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War in Somalia (2006–2009)

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Ethiopian invasion of Somalia
Part of the Ethiopian–Somali conflict and the Somali Civil War

An Ethiopian T-55 tank advances on Mogadishu
Date17 June 2006 – 30 January 2009
(2 years, 7 months, 1 week and 1 day)
Southern and Central Somalia

Islamist insurgent victory,[13][14] see Consequences

Invasion: Invasion:
Commanders and leaders
  • Ethiopia: 50,000+[18][19]
  • Somalia: 10,000 soldiers[20]
  • AMISOM: 5,250 soldiers
  • US Forces: Unknown
  • ICU: 4,000 (2006)[21]
  • Al-Shabaab:
    2,000 (2008)[22]
    3,000 (2009)[23]
  • Foreign fighters: Several hundred
Casualties and losses
Unknown, see Casualties
Somalia (TFG):
  • Unknown
  • 15,000 deserted[25]


Unknown, see Casualties
Civilian casualties:
(see § Casualties and human rights violations)

The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, also known as the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia [33] or the Ethiopian intervention in the Somali Civil War,[34] was an armed conflict that lasted from late 2006 to early 2009. It began when military forces from Ethiopia, supported by the United States, invaded Somalia to depose the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and install the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The conflict continued after the invasion when an anti-Ethiopian insurgency emerged and rapidly escalated. During 2007 and 2008, the insurgency recaptured the majority of territory lost by the ICU.

Ethiopian military involvement began in response to the rising power of the Islamic Courts Union, which operated as the de facto government in the majority of southern Somalia by late 2006. In order to reinforce the weak Ethiopian backed TFG, troops from the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) began deploying into Somalia during June 2006. Six months later during December 2006 the combined ENDF/TFG coalition, alongside a covert US military contingent, launched a full-scale invasion to topple the Islamic Courts. The ICU's organizational structure disintegrated, ENDF/TFG forces entered Mogadishu in the last days of December. In early 2007 an insurgency began, centered on a loose coalition of Islamic Courts loyalists, volunteers, clan militias, and various Islamist factions, of which Al-Shabaab eventually assumed a pivotal role. In the same period, the African Union (AU) established the AMISOM peacekeeping operation, sending thousands of troops to Somalia to bolster the besieged TFG and ENDF. The Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), the successor to the ICU, further incited Islamist rebels and participated in the fighting.

Over the following two years, the ENDF, the TFG and AMISOM, became entrenched in a protracted struggle against an escalating insurgency, leading to the displacement of nearly one million inhabitants from Mogadishu.[35][36] Piracy of the coast of Somalia, which had been previously suppressed by the ICU, greatly proliferated.[16] While Mogadishu witnessed fierce fighting, insurgents launched offensives across southern and central Somalia in late 2007 and 2008, regaining territory previously lost by the ICU. During 2008, Al-Shabaab started taking control of significant tracts of southern Somalia and began governing territory for the first time.[37] The Ethiopian military occupation faltered,[38] and by Autumn 2008, more than 80% of the territory the ICU lost during the invasion was recaptured by the insurgency.[39] By November, the insurgency had effectively won.[40] By December 2008, the TFG only had control over parts of Mogadishu and the city of Baidoa.[41] That month TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned after stating that he had lost control of Somalia to the insurgency.[42] The Ethiopian backed government remained weak and highly fragmented, as its fragility remained unchanged from its state prior to the invasion.[38]

At the end of 2008, the ARS was assimilated into the TFG in an attempt to halt the growing insurgency and form a representative democratic government.[43][33] During January 2009, former head of the Islamic Courts Union Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected president of Somalia. That same month, declaring victory and claiming to have eradicated the 'Islamist threat', ENDF forces withdrew from Mogadishu and Somalia, ending the two year occupation.[33] By the time of the withdrawal, effectively all territory lost by the ICU during the full scale December 2006 and January 2007 invasion had been recovered by Islamist insurgents,[44] including much of Mogadishu.[45][33] Years into the present phase of the civil war, Ethiopia became re-involved and joined AMISOM in 2014 in order to counter the growth of Al-Shabaab.


