Peacekeeping: Securing Somalia

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December29, 2006: The ease with which the Ethiopian army routed the Islamic Courts militia should not obscure the basic problems inherent in attempting to stabilize Somalia. The Transitional Government lacks any significant military power, relying on militiamen who are as . unskilled as those of the Islamic Courts Movement (ICM). Of course the Transitional Government can count on support from the much better trained and equipped Ethiopians. But it's unlikely that the Ethiopians will want to become mired in a protracted security operation in Somalia. Just imposing order on Mogadishu would be time-consuming and costly in men and money, given the proliferation of weapons and the complex internal politics of clans and warlords, as well as the influence of religious extremists.

Although the ICM may be down, it's by no means out. In a militia-on-militia conflict, it certainly can outshoot the Transitional Government. And while ICM militiamen can't stand up to Ethiopian troops in anything like a "fair fight," Islamist movements have certainly proven they don't necessarily want to "fight fair." While there seems to have been no instance of the ICM making use of suicide attacks, the presence of al Qaeda advisors certainly raises that possibility.

The optimal strategy for the Ethiopians may be to keep a relatively low profile. By holding their troops outside Mogadishu and other population centers, the Ethiopians can support the Transitional Government in its efforts to establish and maintain control, without over committing themselves, or stirring up problems with the rest of Africa. The African Union has already said Ethiopia should pull out of Somalia, reflecting the widespread African sensitivity over foreign "meddling," even in situations of great provocation. While it's militiamen may be no better than those of the ICM, and probably a good deal less suicide-prone, the Transitional Government may be able to establish a degree of authority through a judicious mixture of force (backed by occasional Ethiopian interventions), bribery, deal-making, and other traditional Somali practices. The break-away regions of Puntland, in the northeast, and Somaliland, in the northwest, seem to have managed quite well in this fashion.

It's also useful to remember that, in 1978 Uganda's maniacal dictator Idi Amin invaded neighboring Tanzania. The Tanzanians undertook a counteroffensive which ended with Amin's ouster and the installation of a new government. The ouster of Amin, widely viewed in the West as a legitimate consequence of the Tanzanians effort to defend themselves, was widely condemned by virtually all African countries.

 


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