Ethiopian troops launch major offensives against Islamist insurgents in Somalia
The action raises questions about whether troops will withdraw, as planned, by the end of the year.
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Earlier, AFP reported that Ethiopia said it could "extend its deployment by 'a few days.' " It cited a government statement that explained:Skip to next paragraph
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This did not imply any delay in withdrawal but might allow for some flexibility in terms of a few days, if necessary....
Most informed predictions go something like this: if the several thousand Ethiopian troops withdraw by January, as they recently said they would, the 3,000 or so African Union peacekeepers in Somalia could soon follow, leaving Somalia wide open to the Islamist insurgents who have been massing on the outskirts of Mogadishu, the capital.
The Times adds that the withdrawal could not come at a worse time for Somalia:
For the past 17 years, Somalia has been ripped apart by anarchy, violence, famine, and greed. It seems as though things there can never get worse. But then they do.
The pirates off Somalia's coast are getting bolder, wilier and somehow richer, despite an armada of Western naval ships hot on their trail. Shipments of emergency food aid are barely keeping much of Somalia's population of nine million from starving. The most fanatical wing of Somalia's Islamist insurgency is gobbling up territory and imposing its own harsh brand of Islamic law, like whipping dancers and stoning a 13-year-old girl to death.
If the government implodes, the Shabab group appears poised to take control, the AP explains.
The Shabab declared an Islamic state in a region of southern Somalia on Sunday, establishing posts including a governor, security official, and chief judge, according to the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist sites. The declaration is the latest sign of the Shabab's steady advance.
The New York Times adds:
Most analysts predict that the war-weary people of Mogadishu would initially welcome the Islamists, out of either relief or fear. In 2006, Islamist troops teamed up with clan elders and businessmen to drive out the warlords who had been preying upon Somalia's people since the central government first collapsed in 1991. The six months the Islamists ruled Mogadishu turned out to be one of the most peaceful periods in modern Somali history.
Al Shabab's rise to power is likely to have a ripple effect outside Somalia and is expected to create new challenges for the Obama administration, the AP reports.
The United States fears that Somalia could be a terrorist breeding ground, and accuses al-Shabab of harboring the al-Qaida-linked terrorists who allegedly blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.