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January 24, 2007
Ethiopia Begins Withdrawal From Somalia

As promised, Ethiopia began to withdraw its troops from Mogadishu after it ran off the radical Islamists who seized control of the Somalian capital last year. The withdrawal comes less than a month after their victory, and some question whether they may be a little too quick to honor their commitment to leave:

A column of 200 Ethiopian troops left Mogadishu yesterday less than a month after they helped to rout Islamist militias and deliver the capital to Somalia’s Government.

Ethiopian commanders said that it was the beginning of a withdrawal from the country, but they offered no timetable amid fears that too rapid a departure could hand Somalia back to the warlords who kept it in anarchy for almost 16 years. ...

The Government remains jittery at the prospect of losing Ethiopia’s firepower. Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi, Ali Mohamed Gedi, Somalia’s Prime Minister, insisted that Ethiopian forces would not be leaving until a peacekeeping force from the African Union was deployed.

“We are trying to avoid any vacuum,” he said, referring to the clan-based militias and warlords whose rivalries had made the country ungovernable.

He said that his administration had re-opened police stations but still needed international support.

The Ethiopians want to have the African Union send troops to replace them and help stabilize the city and Somalia as a whole. It's unclear how many troops the Ethiopians will pull out of Mogadishu while the AU pulls together its multinational force, and how many of those troops will be Ethiopians already in place. Sending 200 troops to the rear sounds more like a gesture than a real withdrawal, but it may not stop there, and the Ethiopians will not wait forever for the AU to deploy.

Al-Qaeda issued another empty threat on the occasion of the departure. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has served as the #2 man for years in AQ, issued a videotaped speech promising that the UIC remnants will "break their [Ethiopians'] back" if they stay, a scenario that seems 180 degrees in opposition to the actual experience of Ethiopia's army in Somalia. The Islamists Zawahiri supports have mostly dissipated, and the real danger in Somalia now is the resurgence of the warlords from the major clans. The UIC only temporarily suppressed them, and the Ethiopian withdrawal could provide them an opening.

Speaking of Zawahiri, has anyone else noticed that Osama bin Laden has gone a long time since his last message to the ummah? Since the 2004 elections, he has been remarkably silent. One might expect Osama himself to weigh in on Somalia, especially since he saw that as such an American disaster and often cited our withdrawal as proof of our weakness and hypocrisy.

In this case, though, the Islamists gave flight, breaking the illusion that they fight to the death for Islam. When faced with an overwhelming military force and the will to use it, the radical Islamists hotfooted it towards Kenya rather than matryr themselves on Ethiopian guns. Perhaps Osama doesn't want to have to explain that.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 24, 2007 5:45 AM

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