Historic background[edit]

Boundary disputes between Somalia and Ethiopia over the Ogaden region date to the 1948 settlement when the land was granted to Ethiopia. Somali disgruntlement with this decision culminated with the invasion of the Ogaden at the start of 1977–1978 War in hopes of incorporating the region into a Greater Somalia. This plan would have reunited the Somali people of the Ethiopian-controlled Ogaden with those living in the Somalia. These ethnic and political tensions have caused several cross-border clashes following the independence of Somalia in 1960:

The rise of the Islamic Courts Union raised Ethiopian concerns of an eventual renewed drive for a Greater Somalia, as a strong Somali state not dependent on Addis Ababa was perceived as a security threat.[51][12] The Ethiopian government heavily backed Abdullahi Yusuf's presidency and the formation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2004 on the grounds that Yusuf would give up Somalia's long standing claim to the region.[52] Before becoming president of the TFG during 2004, Abdullahi Yusuf was a member of an Ethiopian-backed coalition of warlords that had undermined a previous attempt at restoring a government in Somalia when the Transitional National Government (TNG) formed in 2000,[53] and prior to that had led anti-Barre Somali rebels who assisted Ethiopian troops that invaded central Somali during the 1982 war.[54]

Information warfare, disinformation and propaganda[edit]

Even before the beginning of the war, there have been significant assertions and accusations of the use of disinformation and propaganda tactics by various parties to shape the causes and course of the conflict. This includes assertions of falsification of the presence or number of forces involved, exaggeration or minimization of the casualties inflicted or taken, influence or control of media outlets (or shutting them down), and other informational means and media to sway popular support and international opinion.

Eastern African countries and international observers had feared the Ethiopian offensive may lead to a regional war, involving Eritrea, which has a complex relationship with Ethiopia and whom Ethiopia claimed to have been a supporter of the ICU.[55] The Eritrean government repeatedly denied any involvement despite Ethiopian claims to the contrary.[56][57][58] No evidence exists to support claims of Eritrean troops in Somalia,[59] and no Eritrean presence was discovered in the country during the war.[60] Ethiopia also denied deploying troops in Somalia despite being widely reported.[61] The TFG also denied the involvement of Ethiopian forces.[62]

Prelude to war[edit]

British television station Channel 4 acquired a leaked document detailing a confidential meeting between senior American and Ethiopian officials in Addis Ababa six months prior to the full scale December 2006 invasion. Participants deliberated on various scenarios, with the 'worst-case scenario' being the potential takeover of Somalia by the Islamic Courts Union. The documents revealed that the US found the prospect unacceptable and would back Ethiopia in the event of an ICU takeover. Journalist Jon Snow reported that during the meeting ‘the blueprint for a very American supported Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was hatched’. No Somali officials were involved in the discussions.[60] Pentagon officials and intelligence analysts reported that the invasion had been planned during the summer of 2006 and that US special forces were on the ground before the Ethiopians had intervened.[2]

On 16 June 2006, Shabeelle Media Network reported that sources in Ethiopia's Somali Region had witnessed a massing of ENDF 'heavy armoured vehicles' along many of the towns on the Ethiopian–Somali border.[63]

June–August 2006 incursions[edit]

The Ethiopian invasion began with the dispatch of several thousands troops around Baidoa city located in Bay region, far inside Somalia, in order to build a bridgehead for a future large scale military operation.[64] On 17 June 2006, Ethiopian troops moved into Somali territory. Local Somali officials and residents in Gedo region reported about 50 Ethiopian armored vehicles had passed through the border town of Dolow and pushed 50 km inland near the town of Luuq.[65][66] The fragile TFG, which was only capable of controlling small parcels of land, made the widely unpopular decision to invite Ethiopia to intervene in support of it.[41] ICU head Sheik Sharif Ahmed claimed that 300 Ethiopian troops had entered the country through the border town of Dolow in Gedo region and that Ethiopian forces had also been probing Somali border towns. He went on to threaten to fight Ethiopian troops if they continued intervening and further stated, “We want the whole world to know what's going on. The United States is encouraging Ethiopia to take over the area. Ethiopia has crossed our borders and are heading for us.”[67][66] The Ethiopian government denied the deployment of its forces in Somalia and countered that the ICU was marching towards its borders.[61][68][65] The TFG vehemently denied accusations of an Ethiopian military deployment and claimed that the ICU was fabricating a pretext to assault its capital in Baidoa. Additionally, the TFG arrested several reporters from Shabelle Media Network and imposed restrictions on their radio station after they reported on the ENDF incursion.[69][70] On 19 June 2006 the ICU called for the international community to pressure Ethiopian forces to withdraw from Somalia.[71]

