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Great 4 Day War

Somalia had been without an effective central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre by warlords. Since 2004, a UN-backed interim government, known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) had been struggling against the warlords to gain and hold power. Headquartered in Baidoa, a city 250 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu, the TFG was a secular entity. Fighters loyal to Somalia's Islamist Courts Union (ICU), a coalition of Sharia courts, began seizing control of southern Somalia. The ICU used Islam as a vehicle to bring together Somalis, restore order, and circumvent the influence of the volatile clan system, which had prevented the nation from having a functioning government for more than 15 years. The ICU, who since June 2006 had controlled Mogadishu and large parts of southern Somalia with its powerful militia, seemed unstoppable in its quest to unite the country.

Neighboring Ethiopia and the United States accused some senior ICU leaders of seeking to form an East African cell of the al-Qaida terrorist network and creating regional instability by accepting military support from Ethiopia's main rival in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea. Eritrea had been supporting the Islamic Courts, and Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Hezbollah had provided funding and otherwise providing aid to other Somali combatants. Several top ICU military leaders were believed to have received training in Afghanistan, and the militia itself had sizable numbers of foreign fighters among its rank and file.

Negotiations between the ICU and the TFG collapsed in Sudan on 2 November 2006. It was hoped the negotiations would finalize an interim peace accord that included provisions for the creation of a joint national army and police force. Proceedings halted when the ICU said it would not continue the negotiations until all Ethiopian troops that were supporting the transitional government left Somalia.

An East African peacekeeping force, excluding Somalia's immediate neighbors, was approved on 6 December 2006 by UN Security Council Resolution 1725. The East African "training and protection" mission was intended to shore up the military position of Somalia's Baidoa-based transitional authority in order to prompt renewed dialogue with the Islamic Courts militia movement, which was on the offensive throughout the country. Part of the reasoning behind the creation of that force, and part of the reasoning for not including Ethiopia's neighbors in its composition, was to ensure that none of the players already involved inside Somalia would view the force as a conflict of interest for any of the contributing parties.

Ethiopia steadfastly denied the presence of combat troops in Somalia to support the government, but admitted to sending a small number of military advisors to train the government army. A concerted military buildup began in December 2006 and residents near Baidoa's frontline fled from their homes. Islamic officials vowed to attack Ethiopians wherever they were in the country, and scolded the international community for looking the other way on events in Somalia.

On 23 December 2006, the ICU called on foreign Muslim fighters to join their fight against Ethiopia-backed Somalia government troops. ICU Defense Chief Yusuf Mohamed Siad said that the country was open for Islamic fighters from around the world ready to join what he called a "holy war."

On 24 December 2006, Ethiopia, with tacit approval from the United States, intervened in the Somali conflict, providing massive firepower to cover advancing TFG troops and forcing outgunned Islamists to retreat and disband. Ethiopian forces launched artillery and airstrikes as part of the offensive. The ICU was unlikely to hold any positions against the overwhelming firepower of the Ethiopian-backed TFG forces.

Ethiopia's information minister (Berhan Hailu) said operations targeted several Islamic militia strongholds (Dinsoor, Bandiradley, Baladwayne, Buur Hakaba) along Ethiopia's border. It was the first time Ethiopia had acknowledged its military was operationally active in Somalia. Witnesses in central and northern Somalia reported Ethiopian warplanes bombarding Islamist positions and Ethiopian ground troops exchanging mortar fire with Islamist forces. Heavy fighting was also reported near the TFG headquarters in Baidoa.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his country had been forced to act because the Islamist movement was being led by extremists who were determined to incorporate parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya into a greater Somalia and unite the region under strict religious rule. Ethiopia's Minister of Information Berhane Hailu further explained why Ethiopia joined forces with Somalia to battle with fighters from the Islamic Courts Union. "They are a threat to the national interests of Ethiopia. They have been planning to attack Ethiopia in different ways, including terrorist acts around the Somali region in Ethiopia, [also] in some parts of the country, including Addis Ababa [Ethiopian capital]. So our interest is both to protect our national interest and also to assist the transitional federal government of Somalia," he said.

On 28 December 2006 Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that a total of 2,000 to 3,000 Islamist fighters had been killed and another 4,000 to 5,000 wounded. He did not say if any of them were foreigners. In recent weeks, Somali experts had estimated that as many as 3,000 foreign fighters might have been in Somalia, invited by several radical leaders of the ICU.

On 28 December 2006, Mogadishu was thrown into chaos when leaders of the Islamist movement, which had controlled the city and large parts of the country for nearly 7 months, fled rather than face militarily superior Ethiopian and government troops marching toward the capital. The ICU framed the withdrawal as an effort to avoid civilian bloodshed in Mogadishu. Many Islamist fighters shed their uniforms and sought advice from clan leaders about what to do next. By 2008, a militant wing of the ICU would have fully reformed, generally referred to as al-Shabaab.

With the retaking of Mogadishu complete, Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi declared the "Great 4 Day War" to be over. He also claimed that not one American bullet or troop was involved in the conflict.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:39 ZULU