Lessons in Counterinsurgency
So far, the Ethiopian military presence in Somalia has been a bumbling, disjointed affair. Ethiopia invaded Somalia in December 2006 with tacit American approval in order to topple the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a conglomeration of Islamist militias, and to prop up the fragile Transitional Federal Government. The situation does not appear to be one from which Ethiopia will be able to extricate itself from anytime soon despite an expressed desire by Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's prime minister.
In the wake of the invasion, an insurgency has raged against the Ethiopians, predominately led by a group known as al-Shabaab, the militant remnants of the ICU, which was recently designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State. The United States has avoided an overt presence in the anarchic nation, preferring instead to launch pinpoint strikes on an individual basis as typified by the recent successful targeting of Aden Hashi Ayro, commander of al-Shabaab and an individual with significant links to the broader al-Qaeda movement. As al-Shabaab has grown more brazen, the Ethiopian response has often exacerbated the situation. As an example courtesy of Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the human rights organization Amnesty International accused members of the Ethiopian military in April of killing 21 Somalis at a mosque in Mogadishu, among them an imam and other Islamic scholars. Obviously, this situation is not one that shows any regard whatsoever for cultural sensibilities of the local population, an important facet in waging a successful counterinsurgency. However, there is at least some indication that the Ethiopians are perhaps learning from their mistakes. From the BBC comes this report:
Ethiopian troops in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, have distributed food aid bought with their own salaries. About 400 bags of sorghum were handed out to about 500 people in southern Baynile district. An Ethiopian soldier said his colleagues had organised the collection to help their neighbours in need. Ethiopian troops, who support Somalia's interim government, are not popular and the food was accepted with surprise, the BBC's Mohamed Ibrahim reports.
Though this appears to be far from a concerted effort on behalf of the Ethiopians, nor organized in any formal sense, this news is a vast improvement over previous Ethiopian actions. In view of the recent riots that raged in Somalia over rising food costs, this effort on behalf of Ethiopian soldiers, even on the individual level, to provide some relief for the general population offers some tiny degree of hope that we won't find ourselves with a case of Déjà vu circa December 2006.