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As warships move into area

Somalis resist U.S.-backed occupation

Published Oct 4, 2008 7:46 AM

During the last week of September, unprecedented fighting took place in several areas of the east African nation of Somalia. This rising tide of armed conflict is directly related to the resistance efforts of the Somali people against the occupation of their country by the military forces of neighboring Ethiopia. The Ethiopian invasion in December 2006 was fully supported, financially and militarily, by the U.S.

The escalation of fighting in Somalia, both on land and in the waterways surrounding this Horn of Africa nation, must be blamed on the foreign policy role of the U.S. Under the guise of "fighting Islamic terrorism," the U.S. has heightened instability in Somalia and throughout the region.

An important dimension to the recent fighting is the role of African Union (AU) “peacekeeping” units. They consist largely of Ugandan troops who have operated in a fashion that has drawn increasing attacks from the resistance movement in the capital, Mogadishu. The resistance is fighting against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has been kept in power by Ethiopian troops working in collaboration with the Pentagon.

In the early hours of Sept. 29, Islamic resistance fighters fired on Ugandan, Ethiopian and TFG troops in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, resulting in the reported deaths of at least four people.

Eyewitness Hamad Ali Ahmed said three people, including a Somali government soldier, were killed in a series of gun battles “near Villa Baidoa when two mortar shells struck buildings.” (Agence France Press, Sept. 29)

During the same time period, in the Holwadag district of the city, another person was killed in a crossfire and at least seven were wounded.

Islamic resistance members confirmed that the attacks on the military bases of the pro-U.S. forces are the result of a new offensive aimed at driving the Ethiopians, Ugandans and their Somali allies in the surrogate government out of the capital. According to Commander Mohamed Mohamud Dulyadeyn of the resistance, “We attacked the bases of Ugandan forces, Ethiopians and Somali stooges. Five of our men were wounded, but they sustained heavy casualties.” (AFP, Sept. 29)

At the same time, a roadside bomb struck Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu. The device exploded while the soldiers were leaving an area near the presidential palace. In the aftermath of the blast, Somali surrogate troops arrived at the scene and randomly opened fire on commuters who were gathering in the area. No casualties were reported in the incident.

The escalation of fighting between Sept. 20 and 29 has sparked another large-scale exodus from Mogadishu. “From Sept. 20, our figures show that 18,500 people have fled their homes due to the fighting and shelling,” said Ali Sheikh Yassin, acting chair of the Elman Human Rights Organization in Mogadishu.

“Heavy fighting and shelling went on in Hodan and Holwadag districts in south Mogadishu,” Yassin said, adding that many families could be seen on the roads, moving rapidly out of the area.

Journalists confirmed the severity of the situation. “The area is emptying. Those who had not left before are on the move now. It is not going to be a very happy Eid [festivities after the month of Ramadan] for many.” (Integrated Regional Information Network [IRIN], Sept. 29)

One of the important resistance organizations, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, led by Sheikh Sharif Sheih Ahmed, is currently engaged in discussions with the TFG. It said that the actions of the Ethiopian and Ugandan troops and their local counterparts are totally unacceptable.

The alliance condemned the Ugandan troops, accusing them of brutality and indiscriminate use of excessive force in areas occupied by civilians not involved in the fighting.

In a statement on Sept. 29, the alliance stated that “AMISOM (the African Union Mission in Somalia) used unnecessary force and targeted heavily populated quarters and markets far away from the fighting areas, which can only be taken as a deliberate mass killing.”

In response to the statement by the Alliance, AMISOM spokesman Barigye Ba-Hoku told IRIN that the accusation of indiscriminate targeting of civilians “was nonsense.” Ba-Hoku said that the AU forces did not initiate these attacks. “We only defend our positions when attacked,” he said.

However, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR claims that Somali refugees are flooding the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya. “This year alone we have registered more than 45,000 new asylum-seekers at Dadaab,” the agency said in a statement. On average about 5,000 Somalis reach the camp every month.

In other attacks, the Al-Shabab organization, which is a spinoff from the Union of Islamic Courts, has carried out operations against four International Medical Corps (IMC) offices in the Bakool and Bay regions of Somalia. In a Sept. 26 statement, the IMC said that the group “is deeply concerned about the impact of these attacks on the health of already suffering Somali people, especially children.”

