American-made F-16 fighterjets bomb Mogadishu airport in Somalia. The Bush administration has encouraged the pro-western Ethiopian government to occupy Somalian territory.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
U.S. Signals Backing for Ethiopian Incursion Into Somalia
By MARK MAZZETTI
New York Times
WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 — The United States on Tuesday signaled its support for the Ethiopian offensive in Somalia, calling it a response to “aggression” by Islamists who have since the summer been consolidating power in the country.
A spokeswoman for the State Department, Janelle Hironimus, said Ethiopia was trying to stem the flow of outside arms shipments to the Islamists. Ms. Hironimus added that Washington was concerned about reports that the Islamists were using child soldiers and abusing Ethiopian prisoners of war.
The statement was the most detailed by the United States since last week, when the long-simmering tension between Ethiopia and Somalia boiled over.
Ethiopia has long been a strong ally of Washington in the Horn of Africa. The American military has for years trained Ethiopian troops at bases in the eastern region. The training is part of a Pentagon effort to build the Ethiopian military into a bulwark against regional terrorist networks.
Maj. Marie Boughen of the Army, a spokeswoman for the United States Central Command, which has military responsibility for the horn, said no American troops were participating in the Ethiopian offensive or working as advisers for it.
The Ethiopian military presence in Somalia, while tacitly blessed by Washington, has nonetheless been awkward for American officials. They have publicly urged a return to peace talks by warring Somali factions, but some officials have also said an Ethiopian invasion could be the only factor to prevent the Islamists’ complete takeover of Somalia.
On Tuesday, a day after an Ethiopian jet strafed the airport in Mogadishu, the capital, the State Department issued internal guidance to staff members, instructing officials to play down the invasion in public statements.
“Should the press focus on the role of Ethiopia inside Somalia,” read a copy of the guidelines that was given to The New York Times by an American official here, “emphasize that this is a distraction from the issue of dialogue between the T.F.I.’s and Islamic courts and shift the focus back to the need for dialogue.” T.F.I. is an abbreviation for the weak transitional government in Somalia.
“The press must not be allowed to make this about Ethiopia, or Ethiopia violating the territorial integrity of Somalia,” the guidance said.
The Bush administration is using American ambassadors throughout the region in an effort to have African nations press the Islamists to return to the negotiating table.
Senior leaders of the Islamist coalition, the Islamic Courts Union, have issued a global call to jihad for Muslims to travel to Somalia to fight troops from Ethiopia.
American intelligence officials said they did not believe that foreign fighters had traveled to Somalia in great numbers and that mostly Somalis made up the force fighting the Ethiopians.
American intelligence officials theorize that the Islamists, who wrested control of Mogadishu in June from a coalition of warlords supported by the Central Intelligence Agency, have ties to a Qaeda cell based in East Africa that is responsible for the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
This year, the C.I.A. began a covert operation to arm and finance the warlords, who had united under the banner of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism. Operated from the intelligence agency’s station in Nairobi, Kenya, the effort involved frequent trips to Mogadishu by case officers from the agency and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to the warlords.
The operation backfired. When the payments to the warlords shifted the military balance of the country in their favor, the Islamists started a strike against the American-backed coalition and ran it out of Mogadishu.
Since June, the State Department has reasserted its control of Somalia policy, trying to build support for a plan to bolster the transitional government with peacekeeping troops from other African nations.
Somalian troops advance toward capital
By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN,
Associated Press Writer
Somalia government soldiers, joined by troops from neighboring Ethiopia, advanced toward Somalia's capital Tuesday as Islamic fighters dug in and promised a "new phase" in the war — a chilling pronouncement from a movement that has threatened suicide attacks.
Somalia called on the Council of Islamic Courts militias, bloodied by a week of artillery and mortar attacks, to surrender and promised amnesty if they lay down their weapons, government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said.
A U.N. official, meanwhile, said Tuesday that Ethiopian-backed government troops were advancing on Mogadishu, the capital, from two directions and facing stiff resistance.