Another significant deployment of Ethiopian troops occurred on July 20, 2006, when they moved into Somalia. Local witnesses reported 20 to 25 armored vehicles crossing the border. The Ethiopian government once again denied the presence of any troops inside Somalia. Reuters estimated that roughly 5,000 ENDF troops had built up inside Somalia by this point.[72] Two days later, another contingent of Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia, leading to the collapse of the Khartoum peace talks between the ICU and TFG. Approximately 200 ENDF troops seized Wajid, taking control of the airport. Following the deployment at Wajid, the ICU walked out of talks with the TFG. Abdirahman Janaqow, the deputy leader of the ICU executive council, stated soon after that, "The Somali government has violated the accord and allowed Ethiopian troops to enter Somali soil." The TFG claimed that no Ethiopians were in Somalia and that only their troops were in Wajid. Soon after, residents reported two military helicopters landing at the town's airstrip.[73] BBC News confirmed reports of Ethiopian troops in Wajid during interviews with local residents and aid workers. Following the towns seizure, the ICU pledged to wage a holy war to drive out ENDF forces in Somalia.[74]

During late July 2006, over a dozen TFG parliamentarians resigned in protest of the Ethiopian invasion.[75] By August 2006 the TFG was mired in an severe internal crisis and at risk of collapse.[76] In late July, Eritrea called for the withdrawal of ENDF forces in Somalia to prevent a regional war[75] and the following month accused Ethiopia of plotting a US supported invasion with the aim of destroying the "realization of a unified Somalia”[12]

September–November 2006 incursions and clashes[edit]

By September, at least 7,000 Ethiopian troops were in Somalia and had begun arming warlords defeated by the ICU.[77] The first clash between ICU and Ethiopian National Defence Forces occurred on 9 October 2006. TFG forces, backed by the Ethiopian troops, attacked the ICU positions at the town of Burhakaba, forcing the courts to retreat.[78] AFP reported that residents in Baidoa had witnessed a large column of at least 72 armed ENDF vehicles and troops transports depart from city before the incident.[79] Meles Zenawis government denied that ENDF forces were in Somalia, or that they had participated in the incident, but local residents in Burhakaba confirmed the presence of large numbers of ENDF in the town. The Economist reported that the Ethiopian military incursion had set off a fierce reaction even among the most moderate of the ICU, and a recruitment mobilization began in order to raise a force to take back Burhakaba.[80] The ICU claimed that the ENDF had also sent another large deployment across the Somali border. Following the battle, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed announced "This is clear aggression...Our forces will face them soon if they do not retreat from Somali territories" and declared Jihad against Ethiopian military forces.[81]

In November 2006, the situation significantly escalated with the extensive mobilization and strategic positioning of ENDF, TFG and ICU forces in southern Somalia. Local residents reported large numbers of ICU forces deploying to Burhakaba. The distance between the opposing forces on the front line was now less than 20 km apart. On 26 and 28 November the courts claimed to have ambushed two ENDF convoys near Baidoa.[82] On 29 November, the courts claimed Ethiopian forces had shelled Bandiradley. The next day ICU forces ambushed an ENDF convoy outside of Baidoa.[83] That month, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) declared that it would not allow the Ogaden region to be used as a launching pad to invade Somalia, and warned that it would resist any attempts to do so.[11]

Early December 2006[edit]

The most significant event to immediately prelude the war was the passing of United Nations Security Council 1725 on 6 December 2006.[59][84] The resolution called for the deployment of foreign troops and the lifting of the arms embargo. The Islamic Courts and Muslim Somali leaders had in the months prior to the resolution firmly rejected the deployment of any international military forces in Somalia as an act of war.[59] Top leaders of the TFG had previously requested that 20,000 foreign troops, including Ethiopian forces be deployed to Somalia, though the move was opposed by many parliamentarians.[77] While the resolution explicitly dictated no neighbouring states would be permitted to participate, Ethiopia had already breached a prior UN resolution by deploying thousands of troops into Somalia. The resolution was widely viewed by the Courts as the UN Security Council unjustly legitimizing an Ethiopian invasion, considering the UNSCR had refused to make any commentary or statement on the troops already deployed inside of Somalia. Herman Cohen, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, noted the US decision to back resolution had been influenced by false Ethiopian intelligence. The Islamic Courts Union viewed the passing of UNSCR 1725 as effectively a declaration of war and an international endorsement of the invasion.[59] Al-Shabaab, one of the militia within the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union, increasingly radicalized in response to the Ethiopian incursion.[85] The United States Assistant Secretary of State issued a statement openly accusing the ICU leadership of being members of Al-Qaeda.[86]

