Monday, January 29, 2007

Who cares about Somalia(?)

The title question-mark is in brackets as you can read this either as a question or, more likely, simply as a statement. The Economist does care and continues to cover Somalia more seriously than most media, but you could hear their correspondent's anger at the end of last week's report :
"It is a sad measure of the insouciance with which the world treats Somalia that it has managed to drop out of the headlines in the space of a week."
After a few weeks over Christmas when you couldn't move for Mogadishu news, we're back to a collective shrug of the shoulders. There were more US air-strikes last week that hardly got a mention, but seem to have been no more successful than the first round which, according to one US officer interviewed by the IHT, killed none of the leaders of the Islamic Courts Union, or the suspected al-Qaeda they were believed to be sheltering. Who the USAF did kill in the first strikes is not clear. The Ethiopians are starting to pull out (due to malaria of all things, according to the IHT), the Transitional Government doesn't have the power to really control Mogadishu, and ICU sympathetic-fighters are re-emerging to start fighting the government. The idea that the ICU had been "routed" always seemed rather fanciful as the ICU force was a conglomeration of localised militias rather than some unitary military entity. Hence it would seem logical that when the power of the Ethiopian military pushed against them they would just split back up into their original constituent parts. In that sense the Ethiopians did beat them completely but of course that doesn't take the danger away: just as the US has found in Iraq, you can make an army concede totally, but it doesn't mean that the people who made that army up, can't fight you successfully in tiny groupings later with guerilla tactics.

The African Union is still discussing sending peacekeepers but has massive financial, not to mention political constraints. Once the Ethiopians leave Somalia there is no reason to expect that the status quo of continually warring factions, with the Transitional Government once again just one of them, will not return - except for now there will be more anti-US and anti-western feeling after the air attacks and the US support for the Ethiopian invasion. No western country seems to be bothered enough to shovel money, let alone men or resources, to the AU to help out. So as the Washington Times correctly puts it: "the window of opportunity is apparently beginning to close."

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