Ethiopia’s US-backed occupation of Somalia is fast unravelling, threatening US control over the Horn of Africa.
In late August, Somali rebels seized the southern port city of Kismayo.
The US has made Somalia its “third front in the war on terror” following a popular rebellion that catapulted the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) to power in June 2006.
The UIC emerged after years of anarchic rule by warlords and their militias. It grew in popularity after it began to intervene on behalf of people wronged by the militias.
After they were driven from power the warlords formed the Transitional Federal Government in exile and declared the UIC was the “Somali Taliban”.
They warned that the new government would turn the country into “a base for Al Qaida” in eastern Africa.
In December 2006 the US pressured Ethiopia to invade its neighbour in return for financial aid and economic development.
Ethiopian troops, backed by US firepower, quickly routed the UIC government but the occupation soon found itself facing a protracted and bloody insurgency. The UIC joined other Somali organisations to form a national resistance movement, and despite some factional problems, re-established its power in the south of the country.
With the US bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, it hoped that Ethiopia could act as its proxy in the Horn of Africa.
But the occupation has become a severe drain on Ethiopia’s meagre resources.
Only a fraction of the promised aid materialised, while the country found itself in the grip of a growing economic crisis.
The United Nations warned last week that over 4.6 million Ethiopians are in need of food aid due to a combination of drought and rocketing food prices.
This week Ethiopian troops abandoned Beledweyne, a city along the border, that is a crucial link to the capital Mogadishu.
Somali rebels are now said to be closing in on Mogadishu and they have threatened to shoot down any plane that attempts to use the airport.