On 8 December 2006, two days after UNSCR 1725 was passed, the ICU were attacked by ENDF/TFG forces at the town of Dinsoor. ICU Chairman Sharif Sheikh Ahmed called on Somalis to "stand up and defeat the enemies".[87] Witnesses in Dagaari village near Bandiradley said that they saw hundreds of Ethiopian troops and tanks take up positions near the town with militiamen from the northeastern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.[88] On 13 December, the ICU claimed 30,000 Ethiopian troops were deployed inside of Somalia.[89] On 14 December, locals and ICU officials in Hiran region reported a large scale deployment of ENDF forces across the border over a 48-hour period in the regions environs.[90]

Forces involved[edit]

Forces involved are difficult to calculate because of many factors, including lack of formal organization or record-keeping, and claims marred by disinformation. For months leading up to the war, Ethiopia maintained it had only a few hundred advisors in the country, yet independent reports indicated far more troops.

Approximately 40,000 to 50,000 Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) troops backed by tanks, helicopter gunships and jets had been involved in the offensive against the Islamic Courts Union during December 2006.[91][92] The TFG claimed only 12,000 to 15,000 Ethiopian troops had been deployed Somalia,[93] while the Ethiopian government claimed only 4,000.[93] During 2007 military experts estimated 50,000 Ethiopian troops were occupying parts of Somalia.[94][19] Other estimates placed the figure at 40,000.[95][96] The Ethiopian backed TFG possessed approximately 6,000 soldiers.[97]

The US Bush administration doubted Ethiopia's ability to effectively use the new equipment it had provided for the invasion. As a result, it decided to involve US Special Forces and CIA agents in the campaign.[98] During the invasion phase of the war, US Special Forces, CIA paramilitary units, and Marine units, supported by American AC-130s and helicopter gunships, directly intervened in support of the ENDF.[99][100]

Reuters reported 3,000 to 4,000 troops fought under the ICU at its height.[21] The insurgency that followed the collapse of the ICU was composed of numerous different groups and factions, making it difficult to determine who was responsibility for a variety of attacks and incidents, though Al-Shabaab ultimately became the most powerful and active element.[101] The TFGs prime minister Ali Gedi claimed that 8,000 foreign fighters were fighting for the ICU during the invasion,[102] although the African Union reported Somalia had only attracted 'several hundred' foreign fighters since the formation of the ICU to mid-2007.[103] In 2008 there were reportedly around 100 foreign fighters in Somalia.[104]


Before the full-scale invasion began, more than 10,000 ENDF forces had been built up in and around Baidoa over the months since the first incursion in June 2006. Much of Bay and Bakool region had already been occupied by Ethiopian troops.[59] Significant logistical and intelligence support was offered by the US military to the ENDF. The Pentagon provided access to aerial reconnaissance and satellite surveillance of ICU positions. The US also played a substantial role in sponsoring the invasion, even covering the expenses such as fuel and spare parts for Ethiopian troops. Reuters reported American and British Special Forces, along with US-hired mercenaries, had been laying the ground work for the invasion within and outside Somalia since late 2005.[59]

As tensions escalated, different members within the ICU made unilateral statements regarding the response to the Ethiopian invasion without consulting the ICU leadership.[59][105] On 13 December 2006, two high-ranking officials in the ICU's military wing, Yusuf Indhacade and his deputy Mukthar Robow, gave Ethiopian troops deployed in Somalia a seven-day ultimatum to withdraw from the country or face expulsion.[105] The Courts were divided over whether or not to forcibly eject invading ENDF forces, and the European Union began last minute diplomatic efforts to halt the outbreak of war, resulting in contradictory statements from various ICU leaders. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Dahir Aweys, both adopted conciliatory stances as a result, but the sharp rise in tensions had empowered the Courts 'Hawks' who viewed the growing Ethiopian military forces and the passing of UNSCR 1725 as proof of an international conspiracy against the ICU.[105] Statements from the international actors were contradictory as the African Union had at first endorsed the Ethiopian invasion, only to quickly retract the statement two days later.[59]

December 19–23[edit]