Francois Lonseny Fall, the top U.N. envoy to Somalia, also said 35,000 Somalis had crossed into neighboring Kenya to escape the fighting, which forced the U.N. to suspend aid delivery to two million Somalis.
As many as 1,000 people may have been killed and 3,000 wounded in the fighting, many of them foreign radicals, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said.
Meles said about 3,000 to 4,000 Ethiopian forces, which entered Somalia on Saturday, may soon wrap up their offensive against the Islamic militias that until recent days controlled most of southern part of the country.
"As soon as we have accomplished our mission — and about half of our mission is done, and the rest shouldn't take long — we'll be out," Meles told reporters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The U.N. envoy, Fall, called the fighting "disastrous" for the Somalian people and asked the Security Council to call for an immediate cease-fire.
The council took no immediate action on a draft presidential statement circulated by Qatar calling for a cease-fire and withdrawal of foreign forces, specifying Ethiopian troops. The United States and several other nations objected to singling out Ethiopia and the call for a truce, saying talks and a political agreement are needed for stability before foreign forces can leave. The council agreed to continue discussions Wednesday.
A U.S. State Department spokesman in Washington appeared to endorse Ethiopia's military action, saying it had "genuine security concerns" about the growth of powerful Islamic militias next door.
The spokesman, Gonzalo Gallegos, said he had no information on whether the U.S., which is concerned about the militia's ties to foreign Islamic militants, was aiding the Ethiopian military with supplies.
Ethiopia sent fighter jets streaking deep into militia-held areas Sunday to help Somalia's U.N.-recognized government push back the Islamic militias. Ethiopia bombed the country's two main airports and helped government forces capture several villages.
Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a top leader of the Islamic group, accused Ethiopian troops of massacring 50 civilians in the central town of Cadado. Ethiopian officials were not immediately available to respond.
Ahmed said his fighters are in tactical retreat in the face of superior Ethiopian firepower. But the military struggle has just begun, he added.
"The war is entering a new phase," Ahmed said from Mogadishu, the capital. "We will fight Ethiopia for a long, long time and we expect the war to go everyplace."
Ahmed declined to elaborate, but some Islamic leaders have threatened a guerrilla war to include suicide bombings in Addis Ababa.
Ismael Mohamoud Hurreh, Somalia's foreign minister, said Tuesday that the government's small military force has been training for this offensive for five months.
"We will hold our line very, very well, don't worry about that," Hurreh told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya.
Experts fear the conflict in Somalia could engulf the region. Islamic courts leaders have repeatedly said they want to incorporate ethnic Somalis living in eastern Ethiopia, northeastern Kenya and Djibouti into a Greater Somalia.
For months, foreign Islamic radicals — including Pakistanis, Arabs and Chechens — have been trickling into Somalia to fight on behalf of the Islamic movement. According to a U.N. report in October, Eritrea — Ethiopia's neighbor and longtime adversary — has dispatched 2,000 soldiers to Somalia to fight against the Ethiopian-backed central government.
Ethiopia's Meles said his goal is not to defeat the militias but severely damage their military power — and allow both sides to return to peace talks on an even footing.
"The rank and file of the Islamic Courts militia is not a threat to Ethiopia," he said Tuesday. "Once they return to their bases, we will leave them alone."
Ethiopian troops will not enter Mogadishu, he said. Instead, he said, Somali forces would encircle the city to contain the militias that control it.
Any effort by the Somali government or Ethiopia to take the capital risks a disaster similar to the U.S. intervention in Somalia in 1992.
That U.N.-sponsored mission ended in 1993, after Somali militiamen shot down a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter. Eighteen American servicemen were killed in the crash and vicious street fighting that preceded and followed, made famous in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."
Somalia has not had an effective government since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, pushing the country into anarchy.
Two years ago, the United Nations helped set up a central government for the arid, impoverished nation on the Horn of Africa. But until the past week, it had little influence outside of its seat in the city of Baidoa, about 140 northwest of Mogadishu.
