Recent Military Steps May Serve as a Final Precursor for War on the Horn of Africa
By Kyle Dabruzzi | October 26, 2006
Tensions in Somalia have been mounting for weeks and once again, it appears that the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) are on the verge of war. Although reports have been indicating that a battle is in the making, Baidoa, the seat of the weak transitional government and the likely stage for this battle, has not been attacked. However, the strategic steps taken recently by both the ICU and the TFG’s forces may indicate that the battle is imminent.
There are a number of strategic steps that are typically considered when preparing for a battle. One step is to build up and rally your forces. Although superior numbers don’t necessarily win a fight, they can sure help, especially if they are inspired. Another strategic step when preparing to engage an enemy is to cut off their supply lines. Without adequate supplies, including munitions, food, fuel, and the like, the enemy’s battle readiness will be greatly hindered. One final strategic move is to try and flank your enemy. An enemy that is surrounded, or at the very least flanked, has little room to retreat and thus can be defeated relatively easily. Although these are only a few steps, they can greatly increase the chances of victory; and the ICU and TFG have taken note.
Both the ICU and TFG have been recruiting soldiers to join their respective campaigns. After the fall of Mogadishu and the subsequent advances made by the ICU, Ethiopia reportedly began sending troops across the border to aid the fledging government in Baidoa. Although the Ethiopian government long denied those reports, they are now admitting to sending “trainers” to help the government’s forces. Recently, government officials have indicated that as much as 6,000 Ethiopian troops are now in the country or camped out along the border. On the other side, the ICU is saying that it has recently recruited at least 3,000 fighters to join its “holy war” against Ethiopia. Additionally, reports are indicating that 2,000 Eritrean troops arrived in Mogadishu last week, joining the advisors already stationed there. Finally, in his blog, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross quoted Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who said “We will now start fighting… I am calling on all Somalis wherever they are to start jihad against the invaders and those who support them.” Thus, both sides have been bolstering and rallying their forces in preparation for the coming battle.
Another important strategic move when preparing to engage an enemy is to cut off their supply lines. Yesterday, the ICU took over the town of Sakow, a strategic trading post previously occupied by Defense Minister Baare Hirale’s forces. In addition, the Islamists have begun stopping all shipments of fuel to Baidoa. Fuel shipments typically arrive in Mogadishu, where the Islamists have been in control since June, and are then transported to towns like Baidoa. Although Abdi Ahmed, a driver whose tanker was stopped, indicated that food and passengers were still being let through, it’s entirely possible that that food will never reach Baidoa. As a result, two major supply sources for the TFG have been taken over, which will surely have an impact on its forces.
Finally, flanking the enemy is crucial to gaining the upper hand when engaging in an offensive maneuver. Over the past months, the ICU has effectively formed a semi-circle around the government’s forces. With the take-over of Sakow, the ICU’s militias now control a town 170 km southwest of Baidoa. Additionally, the Islamists recently re-gained the town of Burhakaba which lies 180 km southeast of Baidoa. To the north, the ICU’s influence extends as far as Beledweyne, which is only 30 km from the Ethiopian border and about 250 km northeast of Baidoa. As a result, if the TFG needed to retreat, its only point of exit would be towards the border with Ethiopia, which could force them into a corner.
Indeed, being flanked by the enemy is a bad scenario; but so is fighting a two front war. According to reports, Ethiopian troops have reached the town of Balanbale, located in the northern region of Galgadud. The troops moved from the semi-autonomous Puntland region, which has so far resisted the ICU’s advances. According to one of the residents in Balanbale, “the troops, heavily armed with armored vehicles and tanks, began to dig up positions around the district and they seem to have installed official bases in the region.” Additionally, Ethiopians troops have also moved to the town of Abudwaq. Ostensibly, these positions have been set up for defensive purposes. However, they could also serve as launching points from which to engage the ICU from the north, causing the ICU’s militias to engage in a two front campaign.
Taken as a whole, the steps being taken in Somalia have all the indications that a war is imminent. While it is entirely possible that these moves may just be another link in the long chain of provocative events that have taken place in Somalia, the military steps being taken are an almost sure sign that the battle for Baidoa will take place soon.