The first battle of the war began soon after the ultimatum expired on 19 December 2006. The first fighting occurred that evening when two reconnaissance teams clashed at Idaale, 60 kilometres south of Baidoa. Both sides blamed each other for initiating the fighting.[106] ICU fighters, many of who were university students, attacked Ethiopian positions in Daynunay, 20 kilometres east of Baidoa. Soon after heavy fighting and artillery shelling broke out on several different front lines.[107][108] Some of the most intense fighting of the war took place between the ICU and ENDF/TFG around the towns of Daynuunay and Idaale. Heavy weaponry was utilized in a large scale face-to-face confrontation primarily between the Islamic Courts and Ethiopian forces.[109] Though BBC journalists in the country at the time reported huge ENDF armor columns around Baidoa, the Ethiopian government denied its troops were in Somalia.[106] Accounts from opposing camps noted heavy casualties from the fighting, with many bodies littering the battlefields, along with a massive influx of reinforcements.[110] By the end of the 21 December fighting had subsided and ICU was successfully advancing towards Baidoa.[109] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross reported that between 19 and 21 December, the ICU and Ethiopian troops had faced off in open battle in three encounters. Despite the material and numerical odds against the Islamic Courts, they had prevailed in the three battles. These early victories led western intelligence officials and analysts to fear that the ICU would overrun the city.[111] US intelligence sources reported that in the initial days of the conflict, the ICU effectively utilized tactics against ENDF tanks that mirrored those employed by Hezbollah against Israeli Defense Forces armor months prior during the Lebanon War.[112] ICU forces managed to advance only eight kilometres away from Baidoa, but lacking effective counters to Ethiopian artillery and armor superiority, the lightly armed fighters who charged the Ethiopian front line suffered high casualty rates.[113]

ENDF T-55 tank captured by Islamic Courts Union fighters at the Idaale front (Dec 2006)

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed later reported that after achieving a string of battlefield victories, ICU troops had come under unexpected bombardment from US aircraft.[114] American gunships, including helicopters and the AC-130, flew out of Dire Dawa and Diego Garcia to provide air support for Ethiopian troops.[115][116] The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier battlegroup was dispatched to the Somali coast to provide further air support and aerial surveillance.[117] US Special forces and CIA paramilitary units also participated.[118][91][100] The participation of the US ground and air forces provided the ENDF with massive military superiority over the ICU. Ali Gedi, then prime minister of the TFG and a participant in planning for the invasion noted that, “The Ethiopians were not able to come in without the support of the US Government...American air forces were supporting us."[119] US operations during the invasion took place in a media vacuum, with no images or footage appearing of American forces.[117]

A major battle of the invasion took place at Idaale on 21 December 2006. Ethiopian troops fought Islamic Courts regular forces operating closely with the ICU's Al-Shabaab youth militia, who were more experienced and equipped. ENDF forces were drawn out of their positions into battle when a unit of Shabaab fighters attacked an Ethiopian position and then feinted a retreat. The Ethiopians pursued with a large contingent of troops and were soon ambushed by hundreds of fighters, initiating a massive battle between the ENDF and ICU that would last several days.[113] After two days of large scale clashes, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys announced Somalia was in a state of war;[120] but clarified the ICU considered itself at war with Ethiopia and not the TFG.[121] On 22 December 20 ENDF T-55 tanks were seen dispatched toward the front line. Most of the heavy combat that took place occurred in relatively uninhabited areas along the front.[122] By the end of 22 December, both sides claimed to have killed hundreds of each other's troops.[121]

The Battle of Bandiradley began on December 23, 2006, when Ethiopian and Puntland forces, along with Abdi Qeybdid of the Somali Warlord Alliance, fought ICU militias defending Bandiradley.[123] With the defensive capabilities of the Courts overextended and overwhelmed,[105] the tide turned against them on the fourth day of the war as the Ethiopian army continued deploying their superior military hardware.[113] The ICU positions at Bandiradley in central Somalia was the first to fracture, leaving a significant gap in the front line.[105] No ICU reserves were available to deploy in the exposed northern flank, enabling the Ethiopian military to begin a blitzkrieg.[124] As ENDF convoys drove through the Ogaden region to reach the front line, the ONLF began attacking those attempting to join the war. The ONLF announced that on 23 December, in-line with their policy of resisting attacks on Somalia, they had attacked a convoy consisting of twenty armored vehicles and several trucks driving through Korahe Zone. The ONLF reported that after inflicting casualties and destroying four vehicles, the convoy had to retreat and abandon its planned operations in Somalia.[10]

