U.S. Signals Backing for Ethiopian Incursion Into Somalia

WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 — The United States on Tuesday signaled its support for the Ethiopian offensive in Somalia, calling it a response to “aggression” by Islamists who have since the summer been consolidating power in the country.
A spokeswoman for the State Department, Janelle Hironimus, said
Ethiopia was trying to stem the flow of outside arms shipments to the Islamists. Ms. Hironimus added that Washington was concerned about reports that the Islamists were using child soldiers and abusing Ethiopian prisoners of war.
The statement was the most detailed by the United States since last week, when the long-simmering tension between Ethiopia and Somalia boiled over.
Ethiopia has long been a strong ally of Washington in the Horn of Africa. The American military has for years trained Ethiopian troops at bases in the eastern region. The training is part of a Pentagon effort to build the Ethiopian military into a bulwark against regional terrorist networks.
Maj. Marie Boughen of the Army, a spokeswoman for the United States Central Command, which has military responsibility for the horn, said no American troops were participating in the Ethiopian offensive or working as advisers for it.
The Ethiopian military presence in Somalia, while tacitly blessed by Washington, has nonetheless been awkward for American officials. They have publicly urged a return to peace talks by warring Somali factions, but some officials have also said an Ethiopian invasion could be the only factor to prevent the Islamists’ complete takeover of Somalia.
On Tuesday, a day after an Ethiopian jet strafed the airport in Mogadishu, the capital, the State Department issued internal guidance to staff members, instructing officials to play down the invasion in public statements.
“Should the press focus on the role of Ethiopia inside Somalia,” read a copy of the guidelines that was given to The New York Times by an American official here, “emphasize that this is a distraction from the issue of dialogue between the T.F.I.’s and Islamic courts and shift the focus back to the need for dialogue.” T.F.I. is an abbreviation for the weak transitional government in Somalia.
“The press must not be allowed to make this about Ethiopia, or Ethiopia violating the territorial integrity of Somalia,” the guidance said.
The Bush administration is using American ambassadors throughout the region in an effort to have African nations press the Islamists to return to the negotiating table.
Senior leaders of the Islamist coalition, the Islamic Courts Union, have issued a global call to jihad for Muslims to travel to Somalia to fight troops from Ethiopia.
American intelligence officials said they did not believe that foreign fighters had traveled to Somalia in great numbers and that mostly Somalis made up the force fighting the Ethiopians.
American intelligence officials theorize that the Islamists, who wrested control of Mogadishu in June from a coalition of warlords supported by the
Central Intelligence Agency, have ties to a Qaeda cell based in East Africa that is responsible for the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
This year, the C.I.A. began a covert operation to arm and finance the warlords, who had united under the banner of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism. Operated from the intelligence agency’s station in Nairobi, Kenya, the effort involved frequent trips to Mogadishu by case officers from the agency and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to the warlords.
The operation backfired. When the payments to the warlords shifted the military balance of the country in their favor, the Islamists started a strike against the American-backed coalition and ran it out of Mogadishu.
Since June, the State Department has reasserted its control of Somalia policy, trying to build support for a plan to bolster the transitional government with peacekeeping troops from other African nations.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at9:34 PM


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