Ethiopia Makes Gains Against Militants in Somalia
By SOLOMON MOORE
* JANUARY 2, 2012, 1:33 P.M. ET
NAIROBI, Kenya-Ethiopian government officials vowed Monday to hold a key
Somali town that Ethiopian troops wrested from al-Shabaab over the weekend,
as the Islamist militant group was said to be massing its troops on the
The Ethiopian troops' seizure of Beledweyne on Saturday was another blow to
al-Shabaab, which recently ceded ground in Mogadishu to Ugandan and
Burundian troops fighting under the authority of the African Union mission
in Somalia. Ethiopian troops are working independently of the mission, known
Militants were gathering outside Beledweyne on Monday, the Associated Press
reported, and were recruiting from neighboring towns.
Beledweyne, a trading hub on the Ethiopian-Somalian border, has been the
site of several battles between al-Shabaab, Somali government-allied
militias and Ethiopian troops during recent years.
Hundreds of Ethiopian troops crossed into neighboring Somalia last month at
the invitation of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government-the second
invasion of the war-torn country by Ethiopian since 2006. The earlier
invasion lasted until 2009, when Ethiopia withdrew amid a lack of regional
support for the military action and mounting public criticism in Somalia.
Sebsese Bade, a spokesman for Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said
he expects this incursion to be more successful, both in fighting al-Shabaab
and in helping stabilize the Somali government enough to establish itself
more firmly in Mogadishu.
"This time Ethiopia has taken precautions-we were asked to send our troops
by the TFG [Somalia's government] and the African Union-so that there are no
misunderstandings on the part of the people of Somalia," Mr. Bade said. The
rout of al-Shabaab in Mogadishu has also convinced Somalis that foreign
intervention might have a positive effect, he said.
Mr. Bade insisted, as Kenyan officials have since their troops crossed
Somalia's southern border in October, that the operation will be relatively
"We have a common enemy in al-Shabaab and the Somali government is willing
and appreciative of help from its neighboring countries," said Mohamed Ali
Nur, Somalia's ambassador to Kenya. "They will help the Somali government
defeat the enemy and the Somali people welcome this."
The recent famine in Somalia and al-Shabaab's refusal, in some instances, to
allow food shipments hardened the populace against the militant group, Mr.
As Ethiopian troops battle militants in the west, Kenyan troops have been
advancing on another of al-Shabaab's important funding sources in the
southeast-the port city of Kismayo. Kenyan officials also have said they
hope to create a buffer zone between Somalia and Kenya to stave off
kidnappings and terrorist attacks by al-Shabaab. Since Kenya's invasion,
al-Shabaab militants have staged several attacks inside Kenya, including a
New Year's Eve grenade attack that killed five people at a nightclub in
Garissa, a northern town.
Kenya is currently awaiting approval from the United Nations Security
Council so that its troops can join the African Union command, a move that
would allow the U.N. to provide funding to Kenya's overstretched military.
Lindsey Kiptiness, deputy director of the Horn of Africa division of Kenya's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said such a regionalization of Kenyan troops
would allow them to coordinate more closely with African Union forces in
"We will combine forces to beat al-Shabaab," he said. The four main foreign
forces in Somalia-from Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia-now operate
mostly independently, though the Burundian and Ugandan troops are under the
Ugandan Maj. Gen. Fred Mugisha, commander of Amisom troops in Somalia, said
on Monday that his combined Ugandan and Burundian forces have largely
secured Mogadishu, despite sporadic attacks by al-Shabaab.
Gen. Mugisha said the shooting deaths last week of two staff members of
Doctors Without Borders at the organization's Mogadishu compound were the
act of a disgruntled former employee of the aid group of Somali descent and
were unrelated to the current crackdown on al-Shabaab. The former employee
has been detained, the general said.
Doctors Without Borders confirmed the deaths of the two doctors, a Belgian
and an Indonesian, in a statement last week. It said it will relocate some
staff for security reasons, but remains committed to serving Somalia.
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Received on Mon Jan 02 2012 - 15:24:50 EST