December 24–27[edit]

On 24 December, the ICU reported to be 12 kilometres away from Baidoa. In an interview with Shabelle Media, an ICU military commander claimed the courts had destroyed four ENDF tanks during a battle at Daynuunay. The Ethiopian Air Force bombed ICU positions and a strategic road in Beledweyne.[125] That same day Ethiopia admitted its troops were fighting the ICU for the first time, after stating earlier in the week it had only sent several hundred military advisors to Baidoa.[126] After Ethiopia admitted its troops were inside Somalia, the TFG continued to publicly deny the presence of ENDF troops, further undermining its credibility.[59] Heavy fighting erupted in border areas, with reports of airstrikes and shelling, including targets near the town of Beledweyne. Ethiopian Information Minister Berhan Hailu publicly announced that: "The Ethiopian government has taken self-defensive measures and started counter-attacking the aggressive extremist forces of the Islamic Courts and foreign terrorist groups."[126]

Map of the initial Ethiopian advancements in December 2006

50,000 Ethiopian troops took part in the invasion.[91] The ICU forces, composed primarily of lightly armed youth were heavily outnumbered, outgunned and exhausted. In the ensuing blitzkrieg, the most inexperienced Islamist fighters were badly mauled. The majority of ICU losses did not include professional fighters, but the many untrained ICU volunteers from various Somali clans. Fighting against forces with complete armor and air supremacy the ICU front line began to collapse in the face of conventional warfare.[105][113][124] Defending Islamist forces withdrew from Beledweyne concurrent to Ethiopian airstrikes against the Mogadishu and Baledogle airports.[127]

On the sixth and seventh day of fighting in open battle, the courts began to pull back from the front line around Baidoa, Idaale, Dinsoor, Daynuunay and Burhakaba. Analysts reported that the withdrawal had occurred simultaneously across the ICU's entire front, indicating a deliberate coordinated change in strategy rather than a chaotic rout. According to David Shinn, former US ambassador to Ethiopia, the ICU had recognized their vulnerability to sustained attacks from Ethiopian air and armor superiority in conventional warfare. Consequently, they opted for a transition to insurgent tactics. Following the withdrawal, ICU head Sharif Sheikh Ahmed declared that the conflict had entered 'a new phase.'[128] On 27 December, the leaders of the Islamic Courts Union, including Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Sheikh Abdirahman Janaqow resigned, and the organization effectively dissolved.[129] The ICU had evacuated many towns it had taken over the summer of 2006 without putting up a fight. The ICU top two commanders, defence chief Yusuf Mohammed Siad Inda'ade and his deputy Abu Mansur were away on the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. Ethiopian and TFG forces were en route to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu having captured the strategic town of Jowhar, 90 km north from the capital.[130] That same day the African Union, supported by the Arab League and the IGAD, called for Ethiopia to withdraw from Somalia immediately.[131]

December 28–31[edit]

Route of ICU withdrawal from southern front and Mogadishu between 27 and 29 December

As Ethiopian troops advanced on Mogadishu, they were accompanied by the warlords who the ICU had defeated in mid-2006. The Ethiopians allowed the warlords to regain control over the fiefdoms they had previously lost to the courts.[59] On 28 December, Ethiopian and government forces marched into the city of Mogadishu unopposed. After the Fall of Mogadishu to the Ethiopian and TFG forces on December 28, the Islamists retreated from the Juba River valley. Heavy artillery fire was reported on December 31 in the Battle of Jilib and the ICU withdrew by midnight, leaving Kismayo, without a fight and retreating towards the Kenyan border. On December 31, 2006, A heavily armed column of government and Ethiopian troops advanced from Mogadishu through Lower Shabelle towards Kismayo. Demoralized, many fighters returned to their homes. The remnants of the ICU forces that continued fighting, including Al-Shabaab fighters, left the Mogadishu and moved south towards Kismayo.[124]


