The Corner

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War in Somalia


Warfare in that part of the world is all about controlling the roads. Get a good road map of Somalia and you can easily trace the lines of operation. The Ethiopian and Somali government forces are advancing on the key crossroads of Balad and Afgoye. This will give them control of the two main lines of communication into Mogadishu. There is also a coastal road that they can command by sending a flying column southwest to the city of Merca, if they think they can do so without undue risk. This will place them in a very good bargaining position with the Somali clans in Mogadishu to negotiate turning the city back over to the government and driving out the unpopular Islamic Courts group, which has turned out to be every bit as radical as they promised they would be. U.S. conventional wisdom about this war has settled on two talking points: 1. If we could not control Mogadishu in 1993, how can they? and; 2. Ethiopia is entering into an endless guerilla war they cannot win. Answers to both: 1.  The Ethiopians and the government are going to seek a negotiated settlement with the clans that run the city, to try to restore the government without bloodshed. If it comes to a fight, the Ethiopians are unlikely to go in with the same objectives, rules of engagement or limits we faced. They will go in with maximum force. 2. This will not be an endless guerilla war for Ethiopia because they will pull out their main forces once they have achieved their objective of driving back the Islamic Courts militias and re-establishing the government. We should not mirror-image this war with what is going on in Iraq. Finally, predictably, the U.N. is calling for a ceasefire and negotiations “without preconditions.” This could only benefit the Islamic Courts militia, since they are being decisively defeated. Ethiopia is in it to win, nice to see a country in the developing world (or anywhere for that matter) that can take care of business.