Beledweyne, a town near the Somali-Ethiopian border, has been the site of periodic fighting recently. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, al Shabab, Hizbul Islam, and the Ethiopian army have all controlled parts of Beledweyne at various times in the past few months.
Over the weekend, the Ethiopian army crossed into the area around Beledweyne again:
Several hundred Ethiopian soldiers…accompanied by Somali pro-government clan-based militias, entered three villages west of Beledweyn, some 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of Mogadishu, on Saturday afternoon.“I saw dozens of armed vehicles belonging to the Ethiopian army with some Somali militias, they entered Wagada village and detained several people before getting out of the village this morning,” Husein Farah Gomey, an elder near Beledweyn told AFP by phone[…]The residents said that while the Ethiopians let some of their detainees go, they took others with them.Local Islamist officials in the region also confirmed the cross-border raid by the Ethiopian forces.“It is not the first time they have carried out such raids inside Somalia taking innocent civilians with them, but we tell them that such provocation will only breed bloodshed,” Sheik Abdurahman Sheik Mohamoud, a senior Hezb al Islam commander said.
With these raids, Ethiopia is pursuing immediate military objectives, but I think it is also sending a message to whatever audiences are paying attention, be that al Shabab, the TFG, regional governments, or the United States. The message is that Ethiopia will not hesitate to intervene in Somalia again, perhaps even on a major scale.
I hear commentators say all the time that the 2006 American-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was a mistake, and I agree. But that failure may not stop Ethiopia from going back into its neighbor’s territory, especially if Addis Ababa feels its own territorial integrity is threatened by Somali separatism in the Ogaden region. After all, numerous raids have already taken place since Ethiopia’s occupation of Somalia ended in January.
Another example of this trend was a recent raid by Ethiopian intelligence agents in Galkayo, Puntland, which also lies near the border. There is speculation that this raid was directly motivated by concern about problems in the Ogaden. Officials in Puntland’s semi-autonomous government were not happy, but what can they do? Whether Somali authorities object to Ethiopian interventions or, in the case of the TFG, cooperate with them, the interventions seem likely to continue.
The worst case scenario would be a widening of the conflict into a regional war; indeed, al Shabab now threatens to attack Kenya, and the threats against Ethiopia by Hizbul Islam noted above deserve to be taken seriously. However, if the current pattern holds, we will not see an enlargement of the conflict but rather a continued stalemate, with each player in the conflict undermining the others’ positions but none emerging as dominant.