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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Somalia-based al-Shabaab is attacking Ethiopia for the first time

Mogadishu, Somalia ( Associated Press) — Al-Shabaab extremist group The US has taken advantage of Ethiopia’s internal turmoil to cross the border with neighboring Somalia in unprecedented attacks in recent weeks that a top US military commander has warned could continue.

Deadly incursions into Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and long seen as an anchor of security in the Horn of Africa, are the latest signs of how deep the recent war in the northern Tigre region is. And other ethnic fighting has made the country more vulnerable.

Ethiopia has long resisted such cross-border attacks by al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab, in part by deploying troops inside Somalia, where the extremist group invades large rural parts of the country’s southern and central regions. controls. But Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and its security forces have struggled with unrest at home, especially since the Tigre conflict began in late 2020.

Experts say al-Shabaab, also fueled by instability under Somalia’s previous administration, is seizing the opportunity to expand its footprint and claim the killing of scores of Ethiopian security forces. But the group is also feeling pressure from a renewed push by Somalia’s new government and a withdrawal of US forces in the country following their withdrawal by former President Donald Trump.

Matt Bryden, a security analyst at the Sahan Foundation think tank, told the Associated Press that Ethiopia’s stance marks a significant strategic shift by al-Shabaab. The extremist group was never able to conduct major operations inside Ethiopia.

“The reports of conflict along the Ethiopia-Somalia border are only a fraction of the overall picture,” Bryden said. “We understand that planning for this offensive began more than a year ago, when the Ethiopian government was on the verge of collapse” as rival Tigre forces pushed towards the capital, Addis Ababa. Those forces later withdrew, and both sides are moving towards peace talks.

Al-Shabaab has trained several thousand fighters for its Ethiopian “command”, mainly ethnic Somalis and Oromos inside Ethiopia, Brayden insisted. Ethiopia’s federal government has said it fears al-Shabab will link up with the Oromo Liberation Army, which it has designated a terrorist organization, although other security experts have called it unlikely.

Bryden said hundreds of al-Shabaab fighters were able to enter Ethiopia last week alone and their presence has been detected near several communities such as El Qari, Zarati and Imi. The infiltration started in late July.

“There are also credible reports of al-Shabaab units being deployed in the direction of Moyale,” the main border post between Ethiopia and Kenya, he said.

Former Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed avoided any major confrontation with al-Shabaab. But new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed has said his government will take aggressive action against thousands of the group’s fighters, backed by the withdrawal of US forces.

“Al-Shabaab faces a much greater military challenge in Somalia than ever before and has therefore launched this Ethiopian campaign to preserve some of its forces and establish strategic depth,” Bryden said.

He warned that if al-Shabaab establishes a stronghold in southeastern Ethiopia, “the consequences for peace and security in the region could be very serious indeed.” The fighters would be well positioned to strike deep into Ethiopia, into Kenya and even as far west as Uganda. Al-Shabaab has carried out several high-profile deadly attacks inside Kenya over the years.

The outgoing head of US Africa Command, General Stephen Townsend, warned last month that al-Shabaab’s activities inside Ethiopia were not “one-sided” and said fighters covered 150 kilometers in the country.

Al-Shabaab has long regarded Ethiopia as an enemy for its long military presence inside Somalia to counter fighters. Through its Radio Andalus media arm, the extremist group claims to have killed at least 187 Ethiopian regional forces and confiscated military equipment in its attacks.

Ethiopian officials have expressed concern. On Tuesday, the country’s Somali regional president Mustafa Omar told a regional gathering that more than 600 al-Shabaab fighters had been killed.

The region is in a protracted battle with extremists, not just a one-off skirmish, he said, and “the Ethiopian Federal Army is currently engaged in the fight against terrorists … and we will work with Somalia as well.”

He said the goal is to create a security buffer inside Somalia to prevent further infiltration. “We must not wait for the enemy to attack,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, the Somali region announced that Ethiopian military officials had arrived in the Somalia city of Beledwene to discuss strategies to counter al-Shabaab’s incursions. The statement said Ethiopian troops would be deployed against the extremists in the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.

Residents of the Somali town of Yede, near the Ethiopian border, told the Associated Press that they had seen damage to al-Shabaab fighters in an Ethiopian attack last week. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

And Isaac Yaro, a resident of Somalia’s Bakool region, said Ethiopian military planes carried out airstrikes on the village of Garsaweyne in an area where Ethiopian and al-Shabaab fighters have clashed.

Ethiopia’s military has claimed the killing of three prominent al-Shabaab leaders, including its propaganda chief, but the extremist group has denied this.

While the ultimate goal of al-Shabaab inside Ethiopia has yet to be determined, its new actions indicate its “growing ambition, regional capabilities and opportunism to exploit regional geopolitics, particularly by the Abiy Ahmed government of Ethiopia.” struggles to stop various insurgency inside the U.S.,” security analysts Caleb Weiss and Ryan O’Farrell wrote late last month.

Ismail Osman, a former deputy security analyst for Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency, told the Associated Press that “President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed’s immediate priority is to eliminate al-Shabaab” and warned that regional tensions could worsen amid this new instability. .


An Associated Press writer reported from Nairobi, Kenya.

World Nation News Desk
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