Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Battling for the Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa (Google Earth)

Somali transitional government troops, backed by the Ethiopian air force and land forces, are apparently routing Islamist fighters in Somalia. The U.S. seems to have given carte blanche to the Ethiopians to pursue their current counter-offensive, which began after Islamic Courts Union (ICU) militiamen attacked the city of Baidoa, which is in the Somali interior, approximately halfway between Mogadishu and the Ethiopian border. The Ethiopian-backed forces are pursuing the ICU fighters who are retreating to the capital on the coast.

Although Somalia has largely faded into the background since 9/11, the CIA and the Pentagon have long watched developments in the Horn of Africa. Even undergraduates with knowledge of the region and its languages were recruited as consultants in the past five years. The near-anarchy in Somalia, and, more recently, the power of local Islamists, have made it an ideal base for al-Qaeda-type groups - though mainly as a conduit for attacks in Kenya or the Gulf of Aden. Pirates have also threatened the safety of shipping routes off the Somali coast.

The U.S. Combined Joint Taskforce - Horn of Africa in Djibouti has been engaged in counter-terrorism training of allies such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, as well as in coordinating a multinational, force that is monitoring shipping lanes in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean (Taskforce 150). Most of the monitoring is being carried out by the German navy, which currently has a frigate with two helicopters and a tanker deployed for this purpose. The deployment falls under Operation Enduring Freedom. It actually covers the area from the Red Sea around the Arabian peninsula to the Strait of Hormuz.

Operation Enduring Freedom - the naval theater (Source: Bundeswehr)

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