Heavy fighting has also been reported in Gelinsor and Bandiradley, south of the Puntland city of Galcayo.
Buulobarde is now under TFG control, and Somalinet notes “Unconfirmed reports say that hundreds of Ethiopian tanks moved towards Jowhar town… Among the former warlords (supporting the TFG) was Mohamed Omar Habeb ‘Mohamed Dhere’ who is with the Ethiopians and wants to recapture his Jowhar Township some 90km north of the capital…One of the residents in Jowhar told SomaliNet this morning in telephone contact that there were large military movements by the Islamic Courts in the town to defend against the advancing Ethiopian troops.”
Sheikh Mohammed Janakow, an ICU spokesman, has admitted it lost both Beletweyn and Buulobarde. This is the first admission from the ICU that its forces are retreating. The TFG has claimed success since the start of open combat in Somalia last week.
There is no word on the status of the fighting around Baidoa, the seat of government of the TFG, and the scene of recent, heavy fighting.
The Ethiopians and TFG forces are not advancing without a cost. The Islamic Courts claimed it shot down an Ethiopian helicopter, and killed hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers. Shabelle has posted multiple photographs of dead Ethiopian soldiers (one even appears to have his throat slit), along with ID badges and destroyed “technicals” or “battlewagons” – pickup and flat bed trucks modified with machine guns and cannon on the beds. There are no images of Ethiopian armored fighting vehicles or tanks, as the ICU claims it destroyed.
al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri has praised the success of the Islamic Courts over the course of the past year in several audio and video tapes. The defeat of the Islamic Courts would strike a blow to al Qaeda, and deny it a base of operations astride the Bab El Mandeb, the strait between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, one of the world’s seven vital oil choke points.
The outcome of the battle in Somalia is far from certain, as Ethiopia and the TFG have yet to advance on ICU strongholds in the Mogadishu and Shabellaha Hoose regions. The port city of Kismayo is a weak point for the Islamic Courts, as residents have conducted numerous protests against the ICU’s Taliban-style implementation of sharia law. If the Ethiopian and the TFG could open a front in the Kismayo region (as well as the Jubba region, where the TFG defense minister is based out of), this could place additional pressure on the ICU. The Islamic Courts still have the option of igniting an Iraqi-Chechen-Afghan styled insurgency.