- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ethiopian troops crossed the border into Somalia yesterday to protect a weak transitional government, raising fears that Islamic extremists will respond and attempt to form a Taliban-style government.

The move could give the U.S.-backed Somalian government its only chance of curbing the Islamic militia’s increasing power. But Ethiopia’s incursion also could be just the provocation the militia needs to build public support for a guerrilla war, the Associated Press reported from Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

“We will declare jihad if the Ethiopian government refuses to withdraw their troops from Somalia,” a top Islamic official, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, told the AP.

Herman Cohen, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, warned that the Ethiopian invasion could radicalize the Islamic elements that control Mogadishu and much of the country.

“The Islamic Courts in Somalia are not jihadists yet, but if we aren’t careful, they could become that way,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview.

Mr. Cohen said the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), the dominant Islamic party in Somalia, consists of moderates and extremists.

However, he said, the U.S. should be concerned that a Taliban-style government could form in Somalia because of Saudi financial support for hard-liners in the party.

“The United States should discourage the Ethiopians from using military force at the present time so as not to cause a self-fulfilling prophecy — the ICU calling for foreign jihadist support against ‘crusaders,’” he said.

On Wednesday, the ICU militia reached within 20 miles of Baidoa, a Somalian city near the Ethiopian border, where the transitional government is headquartered.

The militia began pulling back yesterday as more than 400 Ethiopian troops entered Baidoa, the AP and other wire services reported.

Hibo Mohamed Elmi, an adviser to the president of the transitional government, said in a telephone interview:

“The transitional government will do what it needs to do to protect itself. Ethiopia has always been a strong ally … and has made their intentions very candid. There are no plans to go further into Somalia that I know of now.”

David H. Shinn, U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia from 1996 to 1999, said Ethiopia should be wary of further military involvement in Somalia.

“I think Ethiopia needs to be very cautious in realizing the whirlwind they could start here. Going any further into Somalia could stir up Somalian nationalism and anti-Ethiopian sentiments that already run high,” he said.

Adeed Mohamed, a Somalian citizen living in the United States, said the Ethiopians have other reasons to fear the ICU.

“We know that the Islamic Courts help Eritrea every day. They get arms from them. Eritrea has for a long time been a rival of Ethiopia, and Ethiopia is afraid that if the Islamic Courts gain more ground near the border, Eritrea will have a second front to launch attacks against Ethiopia,” he said.

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