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Trevino: War in the Horn

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Guest post from Josh Trevino:

Hugh rightly notes two things about the Ethiopian airstrikes in Somalia of the past day: that they represent a meaningful escalation in the fighting there, and that they are a big deal. (A good map of the attendant ground combat is here.) But they do not, pace the referenced AP piece, represent the beginning of the latest Somali-Ethiopian war. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi avers that his nation has been “forced to enter a war,” and though this is true to some extent — the mere existence of a neighboring Islamist state is casus bellum in a sane world, and the Somali Islamists declared jihad months ago — it is not, as he wishes to convey, a recent development. I wrote six months ago about the initial Ethiopian invasion of Somalia: when the Islamic Courts Union threatened to consolidate its control of the entirety of Somalia outside the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland, Ethiopian forces rushed to occupy Baidoa on ostensible behalf of the UN-recognized Somali transitional government. Forgive me if I repeat myself in explaining exactly why the Ethiopians care enough to do so:

Ethiopia has reason to fear the ascent of the [Islamic Courts Union, the Taliban-style movement taking over Somalia proper]. In addition to the ordinary concerns that a neighboring Islamist state might bring, Ethiopia itself has a significant Somali population within its borders. The proportion of Somalis in Ethiopia is not especially large — about 6% — but they inhabit and dominate the strategically important Ogaden region. [Control of the Ogaden is a historic objective of Somali nationalists, and has led to ruinous war in recent memory.] Furthermore, despite its historic Christian identity, modern Ethiopia actually has a Muslim plurality of nearly half. The combination of Somali nationalism plus Islamization is one that the Ethiopian state can hardly afford. Were an ICU-style movement to gain traction within Ethiopia, a Muslim Ethiopia reflecting demography


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