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Denials in the Horn of Africa

After taking control of portions of Somalia in early June, the Islamic Courts Union has continued its efforts to solidify support in the nation while inciting increased tensions between Somalia and its neighbors. The ICU has instituted its variant of Islamic courts in Mogadishu, continued to spread its span of control, denied claims of ties to international terror organizations, rejected proposed peace-keeping forces and claimed foreign incursions into Somalia.

The ICU claims that Ethiopian soldiers crossed into Somalia over this past weekend. ICU representatives report that some 300 troops and 50 vehicles crossed into Somalia. Given the historic tensions between the nations and Ethiopia’s long border with Somalia many analysts believe the claim plausible. Ethiopia has denied the incursion.

In an attempt to derail further destabilization and to prevent further spread of the control, although less clearly stated as an objective – the Somali parliament has agreed to have African Union peacekeepers in Somalia. This is widely regarded as a high risk proposition both due to AU forces less than remarkable record elsewhere and due to strong public opposition to foreign peacekeepers in Somalia.

For the US, engaged in an effort to contain and eliminate terrorist in the region, the challenge is significant. The US backed the warlords of the Alliance for Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (ARPC) and now finds a growing popularly supported movement that could bind both nationalist and religious sympathies to counter the government in Baidoa and US backed secular Ethiopia. The US is concerned that the ICU is harboring terrorists, a claim the ICU rejects. And two of the ICU’s most significant figures are members of al-Ittihaad al-Islami (AIAI), a group listed as a “concern” on the State Departments Country Reports on Terrorism 2005.

As a sign of US interest in the area – General Abizaid met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi today. Their talks were on “national and international issues, especially on efforts in fighting terrorism” reported the Ethiopian News Agency.

As Austin Bay notes at Strategy Page - this “chaotic battlefield” is far from over. That is the one thing few would deny.