Of course, initial successes in a conventional-style war do not necessarily lead to long-term strategic successes in wars against radical Islamists. In a scenario similar to Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, Somalia has been torn by fighting between rival militias and warlords, but as with the Taliban, the Islamic rebels had recently been gaining the upper hand. Somalia has already begun attracting international al-Qaeda linked fighters:
Witnesses in frontline areas have said that waves of young, poorly trained Islamist fighters have been mowed down by Ethiopian troops. Ethiopia’s military is trained by American advisers and is supplied with millions of dollars of American aid.
On Sunday, Abdulrahim Ali Modei, the Islamists’ information minister, conceded at a news conference that many of the Islamist troops had been killed, but he did not sound discouraged.
“These are victories,” he said. “Our soldiers are in paradise now.”
Ethiopia seems to be poised to deliver the rebels a killing blow by driving to Mogadishu and crushing the ill-equipped rebel force. But, will Ethiopia maintain such willingness when the IEDs and suicide bombs begin sending its boys home in bags, or when those bombs begin exploding in Addis Ababa?
According to United Nations officials, at least 2,000 soldiers from Eritrea, which recently waged war with Ethiopia, are fighting for the Islamists. They have been joined by a growing number of Muslim mercenaries from Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Libya who want to turn Somalia into the third front of holy war, after Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the Rwandan genocide, President Clinton and Kofi Annan made the mistake of believing that Africa has no strategic importance to the world. The world is currently all but ignoring on-going atrocities in Sudan and Zimbabwe, among other places. But an Islamist victory in Somalia would allow groups like al Qaeda a new haven to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. And that must not be allowed to happen. If only for that reason, the US and the West must support Ethiopia, the secular Somali government, and any willing parties in this fight against radical Islam. But in this case, the strategic imperatives are aligned with the moral ones. Only if Africa is able to resist the rule of tyrants, be they religious or nationalist, can its people begin to rise above the misery and poverty that has dominated the continent. The US must not allow Iraq, Afghanistan, domestic politics, or anything else to blind it to the importance of Ethiopia's war against radical Islam.