By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Saturday, November 29, 2008
MOGADISHU, Somalia, Nov. 28 -- Ethiopia announced Friday that it will pull its forces from Somalia by year's end, leaving the ravaged capital vulnerable to the Islamist fighters who have seized nearly all of the country.
The decision ends the unpopular two-year presence here of the key U.S. ally much as it began -- with the fighters in near-total control of a failed state beset by a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Ethiopia has sent thousands of troops here since early 2007, when it launched a U.S.-backed operation that drove the Islamists from the capital, Mogadishu, after six months in power.
Since then, the Islamists have waged a ferocious insurgency, attacking U.N.-supported Somali government troops and their Ethiopian allies almost daily.
The United States worries that Somalia could be a terrorist breeding ground, particularly since Osama bin Laden declared his support for the Islamists. It said Friday it will push for a U.N. peacekeeping force to be deployed to Somalia.
"The United States regards deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation as essential for stability in Somalia, and we are working with our Security Council and other partners to prepare a U.N. Security Council resolution on this matter," Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said in New York.
Ethiopian forces have remained almost entirely in Mogadishu, along with a small African Union force that has just 2,600 of the 8,000 troops it was intended to have and has largely been confined to urban bases.
The insurgents, meanwhile, have taken control of towns near the capital and move freely inside it.
Ethiopia and the Somali government have called for a U.N. peacekeeping force to help pacify the country and boost the weak government. The U.N. Security Council has said it would consider sending peacekeepers to replace A.U. forces if Somalia can improve security and achieve political reconciliation.
Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Wahide Bellay said Ethiopia would wait no longer. "Regardless of what happens, we have decided to withdraw our troops from Somalia at the end of the year," he said from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Calls for comment from the Somali government were not immediately returned.