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News Analysis - The attack on Somalia


On the rare occasions when the media mention the conflict in Somalia, they focus on US attempts to hunt down al Qaeda, or on the West's alleged humanitarian motives. But the US political weekly The Nation called Somalia 'one of the most strategically sensitive spots in the world today: astride the Horn of Africa, where oil, Islamic fundamentalism and Israeli, Iranian and Arab ambitions and arms are apt to crash and collide.' It is also critical for its deep-water ports and strategic location for future military bases.

The key fact is that some 30 per cent of the USA's oil will come from Africa in the next 10 years. The US has plans for nearly two-thirds of Somalia's oil fields to be run by the US oil companies Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips. As Mark Fineman of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Far beneath the surface of the tragic drama of Somalia, four major U.S. oil companies are quietly sitting on a prospective fortune in exclusive concessions to explore and exploit tens of millions of acres of the Somali countryside." ('The oil factor in Somalia,' 18 January 1993.) Bush's new warlord-friends in the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) are willing to pass a new oil law that will encourage foreign oil companies to return to Somalia.

On 20 July 2006, US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia. USA Today reported that the USA had given Ethiopia nearly $20 million in US military aid since late 2002. Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of UK aid in Africa and is an important regional ally. (The US and British states ignored the fact that Ethiopian security forces killed 193 people who protested against election fraud in 2005.)

On 4 December 2006, General John Abizaid, commander of US forces from the Middle East to Afghanistan, travelled to Addis Ababa to meet Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi. Heavy fighting began on 20 December, when more Ethiopian forces crossed into Somalia, accompanied secretly by US Special Forces troops, and Washington launched a series of supportive air strikes and naval patrols. On 9 January 2007 the United States openly intervened by sending Lockheed AC-130 gunships to attack positions in Ras Kamboni.

The invasion has had appalling consequences. 8,000 Somali soldiers have been killed and 5,000 wounded. 8,636 civilians have been killed and 11,790 injured. About 1.9 million people have been made internal refugees, and the UN food security unit has warned that 3.5 million people, nearly a third of Somalia's population, are facing famine. Fighting has turned the capital Mogadishu into a ghost town. About 700,000 people have fled – out of a population of up to 1.5 million.

Soaring food prices have driven thousands of protestors onto the streets of Mogadishu. A kilo of rice, which previously sold at around seventy US cents, now costs $2.50. The average day's income for anyone fortunate enough to have a job is less than a dollar a day. The gap between incomes and the cost of food mainly imported from overseas means that millions of people cannot afford to eat.