Islamic Forces Retreat in Somalia

Somalia’s UN-recognized “government” has won the first round in a regional war.

Islamic fighters were in a tactical retreat Tuesday, a senior Islamic leader said, as government and Ethiopian troops advanced on three fronts in a decisive turn around in the battle for control of Somalia.

Somalia’s internationally backed government called on the Council of Islamic Courts to surrender and promised them amnesty if they lay down their weapons and stop opposing the government, spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said from Baidoa, the seat of the government.

Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, leader of the Council of Islamic Courts’ executive body, said the group had asked its troops to withdraw from some areas. “The war is entering a new phase,” he said. “We will fight Ethiopia for a long, long time and we expect the war to go everyplace.” Ahmed declined to explain is comments in greater detail, but some Islamic leaders have threatened a guerrilla war to include suicide bombings in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Patrick Mazimhaka, the deputy chairman of the African Union Commission, expressed support for Somalia’s government and defended Ethiopia’s military advances. “If Ethiopia feels sufficiently threatened, then we recognize the right of Ethiopia to defend itself if it thinks its sovereignty and its security are under direct threat.”

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 the government has not been able to extend its influence outside the city of Baidoa, where it is headquartered about 140 miles northwest of Mogadishu. The country was largely under the control of warlords until this past summer, when the Islamic militia movement seized power.

We’ve learned enough from our dealings in both Somalia and Ethiopia to know that there are no “good guys” to root for against the “bad guys.” [Update: Josh Trevino provides something of a scorecard in that regard.] Sadly, there will likely be tens of thousands of dead bodies before this sorts itself out.

While Michael van der Galien may be right that we should rush in with funds to rebuild Somalia when this is over (I’m frankly dubious that anyone in the Third World is grateful for positive acts) I would oppose “support[ing] Ethiopia immediately when Ethiopia asks for it” if that means more than some diplomatic niceties. Certainly, I have no interest in deploying American troops there. He and Ed Morrissey are right that we should pay more attention to the region; that “attention,” however, should not include fighting in their wars.

The recent announcement of the creation of AFRICOM as a joint DOD-State presence on the continent is a welcome one. Africa is a hotbed of Islamist violence, and thus a national security threat to the United States and our allies, in addition to a humanitarian travesty. Our approach needs to be long-term, though, rather than 1990s-style parachuting into nasty situations that have boiled over into mass violence. Jumping in and trying to solve Ethiopia, Somalia, or Darfur with the force of arms is foolish. Trying to head off future tragedies, though, is worthwhile.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. soccer dad says:

    WTOP ran a series called “Hearts and Minds” including what the military is doing in nearby Djibouti.

  2. nt says:


  3. Casey says:

    Don’t believe the hype that Ethiopia “has Islamists on the run”.

    This is just Ethiopian propaganda. They’re paid by the US on a performance basis. They’re allowed to move in to Somalia as long as they show results. So, of course they will claim success with exagerrated body counts.

    What has Ethiopia really accomplished in Somalia? Probably very little since the population of Somalia hates Ethiopia (they have a long history of animosity) and Ethiopia has no hopes of any sustained campaign in Somalia.

    It seems that a lot of poor farmers are getting blown to bits just so the Ethiopian dictator can put on a good face to get his $1.8 Billion from Paul Wolfowitz and the World Bank.

  4. DC Loser says:

    Ethiopia doesn’t want this to go on too long or it may find itself in a two front war with Eritrea.