Eritrea has deployed some two thousand troops to fight alongside Somalia’s al-Qaeda linked Islamic Courts Union, Pajamas Media has learned.
Thus, Ethiopia and the United States are not the only foreign countries with troops on the ground in Somalia.
To prevent Somalia’s transitional government from being crushed in its final stronghold in the south-central Somali city of Baidoa, Ethiopia dispatched thousands of troops as well as aircraft in a major campaign that began on Christmas day.
The Ethiopian campaign has been successful to date, with Ethiopian troops capturing Mogadishu and scattering the ICU’s fighters.
Ethiopia’s longtime rival, Eritrea, had troops in the country for about four months prior to that. A confidential UN report drafted by the Monitoring Group on Somalia in late 2006 says that “2000 fully equipped combat troops from Eritrea” arrived to the north of Mogadishu in late August, and redeployed to different areas held by the ICU. According to high-level sources in Somalia’s transitional government and U.S. intelligence, these Eritrean troops never left the country-a development unknown to American policymakers until today.
Eritrea, an African nation found between the Red Sea and Ethiopia, has a history of violence with its larger neighbor. Eritrea fought a bloody campaign for independence from Ethiopia, which had annexed it in the early 1960s, and has since fought a border war with Ethiopia from 1998 until December 2000.
Eritrea supported the ICU as a proxy intended to destabilize Ethiopia, said Dahir Jibreel, the permanent secretary in charge of international cooperation for Somalia’s transitional government.
Pajamas Media spoke with Ismael “Buubba” Hurreh, the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation for the transitional government of Somalia. He said that Eritrean soldiers have been fighting on the front lines alongside the ICU, and that hundreds of Eritreans have been killed since Ethiopia’s incursion.
This revelation sheds further light on how Eritrea has actively helped the ICU try to topple Somalia’s secular government. While the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia’s report makes clear that Eritrea provided a great deal of assistance to the Islamic Courts prior to the outbreak of the conflict with Ethiopia, this is the first confirmation that Eritrean troops have assumed an active combat role.
A senior U.S. military intelligence officer confirmed that Eritrean troops were killed during the initial fighting in Somalia. He said that the Eritreans were “assisting and facilitating,” essentially in a military advisor role, rather than taking the kind of active role that the Ethiopians have on the side of the transitional government. He declined to specify what kind of assistance the Eritreans have provided.
But Jibreel, who is in constant contact with transitional government leaders who are conducting the military campaign, told Pajamas Media that the Eritreans “were in full combat” alongside the Islamic Courts, including firing on Ethiopian and Somali forces. Jibreel called for sanctions against the Eritrean government, saying, “I think they should be sanctioned because they were helping terrorists.”
With U.S. forces on the ground in Somalia, have American troops killed Eritreans in combat? So far, Pajamas Media’s sources have refused to comment.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a counterterrorism consultant and the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam. His articles have appeared in such publications as Reader’s Digest, The Wall Street Journal Europe, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, and The Washington Times.