A major battle outside the Somalian central city of Baidoa on March 10 showed that the imperialist-backed war against Al-Shabaab is far from over. Reports in recent weeks in the corporate media had made it appear that the Islamic resistance forces were in retreat and suffering massive casualties at the hands of the multinational invasion forces currently operating inside Somalia.
Developments in the Horn of Africa must be viewed within the context of the expansion of the United States Africa Command — known as AFRICOM — and NATO operations on the continent. The reserves of oil and strategic minerals that are increasingly identified in Africa are at the root of these military operations in Somalia.
There is intense fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, in Kismayo in the south, and in Baidoa in the central region where Western-engineered militaries claim to have largely weakened the Al-Shabaab movement. Nonetheless, reports say the March 12 Baidoa clashes killed 70 Ethiopian troops and wounded many more.
In Mogadishu on March 14, an attack on the presidential palace killed several people. Al-Shabaab soon claimed responsibility for the operation, saying that the bombing attack killed 17 people.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab of Al-Shabaab said in a statement, “What a victory, inside the so-called presidential palace; more explosions and bombers will follow.” (Reuters, March 14)
The Ethiopian military’s incursion once again into Somalia is key to efforts to defeat Al-Shabaab through overwhelming force. Kenyan Defense Forces, which entered Somalia in October 2011, quickly became stalled due to Al-Shabaab’s determined defense and inclement weather conditions in the region.
Soon enough it was announced that the Kenyan military would be integrated into the project of the African Union Mission to Somalia. AMISOM, which has been operating in Somalia since 2007, was a direct response to Ethiopia’s earlier failure. In late 2006 Washington had encouraged the Ethiopian military to intervene there.
The Ethiopian occupation was met by fierce opposition from the Islamic Courts Union, which at the time was designated by the Bush administration as a threat to U.S. interests in the Horn of Africa.
Ethiopia’s intervention, which lasted from December 2006 to early 2009, prompted large-scale dislocation of the Somali population. Besides all the ground intervention, Washington carried out several bombing operations in Somalia during 2007 under the guise of targeting “al Qaeda terrorist bases” inside this Horn of Africa nation.
Despite the large-scale Ethiopian intervention and the role of U.S. and British air power, Ethiopia’s invasion and occupation were huge failures. Politically, however, the U.S. was able to split the Islamic Courts Union coalition and bring the more moderate elements into the Washington-backed Transitional Federal Government.
However, the more youthful militant wing of the ICU known as Al-Shabaab rejected the agreement to enter the TFG. Al-Shabaab also rejected the demand that AMISOM military forces be allowed to remain in Somalia indefinitely.
AMISOM was initially set up to deploy approximately 8,000 troops from the U.S.-funded regimes in Uganda and Burundi, as well other states. Since late 2011, reinforcements have been dispatched from Djibouti, a neighboring state which harbors a Pentagon and French military base at Camp Lemonier near the Somali border.
Behind the attacks on Eritrea
On March 15, the Ethiopian military launched attacks across its northern border into Eritrea. This rekindled the long conflict over the independence of Eritrea which had been incorporated into Ethiopia between 1952 and 1961.
Following Ethiopia’s massive 1974 revolution, the Dergue headed by Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam turned toward the Soviet Union and Cuba for assistance and declared the new political dispensation socialist oriented.
The revolutionary Ethiopian government closed a U.S. military base and enacted social reforms, including land redistribution. Nonetheless, the war with Eritrea, a former Italian colony and British protectorate, continued.
During the period of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, several months prior to its break-up, the government led by the Workers Party of Ethiopia was overthrown. At that time Eritrea, under the leadership of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, declared its independence from Ethiopia with no apparent opposition from Addis Ababa.
However, by 1998 a protracted military struggle started up once again between Ethiopia and Eritrea, in which a reported 70,000 people were killed between 1998 and 2000. The Organization of African Unity — predecessor to the African Union — brokered an agreement in Algiers that resulted in the cessation of hostilities. No peace treaty has been signed between the two states.
Responding to Ethiopia’s March 15 attack, the Eritrean government said that the military strike is designed to further obscure Addis Ababa’s ongoing occupation of territory around Badme, which is on the border between the two countries. The U.S. and Ethiopia have accused Eritrea of supplying military assistance to Al-Shabaab and other movements in the Afars region that oppose the Ethiopian regime. Eritrea denies these claims.
Imperialist aims in the Horn of Africa
U.S. imperialism and its allies aim to isolate and liquidate all political forces within the Horn of Africa that operate independently of Washington’s direction. This was the rationale for the U.S. urging Ethiopian intervention into Somalia between 2006 and 2009 and the latest incursions around Baidoa.
In all likelihood, the recent Ethiopian strikes against Eritrea are allowed by the imperialists because Eritrea has resisted cooperation with imperialism’s regional efforts geared toward subduing Somalia.
Somalia has recently been discovered to possess a potential source of oil for the transnational petroleum firms. Drilling has already begun in the northern breakaway enclave of Puntland.
U.S. drones are in full operation in Somalia, and have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians inside the country over the last several months. At the same time, flotillas of warships from Washington and the European Union are patrolling waterways off the coast in the Gulf of Aden, which are some of the most lucrative shipping lanes in the world.
Fresh from the overthrow of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s government in Libya, the U.S. and NATO are seeking greater avenues of penetration into Africa. Consequently, anti-war and anti-imperialists forces in the U.S. must oppose these operations because they are only structured to increase the profit margins of the transnational corporations and the banks.