On Wednesday, I had an article at Pajamas Media that discusses the reasons for Ethiopia’s surprisingly successful military campaign against the radical Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Somalia. (The previous conventional wisdom that I received from trusted military intelligence sources was that the ICU was likely to defeat the Ethiopian military and overrun the secular transitional federal government, which was then holed up in the south-central Somali city of Baidoa.) An excerpt:
The American intelligence officer who earlier predicted the transitional government’s defeat tells Pajamas Media that there are two major reasons why both he and the ICU underestimated the Ethiopian military.First, Ethiopia’s air power was decisive. Over the weekend, Ethiopian jets attacked several airports used by the ICU, and struck recruiting centers and other strategic targets in ICU-run towns. Professor [Abdiweli] Ali reports that the ICU’s shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons are unable to hit Ethiopia’s aircraft at high altitudes. While the ICU may have some surface-to-air missiles, these devices would be quite old — and complex Soviet weaponry tends to degrade.
But even more important than the fighter jets, the intelligence officer said, is Ethiopia’s use of Mi-24 Hind helicopter gun ships that can target the ICU’s ground forces. While the ICU might use rocket-propelled grenades against helicopters, as we saw in the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident, thus far the ICU claims to have shot down a single Ethiopian helicopter.
Second, the military intelligence officer said that he underestimated Ethiopia’s willingness to commit to the fight against the ICU. “This campaign is far more far-sighted than we expected,” he said. “They didn’t just do this on the fly; they had to have been planning this for several weeks. This is a major commitment.”
One major development since my story was posted is that the ICU has now surrendered Mogadishu to the transitional government. For an excellent summary, see Bill Roggio’s post on the ICU’s fall. I spoke with a military intelligence source yesterday who emphasized the importance of not getting “too cocky” about the Ethiopians’ success, because a number of things could still go wrong. The reports of ICU forces repeatedly dispersing without a fight, coupled with the rhetoric coming from ICU leadership, suggests that the group is planning on turning to insurgent fighting. My source also expressed concerns that the transitional government may not have enough forces to hold cities that it captured during this military campaign, and that he’s unsure how long the Ethiopians can sustain the campaign.
There is still much work to be done to ensure that Somalia doesn’t backslide and again become a haven for jihadists. But it’s clear that the ICU is now giving up on the army vs. army phase of combat, an outcome that did not appear inevitable at the outset.
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