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Counteroffensive in Somalia

The BBC reports that Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces have responded militarily against attacks on Ethiopian bases by the Shabaab, the armed wing and youth movement of the Islamic Courts Union. (_Shabaab_ translates to 'youth,' and al-Shabaab is a common name for jihadi youth movements.) A minimum of six bases were targeted by the Shabaab in simultaneous attacks in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu.1 This violence further highlights the escalating violence in Mogadishu which has caused a reported 60% of the city’s population to flee in recent days. According to the report:

Our correspondent says the insurgents say they have been encouraged by the admission by Mr Meles [Ethiopia’s Prime Minister] that his forces were becoming bogged down in Somalia.

In an effort damper some of the violence 1,600 Ugandan troops have deployed in Mogadishu as part of a slow to materialize promised 8,000-man African Union force. At this juncture, this unit is much more likely to become a party to violence rather than a referee of the violence. The founder of the Shabaab, Adan Hashi Ayro, has declared that the Ugandans will be fair game. According to Voice of America:

On [November 14], the elusive founder and leader of the Shabbab, Adan Hashi Ayro, is believed to have posted an audio recording on a Somali Web site, urging his fighters not to differentiate between Ugandan soldiers and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu and to destroy the peacekeeping force.

Ayro, who was trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and is on a U.S. list of terror suspects, was a top military commander in the Islamic Courts Union before the Islamists lost power in an Ethiopia-led offensive last December.

Since then, Shabbab fighters have led a fierce insurgency against tens of thousands of remaining Ethiopian troops in Somalia, and against the secular Somali interim government supported by the government in Addis Ababa and the United States.

With Zenawi saying his forces cannot withdraw under the current circumstances due to divisions in the Somali government and the lack of peacekeeping units, the violence will continue in Mogadishu, particularly in light of Ayro’s pledge to target such units.