The actual number of Ethiopian troops in Somalia is the subject of great dispute between Ethiopia and the Somali jihadists. In any event, it is the cause that the jihadists have latched onto in order to justify what may be an imminent, final assault on the isolated seat of the internationally recognized Somali government in Baidoa, likely with continuing repercussions for Ethiopia.
Somali Jihad Update. “Somali Islamists give Ethiopia one-week deadline to withdraw troops,” by Mustafa Haji Abdinur for AFP:
MOGADISHU (AFP) – Somalia’s powerful Islamist movement has given neighboring Ethiopia a one-week deadline to withdraw its troops protecting the weak government or face major attacks.
The declaration appeared to push the country even closer to a full-scale conflict that many believe could engulf the Horn of Africa and drew a swift warning from the government at its seat in Baidoa.
“We are giving a deadline to the invading forces,” said Yusuf Mohamed Siad, security chief for the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS).
“If Ethiopian forces inside our territory do not withdraw after a week, we will not hesitate to launch full-scale attacks on them,” he told reporters at a news conference in the Islamist-held capital of Mogadishu.
“From today on, all Ethiopians must start leaving Somalia, if they do not they will be responsible for the bloodshed that will follow,” Siad said.
Siad said Ethiopia had defied several calls to pull out out of the lawless country, where they are deployed to protect the weak transitional government from feared Islamist advances.
“We have given the Ethiopians a long time to leave our country, but now that time is over and we have started a countdown to the deadline,” he said.
Islamist commanders said their fighters were headed to Beynulay area, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of Baidoa, ready to launch attacks after the deadline passes.
“After Beynulay, we will be advancing towards Baidoa from the eastern front,” Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim Bilal, the Islamic commander in the region, told AFP. “Our goal is to take control of the whole region.”
Islamists said they were also targeting Tiyeeglow, about 150 kilometers (95 miles) north of Baidoa, effectively making it the fifth frontline after the towns of Dinsoor and Burahakaba in the south and Jawiil and Bandiradley in central Somalia.
Ethiopia denies having thousands of combat troops in Somalia but acknowledges sending several hundred military advisers and trainers to assist the internationally backed but feeble Somali transitional government.
Addis Ababa has accused the Islamists of attempting to destabilize mainly Christian Ethiopia, which has a large and potentially restive Muslim minority.
Many believe war in Somalia could spread through the Horn of Africa, drawing in Ethiopia and its arch-foe Eritrea, which is accused of supporting the Islamists.
In addition, the Islamists have warned that UN Security Council approval of the deployment of east African peacekeepers would plunge the country into deeper turmoil.