The country was largely under the control of warlords until this past summer, when the Islamic militia movement pushed them aside.
One critical issue is whether the central government can win the support of Somalis. Many resent Ethiopia's intervention because the countries have fought two wars over their disputed border in the past 45 years.
Hurreh, the Somali foreign minister, said Somalis will embrace the fall of the Islamic militias. Their severe interpretation of Islam is reminiscent, to some, of Afghanistan's Taliban regime — ousted by a U.S.-led campaign in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden.
"A lot of people in Mogadishu will be very happy to chew some qat and have the Islamic courts out of their way," Hurreh said, referring to the narcotic leaf banned by many of the Islamic courts.
AP writers Salad Duhul in Mogadishu, Les Neuhaus in Addis Ababa, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and Chris Tomlinson and Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Nairobi contributed to this report.
UN council fails to agree on plea to end Somali war
By Irwin Arieff
UNITED NATIONS - A U.N. envoy urged the Security Council on Tuesday to call for an immediate halt in the fighting in Somalia or risk a broader conflict and greater instability in the chaotic Horn of Africa nation.
Failure to reach a political settlement through a resumption of talks between Somali Islamists and interim government forces "would be disastrous for the long-suffering people of Somalia and could also have serious consequences for the entire region," said Francois Lonseny Fall of Guinea, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for Somalia.
But the 15-nation council was unable to reach agreement on such an appeal after Qatar, its sole Arab member, insisted the statement also call for the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian forces -- as well as all other foreign forces -- from Somalia.
The other council members backed a statement calling instead only for "unauthorized" forces to pull out, a phrase they argued would not apply to Ethiopian troops which were there at the invitation of the interim government.
After more than three hours of negotiations, diplomats said the council was split 14 to one on the matter and suspended their efforts until Wednesday afternoon.
In the meantime, the Arab League, the African Union and the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which brokered the installation of Somalia's shaky transitional government in 2004, were due to meet in Addis Ababa on Wednesday to discuss the situation, Fall said.
A British diplomat involved in the talks, speaking on condition he not be identified by name, said the Qatari approach was flawed as it "put the cart before the horse."
The approach favored by the other 14 council members would first call for a ceasefire, followed by a resumption of peace talks between the Islamists and the government, in hopes of ultimately reaching a deal creating the necessary conditions for a withdrawal of all foreign forces, this diplomat said.
GOVERNMENT SAYS ETHIOPIA 'ACTING LEGALLY'
The Qatari approach also risked backfiring as the Ethiopians were likely to ignore a plea to withdraw for now, this diplomat said.
Somalia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Idd Beddel Mohamed, defended the Ethiopian intervention, saying Addis Ababa had sent troops "at the invitation of the transitional federal government, and is acting legally under international law."
Mohamed said he had privately assured council members that his government was committed to a resumption of talks with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in hopes of national reconciliation.
The council split as Ethiopia said it was halfway to crushing the Islamists with its forces advancing on Mogadishu, the Somali capital and ICU stronghold, after a week of war.
Somalia's envoy to Addis Ababa said Ethiopian troops were within 40 miles of Mogadishu and could capture it in 24 to 48 hours.
Fall said there were reports of government forces marching toward Mogadishu from two directions. "However, they are still facing stiff resistance from the Union of Islamic Courts militias and their allies in several areas," he said.
He said the fighting was spreading rapidly across areas previously held by the ICU, with forces loyal to the interim government taking control of, or advancing on, many towns outside their stronghold of Baidoa.
Some 35,000 Somali refugees had already fled to neighboring Kenya to avoid the fighting, and young men fleeing Mogadishu had told aid groups that children were being forcibly recruited as soldiers, Fall said.
The fighting had also undermined efforts to aid 2 million people in south-central Somalia affected either by war or by earlier heavy flooding in the area, he said. All international aid workers had been evacuated from the area, Fall said.
U.N. agencies and relief groups would try to resume aid deliveries using local personnel but could do so only to the extent they could gain access to the affected areas and carry out their work in safety, he said.
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