Ongoing talks in neighboring Djibouti between the opposition forces and the TFG have failed to reach agreement on ending the fighting. According to a civilian activist close to the talks in Djibouti, “The main stumbling block is the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces.”

The activist told IRIN on Sept. 23 that the TFG “seemed to be trying to find a way for a less hurried withdrawal, while the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia was demanding that the Ethiopian military withdraw from the country within 30 days.”

Humanitarian situation worsens

As a result of the intense fighting, the main hospital in the capital of Mogadishu has been overwhelmed by people caught up in the clashes. “We are receiving more injured people than we can reasonably handle; we are completely swamped,” Abdi Mohamed Hangul, a doctor at Medina Hospital, told IRIN on Sept. 24.

Hangul said that the numbers of injured people were increasing daily. “Last night alone [Sept. 23] we had 30 people within an hour. I worked as a doctor throughout the civil war and I have to say this is one of the worst times for the population. It is a disaster.”

Hospital beds were completely filled and people were being treated for various injuries in the corridors and outside the facility under trees. “We have more people outside than inside,” the physician said. Making the situation worse is the fact that some staff members are unable to come to work at the hospital due to the intense fighting.

Despite the shortage of workers at the two main hospitals, Medina and Keysaney, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson Pedram Yazdi said, “For the time being, the capital hospitals have enough medical supplies to cope with the influx of wounded, and we will re-supply them if more is needed.” (IRIN, Sept. 24)

U.S. Navy off northern Somalia

While the fighting was growing in Somalia, a Ukrainian ship carrying a large-scale arsenal was seized on Sept. 26 by so-called pirates in the Gulf of Aden. The vessel and its crew are reportedly being held for a $20-million ransom.

The Gulf of Aden, located between Yemen and northern Somalia, is a major artery utilized by approximately 20,000 vessels every year traveling to and from the Suez Canal. Somalis have reportedly seized 30 ships there since the beginning of the year.

According to Reuters press agency, the Ukrainian ship was transporting grenade launchers and ammunition as well as T-72 tanks. The U.S. military, which is very active in this region, has sent the USS Howard destroyer and other boats of the Gulf-based Fifth Fleet to the area, supposedly to confront the hijacked Ukrainian ship.

“There are now several Fifth Fleet ships in the vicinity,” said the fleet’s deputy spokesman Lt. Nathan Christensen. “Our goal is to maintain a vigilant and visual watch over the ship while negotiations take place.”

One of the main Islamic leaders in Somalia, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, told Reuters on Sept. 29 that his organization—which was associated with the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), the front that was consolidating its power in 2006 when the U.S.-backed invasion occurred—was not involved in the ship seizures.

“Piracy is not our hobby and we are sorry for being linked to everything that is bad,” said Aweys. He noted that during the rule of the UIC piracy was substantially curtailed, but “no one congratulated us” for these efforts.

U.S. role must be condemned

The escalation of fighting in Somalia, both on land and in the waterways surrounding this Horn of Africa nation, must be blamed on the foreign policy role of the U.S. Under the guise of “fighting Islamic terrorism,” the U.S. has heightened instability in Somalia and throughout the region.

It was the Bush administration that engineered the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia in late 2006, after the Union of Islamic Courts had made significant progress in organizing the population and establishing community development projects. Since the UIC efforts were taking place independently of U.S. foreign policy imperatives, the imperialists set out to occupy the country, utilizing a military surrogate under the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

Since this time Ugandan troops, operating ostensibly on behalf of the African Union, have been sent into the capital to back up the Ethiopian occupation.

The increasing attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Aden are now providing another rationale for U.S. naval operations. However, these efforts are doomed to failure.

Anti-war and anti-imperialist forces inside the U.S. must condemn the Washington-organized intervention in Somalia as a further manifestation of the bogus “global war on terrorism.”

Judging from the current situation in Somalia, the first steps toward normalization and stability in the Horn of Africa will be the immediate withdrawal of U.S. and surrogate forces so that real negotiations can resume among the various political forces inside the country and the region.