Ethiopian troops cross over to Somalia, set base in Gedo amid tensions
MOGADISHU, Somalia – Hundreds of Ethiopian non-AMISOM troops crossed over to Somalia for the better part of the weekend, multiple sources indicated, although their mission could not be immediately established.
Armed to teeth and in the company of sophisticated military vehicles, the troops started trickling in on Saturday through Ethiopia-Somalia border in Gedo, both in trucks and armored vehicles, sources said.
On Sunday, some were seen walking on foot near Doolow town, carrying AK-47 rifles, an indication of a possible battle with an unknown enemy, within three volatile Gedo region.
Mohamed Moalimuu, a former BBC correspondent posted numerous photos of the troops, donned in official Ethiopian National Defense Forces [ENDF] uniforms.
“Hundreds of heavily-armed Ethiopian troops have crossed again today from the border to Somalia and joined other troops who arrived in Dolow town yesterday,” Moalimuu said in a tweet.
“Still is not clear the main purpose behind the Ethiopian military build-up and the new troop deployment in Gedo region,” he added.
The troops have already established a military base in Doolow district, which falls within the confines of AMISOM, even in the middle of tensions that have lasted for several months now, residents said.
Some unconfirmed reports indicate that the troops are headed to troubled Balad-Hawo town along the Kenya-Somalia border, which witnessed clashes between the SNA and Jubaland forces early this month.
What’s the source of Gedo tensions?
For a couple of months now, FGS has expressed intentions to take over the Jubaland state, whose leader, Ahmed Madobe, has been at loggerheads with President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.
So tense has been the situation that both parties have openly disagreed on issues pertaining to the national interest, among them sharing of resources and according to respect to autonomy for various states.
In a press conference, Madobe accused Farmajo of “behaving like Al-Shabaab by forcing him to agree to certain things, something which we won’t do” in his jibes against FGS. According to him, Farmajo was keen to “establish a parallel administration in Gedo” to rival his government.
But FGS, which deployed dozens of SNA troops in Gedo, defended the actions, with Farmajo insisting that “the role of FGS is to guard our borders. Whether we have the capacity or not, nobody will stop us from doing so”.
Fierce gunfight erupted in Balad-Hawo as a result of SNA and Jubaland forces, leading to the destruction of property, loss of lives and even sabotaging of transport sector across Kenya-Somalia border, officials said.
While SNA is said to have been pursuing Abdirashid Janan, a Jubaland minister, authorities in Kismayo accused Mogadishu of “naked aggression” and even threatened to retaliate in the coming days as restlessness eclipsed the region.
What’s the danger of the Gedo crisis?
Although Gedo is a bonafide territory of Somalia, the current impasse could, in the long run, destabilize and subsequently, erode gains made in the fight against Al-Shabaab.
For a decade, Jubaland forces have played a critical role in flushing out the militants from sections of Jubaland state, even working closely with Kenya Defense Forces [KDF] and SNA in the process.
But the stalemate now puts Kenya and Ethiopia at crossroads, with the former backing JSF while the latter has openly sided with SNA soldiers, further throwing peacekeeping mission into unprecedented limbo.
Early this month, the US termed deployment of SNA troops in Gedo “unnecessary”, and asked FGS to reconsider the decision by “withdrawing immediately” to pave way for dialogue.
Also, a concerned Kenya, which uses Jubaland as a buffer zone in the Al-Shabaab war, has reached out to Farmajo and Ethiopian PM Ahmed Abiy, and both parties had settled on a tripartite summit, which was jeopardized by the COVID-19 menace.
Before that, Kenya and Somalia had openly rubbed shoulders, both accusing each other of “violation of territorial integrity” and even threatened “stern” actions against each other.
Throughout the standoff, analysts warned that Al-Shabaab stood a chance to reap big, with America warning of Al-Shabaab “resurgence” failure to embrace dialogue between FGS and federal states.
Why ENDF presence is a thorn in the flesh
Both KDF and ENDF have stakes in Jubaland. The former controls Sectors II and VI while the latter has a huge presence in Sector III. The commander comes from Ethiopia.
However, the troops who made their way into Doolow are not selected among AMISOM, something which could further cause discomfort and even put the three nations into a serious quagmire.
Mohamoud Sayid Aden, the Jubaland Vice President, on Sunday mobilized JSF troops in a bid to “liberate Gedo from mercenaries”. His statements yet again show Jubaland’s determination to defend Gedo.
On the other hand, Kenya is keen to continue holding on in Jubaland due to its strategic position, further showing a need to defend Madobe’s administration, a move that puts KDF at parallel lines with ENDF and SNA.
With Farmajo facing allegations of a plot to “overthrow Madobe” to install a friendly leader for his December polls expeditions, KDF will most likely defend the Jubaland leader, as also witnessed in Balad-Hawo skirmishes.
Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, the leader of the Wadajir party, now asks all the three countries to prioritize the fight against Al-Shabaab, which has been rendered an email existential threat in Somalia.
“Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya have to prioritize confronting threats of Al-Shabab and Coronavirus. Somalia and Ethiopia also have to prepare elections & peaceful transition of power,” he said. “Kenya and Ethiopia should keep their hands off Somalia and the Somali Government should reconcile with its people.”
Abdihakim Ainte from the Center for Democracy and development says “al-Shabaab was born out of hundreds of heavily armed Ethiopian troops crossing into Somali border”.
How both parties would approach the Gedo stalemate, might be a key determinant for Somalia’s future, which now states at a possible election crisis and Al-Shabaab threat, even as peacekeepers prepare for exit.