The Horn of Africa is a dangerous and strategically vital place. Small wars, which rage continuously, can easily escalate into big wars. Local conflicts have regional and global aspects. All of the conflicts in this tinderbox, which controls shipping lanes from the Indian Ocean into the Red Sea, can potentially give rise to regional, and indeed global conflagrations between competing regional actors and global powers.Located in and around the Horn of Africa are the states of Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Kenya. Eritrea, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year civil war, is a major source of regional conflict. Eritrea has a nagging border dispute with Ethiopia which could easily ignite. The two countries fought a bloody border war from 1998-2000 over control of the town of Badme. Although a UN mandated body determined in 2002 that the disputed town belonged to Eritrea, Ethiopia has rejected the finding and so the conflict festers.
Eritrea also fights a proxy war against Ethiopia in Somalia and in Ethiopia's rebellious Ogaden region. In Somalia, Eritrea is the primary sponsor of the al-Qaida-linked Islamic Courts Union which took control of Somalia in June, 2006. In November 2006, the ICU government declared jihad against Ethiopia and Kenya. Backed by the US, Ethiopia invaded Somalia last December to restore the recognized Transitional Federal Government to power which the ICU had deposed.
Although the Ethiopian army successfully ousted the ICU from power in less than a week, backed by massive military and financial assistance from Eritrea, as well as Egypt and Libya, the ICU has waged a brutal insurgency against the TFG and the Ethiopian military for the past year.
The senior ICU leadership, including Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed have received safe haven in Eritrea. In September, the exiled ICU leadership held a nine-day conference in the Eritrean capital of Asmara where they formed the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia headed by Ahmed.
Eritrean President-for-life Isaias Afwerki declared his country's support for the insurgents stating, "The Eritrean people's support to the Somali people is consistent and historical, as well as a legal and moral obligation."
Although touted in the West as a moderate, Ahmed has openly supported jihad and terrorism against Ethiopia, Kenya and the West. Aweys, for his part, is wanted by the FBI in connection with his role in the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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