Military events in January 2007 focused on the southern section of Somalia, primarily the withdrawal of the ICU from Kismayo following the Battle of Jilib, and their pursuit using Ethiopian and American airstrikes until a final stand during the Battle of Ras Kamboni. US AC-130 gunships covertly flying out of Ethiopia pounded retreating ICU convoys,[116][132] and Kenyan troops assisted in capturing fleeing ICU forces.[133] Local residents in southern Somalia reported Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) convoys driving over the border, and residents in the Afmadow district of southern Somalia reported witnessing AC-130's pursuing and killing ICU troops.[134] American airstrikes focused on decapitating the ICU leadership, in one instance killing Sheikh Abdullahi Nahar, a popular leader of the movement.[135] Cruise missiles were fired at ICU positions on 8 January 2007.[136] American forces reportedly killed hundreds of Somali fighters and civilians in a 'killing zone' between the Kenyan border, the Indian Ocean and advancing US backed Ethiopian troops.[137] American air power was used against villages in southern Somalia, resulting in significant civilian casualties and displacement. In one attack seventy-three nomadic herders and their livestock were killed in a US air strike.[138][134] In another, US aircraft bombed a wedding ceremony.[139] After American involvement in the invasion became public knowledge, the Ethiopian government halted US AC-130 attacks from its military bases.[132]

The United States admitted to conducting a strike against targets that they claimed were suspected Al-Qaeda operatives. An admission to a second air attack was made later in January.[140] Initially, the US claimed that it had successfully targeted Al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the 1998 embassy bombings, but later retroactively downgraded those killed to being 'associates with terrorists'.[86] Al-Shabaab militia suffered several losses in this period, resulting in a temporary loss of command and control over the organization.[141] The Pentagon's announcement of air attacks in Somalia during the Ethiopian offensive confirmed the belief of many analysts that the US was involved in the invasion.[138][134] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly expressed concern that the American attacks would escalate the conflict.[132]

Occupation of Mogadishu[edit]

At the start of January, the Ethiopian government claimed it would withdraw "within a few weeks"[142] The TFG announced that the rivaling Islamic forces had been defeated and that no further major fighting was expected to take place.[143] After the Fall of Mogadishu, the security situation began to rapidly deteriorate and warlords who had been removed by the Islamic Courts began to reassert themselves.[144][145] On 7 January, anti-Ethiopian protests broke out in Mogadishu, with hundreds of residents hurling stones and shouting threats towards ENDF troops. Ethiopian troops opened fire on the crowd after stones struck their patrol car, resulting in the death of two; including a 13-year boy. That same night a former ICU official was also assassinated in the city by gunmen.[146][147] On 13 January, the TFG imposed martial law. The directives, which included a ban on public meetings, attempts to organize political campaigns and major media outlets, was enforced by Ethiopian troops. Warlord militia checkpoints began reappearing on Mogadishu roads and insecurity started once again returning to the city.[138] Several high ranking figures of the TFG, including ex-speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, were fired for calling for a compromise with the ICU.[148] Members of the TFG present in Nairobi were threatened with expulsion by Kenyan foreign minister Raphael Tuju after they publicly called for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.[149]

On 19 January, insurgents in Mogadishu launched an assault on the ENDF/TFG held Villa Somalia. A 30-minute battle ensued involving tanks, though there were no reported casualties on either side. Soon after, the ICU claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring it as part of a "new uprising".[150][151][152] The following day an ENDF convoy in the city came under ambush. Residents reported that the Ethiopian troops had responded by firing into crowds indiscriminately.[151] The incidents began sparking concern of an upstart Islamist insurgency.[150] Mogadishu was divided into two segments, one controlled by the ENDF/TFG and the other by emerging resistance movements.[153] The military occupation was marked by indiscriminate violence towards civilians by the Ethiopian army and TFG. Homes were raided in search of ICU loyalists, with lootings, beatings and executions of suspected collaborators commonplace.[154]

Deployment of AMISOM[edit]

On 20 February 2007, the United Nations granted authorization for the deployment of a peacekeeping mission by the African Union, known as the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The mission's stated primary objective was to provide support for a national reconciliation congress in Somalia.[155] AMISOM's deployment served as an exit strategy for Ethiopian troops, as their presence was inflaming an insurgency.[156]

From 2007 to 2009, the military component was predominantly composed of troops from Uganda, Burundi, and a few Kenyans. During 2007, the operation relied heavily on Ugandan Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), as Uganda played a crucial role in offering support to the initiation of the mission. By the end of the year, Burundian troops also joined the effort. However, AMISOM's initial mandate did not permit the use of offensive force, resulting in limited involvement in the conflict between Ethiopian forces and the insurgency. This dynamic led to growing tensions between AMISOM and the ENDF, exacerbated by a lack of transparency from Ethiopia regarding its objectives within Somalia.[157] The European Union was reportedly 'exceptionally unhappy' about the heavy US support for the December invasion, and held back funds for the newly created AMISOM mission for several months.[59] Days before AMISOM deployed in Somalia, violence in Mogadishu began rapidly escalating.[158]

