Morning Report: December 27, 2006

New perspectives on Somalia, Ford remembered, and an inside look at Lebanon.

Ethiopian troops close in on Mogadishu. Monsters and Critics: 'Fighters loyal to the Islamic Courts Union load up on trucks to head to the front on Tuesday, 26 December, 2006 a day after the Ethiopian air-force bombed the runway. Somalia's Islamist militia reportedly pulls back from front line positions after assaults from the soldiers loyal to the internationally recognized transitional government which are backed by troops from Ethiopia.' Debka has a more detailed analysis:
Many of the foreign elements fighting on the side of the Islamic Courts militia were sent to Somalia by Christian-ruled Eritrea to harass its rival Christian power, Ethiopia. The Eritreans are joined by fighters from pro-Western Muslim nations of the Middle East to help a jihadist militia with strong links to al Qaeda to displace the pro-Western, internationally recognized Somali government.

Some military experts see this sectarian mishmash as a dress rehearsal for the big show should the very powers supporting the Islamist Courts in Somali decide to intervene in Iraq to restore Sunni Arabs to power and cleanse Baghdad of Shiite rule and Iranian influence. In five days, Ethiopian-backed government forces secured Burhakaba, 160 km west of Mogadishu, the strategically important towns on the Ethiopian border of Beledweyne and Bandiradley, and Dinsoor in central Somalia. They are also in control of Baidoa, to which the government was driven by the Islamist advance on Mogadishu.

The full-scale Ethiopian push this week was preceded by a small vanguard of special forces which have been operating in Somalia for the past six months. Present there now is an Ethiopian armored division of 15,000 men with 120 tanks, mobile cannons and air force jets. From Monday, air strikes were carried out against Islamic bases across Somalia. The United Islamic Courts Militia’s fighters are reported to be in disordered retreat to the capital.

The article explains Eritrea's role in the conflict:
The Horn’s two predominantly Christian nations, Ethiopia with a population of 73 million and tiny Eritrea with 4.5 million - who are half-and-half Christian and Muslim, are at daggers drawn. Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean president Isaias Afworky are third cousins and sworn enemies.
Their enmity has led them into four major confrontations in four years.

Afworky never accepted Eritrea’s defeat in 2004 at the end of its long war with Ethiopia. He ignited the Somali conflict as part of a grand plan to overcome his military inferiority by guile and subversion. The Eritrean ruler is well regarded by Ethiopia’s largest ethnic tribe, the Oromo, which form 40% of the population. To stir up the Oromo’s secessionist aspirations, the Eritreans established the Oromo Liberation Front-OLF, which Afworky eggs on to fight the Addis Ababa government from a base in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.

Then, five months ago, Afworky persuaded a large group of high-ranking Ethiopian military commanders, members of the Oromo tribe, to defect to Eritrea. He took their advice on ways to topple his third cousin in Addis Ababa ...

Afworky's Oromo sympathizers in Ethiopia, as well as the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF), would under this scheme launch a coup against Addis Ababa while "the Ethiopian army is fully engaged in Somalia". Read the full article at the link.

President Bush pays tribute to Gerald Ford. The White House:
THE PRESIDENT: My fellow Americans, all of us are saddened by the news that former President Gerald R. Ford passed away last night. I spoke with Betty Ford. On behalf of all Americans Laura and I extend to Mrs. Ford and all President Ford's family our prayers and our condolences.

President Ford was a great man who devoted the best years of his life in serving the United States. He was a true gentleman who reflected the best in America's character. Before the world knew his name, he served with distinction in the United States Navy and in the United States Congress.

As a congressman from Michigan, and then as Vice President, he commanded the respect and earned the good will of all who had the privilege of knowing him. On August 9, 1974, he stepped into the presidency without ever having sought the office. He assumed power in a period of great division and turmoil. For a nation that needed healing and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most.

During his time in office, the American people came to know President Ford as a man of complete integrity who led our country with common sense and kind instincts.

Americans will always admire Gerald Ford's unflinching performance of duty and the honorable conduct of his administration, and the great rectitude of the man himself.

We mourn the loss of such a leader, and our 38th President will always have a special place in our nation's memory.

President Ford lived 93 years, and his life was a blessing to America. And now this fine man will be taken to his rest by a family that will love him always, and by a nation that will be grateful to him forever.

May god bless Gerald Ford.

Michael Totten: Hezbollah's putsch. Returned from Lebanon, Michael J. Totten takes us to Hezbollah's recent demonstration in Beirut. Hezbollah was keen on looking both strong and legitimate, so its own green-and-yellow flag was kept out of sight in favor of the Lebanese cedar flag. The turnout for the rally was big, but
when you see photos of large masses of Hezbollah protesters, keep in mind that the anti-Syrian rally on March 14 of last year filled the same space you see above in addition to filling the much larger Martyr’s Square area to the east of downtown. Hezbollah likes to claim their rally was larger. But it is not physically possible for it to have been larger. They filled the space allotted to them, but they had much less space to fill.

The Aounists, who had switched sides since last summer, were also there. Go to the post for the whole thing, and lots of photos.

Army engineers bring joy to Iraq orphanage. CENTCOM: 'AN NASIRIYAH — Orphanages recently received numerous packages of stuffed animals delivered to promote goodwill between Iraqi and U.S. children and help the rebuilding effort in Iraq. “The children were extremely happy and did not believe that the stuffed animals were given especially for them,” said Edmay Mayers, a program analyst with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An Iraqi associate told Mayers the headmistress of the orphanage welcomed the team that delivered the toys and appreciated what the Americans were doing for the Iraqis. On her first tour to Iraq, Mayers visited one of the elementary schools and saw a beautiful interaction between the Americans and the children. “The children of Iraq have stolen my heart,” Mayers said. “They are precious, young and innocent, and if only a child remembers that an American, British, South African or Australian person gave them something that made them feel special as a child, then we have done our part to help these little ones.” For her, the children need these toys as much if not more than the school supplies.'

IED chief bites the dust. MNF-Iraq: '8th Iraqi Army Division Forces, with coalition advisors, killed a suspected improvised explosive device facilitator and cell leader during operations Dec. 27 in Abu Sukhayr, near An Najaf. The person was implicated in an October 2006 IED attack on a police chief in An Najaf. The suspect allegedly provided recently several IEDs to his cell for an attack that he allegedly directed be carried out against Iraqi and Coalition Forces in the An Najaf area. During operations, Iraqi forces and coalition advisors entered the individual's house to search for and detain him. Upon entrance, a man was observed moving up a set of stairs leading to the roof of the house. He ignored repeated verbal warnings to stop. Iraqi Soldiers and coalition advisors followed the man up the stairs and onto the roof. First on the roof was an Iraqi Soldier, followed by a Coalition Forces Soldier.'

Commentary. Today's items on Somalia and Lebanon highlight why it's important to understand the present conflict on more than a superficial level. I'll keep looking for more information on the Horn of Africa conflict(s) and post it as soon as I can.