Ethiopia: The Trap

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April 12, 2012: Kenya is believed to be in talks with Ethiopia for a joint operation to capture the port of Kismayo from al Shabaab terrorists. Kenya has openly asked the European Union counter-piracy task force to begin intercepting Al Shabaab boats operating out of the port of Kismayo. Al Shabaab uses the boats to supply its forces in the Kismayo area and could use the boats to flee (presumably to Yemen) if Kenya attacks the port. Kenya has maintained that pirates have used Kismayo in the past. Kenya reported in early March that pirates operating out of Kismayo had hijacked a vessel, then taken it to Haradhere (central Somalia, northeast and up the coast from Kismayo). There are allegedly two pirate bases in the Kismayo area, Kaboora Beach and Koyame Island (part of the Bajun Island chain, in the Indian Ocean). In the past the Somali government has claimed the pirates have connections to Al Shabaab. Kenya wants the EU counter-piracy patrol to stop pirates, which is its mission. However, the EU force, in accomplishing that mission in the Kismayo area, would also serve as a naval blockading force, pinning Al Shabaab in the city and denying it supplies.

April 9, 2012: The Ethiopian offensive in south-central and south-western Somalia has been slow but steady. Since the capture of Beledweyne (December 2011) Ethiopian forces have advanced deeper into the country. The port of Kismayo may be the ultimate objective, where Ethiopian forces, pro-Somali government forces, and Kenyan forces would presumably link-up. Al Shabaab, however, claims it still has fighters behind the advancing Ethiopian forces. Ethiopia and the Somali Transistional National Government (TNG) have thought about that. The African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia (African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM) intends to deploy peacekeepers in towns behind the Ethiopian-led advance (liberated towns in south-central Somalia, according to one pro-Somali government source). This backfill operation has already begun. There is a contingent of AMISOM troops in Baidoa. However, until reinforcements arrive AMISOM lacks the troops to backfill the Ethiopian advance and protect Mogadishu.

April 2, 2012: The Eritrean government has tried to portray the Ethiopian attacks on rebel bases as a violation of Eritrean sovereign territory. It was that, literally, but Ethiopia argued that it was acting in self-defense when it struck Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF) base camps inside Eritrea, who then complained that the UN Security Council should take action (ie, condemn the Ethiopian attacks). Eritrea, however, has received little public sympathy. Some of this may be payback for Eritrea’s long-term belligerence toward the UN. Eritrea argued the UN observers favored Ethiopia when the UN ran the demilitarized zone between Eritrea and Ethiopia and it eventually kicked out UN observation teams. Eritrea also faces an array of UN-sponsored sanctions related to the country’s support for terrorist groups in East Africa (most notably Somalia’s Al Shabaab). The most telling statement by Eritrea so far was the mid-March declaration that it would not be entrapped (the word used) by Ethiopia. Eritrea read Ethiopia’s attack as an opportunity (by Ethiopia) to escalate the raids into a war, a war Eritrea would likely lose.

March 29, 2012: A firefight erupted when Al Shabaab fighters attacked an Ethiopian military convoy near the village of Bohol-Bashir (south central Somalia, Gedo region). The convoy was moving from the town of Luuq to the town of Yurkud. Members of the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, which is loyal to the Transitional National Government (TNG), were also traveling in the convoy. The pro-TNG Somali fighters claimed six Al Shabaab rebels died in the firefight. Al Shabaab, however, claimed it killed several dozen Ethiopian soldiers and destroyed five Ethiopian armored vehicles.

March 26, 2012: Ethiopian and Somali government forces took control of the town of El Bur. El Bur had been a major Al Shabaab base. Al Shabaab militiamen apparently withdrew from the town as Ethiopian armored vehicle arrived on the outskirts.

March 24, 2012: Ethiopian troops in trucks moved through the town of Dhusamareb after a pro-government militia (Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa) took control of the town. The Ethiopian convoy consisted of at least 50 trucks, which indicates at least a battalion (over 500 soldiers). Ethiopian units are preparing to attack the town of El Bur, 100 kilometers from Dhusamareb. El Bur is Al Shabaab’s primary base in the region. Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa calls itself a moderate Islamist militia.

March 23, 2012: It has been a week since Eritrea demanded the UN Security Council take action against Ethiopia for its raids on rebel bases in Eritrean territory. Eritrea demanded that the UN act to “ensure justice and the respect of the rule of law." However, there has been no response from the UN. A recent UN report condemned the Eritrean government for human rights abuses and for supporting “foreign armed groups” that threatened Eritrea’s neighbors, specifically mentioning Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Sudan. The UN has also refrained from condemning Kenya for attacking Al Shabaab militia bases in southern Somalia, accepting Kenya’s explanation that it was defending its own territory from attack by terrorists who were operating from bases in a failed state. Eritrea is not a failed state (yet), but it is an isolated state.

Kenyan fighter jets bombed three al-Shabaab targets near the town of Fafadun in southern Somalia.

March 22, 2012: Ethiopian soldiers and militia fighters loyal to the Somalia TNG took control of the town of Hudur (Bakool region, 400 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu). Hudur served as an Al Shabaab training base.

March 19, 2012: A group of Yemeni fishermen claimed they captured an Eritrean soldier after an Eritrean naval vessel intercepted three of their boats in international waters. Apparently the soldier jumped aboard one of the Yemeni boats. Two Yemeni boats then fled, one with an Eritrean soldier aboard. The Eritrean vessel then forced the third fishing boat to sail to Eritrea. Eritrea is now holding three Yemeni fishermen as hostages, pending the return of the Eritrean soldier.

 

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