Logistics: Distance As a Weapon in Somalia

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July 5, 2006: The capture of Mogadishu by the Islamic Courts Union (now known as the Supreme Islamic Courts Council) has reportedly led to Ethiopian involvement. The real question is whether Ethiopia has the combat power to really affect the situation effectively. The problem Ethiopia faces is not so much a problem of troops (the Ethiopian National Defense Force is has 100,000 personnel), but one of being able to project power. Ethiopia only has ten AN-12 "Cub" transports (the Russian answer to the C-130), and few roads or railroads leading to the Somali border.

Still, it sounds like a simple task for Ethiopia, right? Wrong. First, one has to keep in mind that Ethiopia would not just be fighting the ICU. Eritrea is likely to jump into any conflict - simply because any enemy of Ethiopia's is worth supporting for Eritrea, which is still holding grudges over not just the lengthy struggle for independence, but also over the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia. At one point during that war, Ethiopia occupied as much as 25 percent of Eritrean territory. Eritrea is already actively supportive of the ICU.

Ethiopia has to keep its northern neighbor in mind. This cuts down on what can be sent to the south. Also, keep in mind that the ICU forces will be fighting on what is now their home turf. Even if assistance from Kenya were to come, the issue of power projection does not go away, since Kenya only adds two infantry brigades and one armored brigade, and had a grand total of six De Havilland Canada DHC-5 and three DHC Dash-8-100 transports.

Herein lies the real issue for Kenya and Ethiopia: Logistics. Mogadishu is 750 kilometers from the Kenya-Somalia border, and 1021 kilometers from the Kenyan capital Nairobi. It is even further from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa (1062 kilometers). Supporting forces on such a drive will be expensive, and will require a lot of supplies. In other words, it will take a lot more than 19 cargo aircraft and the supply trains of the Ethiopian and Kenyan armed forces to have a significant chance of successfully forcing the ICU out of Mogadishu.

Successfully ejecting the ICU will require the type of combat power that only three countries could bring to bear in this region: France (with bases in Djibouti), the United Kingdom (with a long-standing relationship with Kenya and a presence in that country), or the United States (which has the capability through Marine Expeditionary Units and the 82nd Airborne Division, not to mention massive airlift and sealift capability). - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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