Rise of the insurgency[edit]

In late February and early March 2007, insurgent attacks on ENDF/TFG forces in Mogadishu became a daily occurrence, growing in both complexity and sophistication.[159] During March, the resistance began in earnest with small units of Somali fighters engaging in hit-and-run attacks on Ethiopian positions in Mogadishu. The Ethiopian military response was characterized by large scale and indiscriminate artillery and aerial bombardments of civilian areas.[39] That month Ethiopian and TFG troops began suffering mounting casualties to the insurgency.[160] On 15 March 2007, TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf accused ICU rebels in Mogadishu of being responsible for shelling Villa Somalia with mortars moments after he arrived. In a telephone interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat, President Yusuf declared that no ICU leadership would be allowed to partake in the national reconciliation process.[161] In the ensuing days, insurgent activities intensified further. Between 16 and 18 March 2007, there was a rapid escalation in attacks, accompanied by an increase in mortar fire volume. A large ENDF convoy was ambushed, leading to a major battle near Mogadishu port, and a high-ranking TFG regional police commander was assassinates in Kismayo.[162] The TFG soon began to run into increasing opposition from remnants of the Islamic Courts Union, and despite moving much of the government in January to Mogadishu, many ministers chose to remain in Baidoa.[163] During 2007, members of the Islamic Courts led the resistance to the occupation, attracting significant support from Somalis in the Banaadir region and from Somalis across the world.[153] Al-Shabaab did not heavily participate in the insurgency or large scale fighting for much of 2007, opting instead to carry out bombings and assassinations while further establishing itself.[164]

By the end of March, the fighting intensified in Mogadishu and more than a thousand people, mostly civilians, were killed. ICU remnants, Hawiye clan militia, volunteers and other Islamist groups engaged in fierce rounds of fighting in dense urban eras for several weeks during March and April against ENDF/TFG forces.[101] In a bid to crush the insurgency, Ethiopian/TFG forces besieged entire neighborhoods and initiated a campaign of mass arrests. Ethiopian troops launched major offensives in the city, utilizing large scale bombardments with rockets and artillery on Mogadishu neighborhoods deemed to be insurgent strongholds. On several occasions ENDF forces also occupied and looted the cities hospitals. Ethiopian troops were primarily responsible for the large scale bombardment and significant civilian losses that occurred in the city during March and April 2007.[165] Time magazine reported that the battles raging in the Mogadishu at the time were 'some of the most savage fighting' the capital had experienced.[166] By April, a third of Mogadishu's buildings were in ruins along with much of the cities modest economic infrastructure.[39] The presence of Ethiopian troops reinforced the authoritarian behavior of the TFG.[153] The fierce fighting in Mogadishu during March and April 2007 failed to quell the growing insurgency.[165]

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) issued a statement declaring its solidarity with the insurgency,[167] and along with other armed groups in Ethiopia - escalated its attacks in the Ogaden in response to the invasion.[168]

During June 2007, as Ethiopian troops troops were getting mired in the insurgency, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi publicly stated that the Ethiopian government had “made a wrong political calculation” by invading Somalia.[169] On 3 June 2007, a truck bomb attempted to assassinate TFG prime minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi.[170] In July 2007, the insurgency had spread to the greater Banaadir region, Middle Shabelle, Lower Shabelle and the Jubba Valley. During August violence in Mogadishu escalated sharply. Ethiopian troops utilized tanks and heavy artillery to bombard insurgent strongholds in the capital, resulting in the worst mass exodus in the cities history.[160] ENDF forces utilized white phosphorus munitions in residential areas of the city, resulting in civilian fatalities.[60] The escalating insurgency resulted in the deployment of an additional 10,000 Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu and its environs.[153] During September 2007, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) was formed. The following month Al-Shabaab spokesman Mukhtar Robow stated that the group did not recognize and had no relationship with the ARS.[171] As fighting in Mogadishu escalated, ICU remnants in southern Somalia found a window of opportunity and peacefully captured the town of Dhobley near the Kenyan border in mid October.[172] From 8–16 November, another large scale multi-day battle occurred in Mogadishu; during which the bodies of Ethiopian troops were dragged through the city streets.[173] In December 2007, ENDF forces withdrew from the strategic town of Guriel, which was then taken quickly over by insurgents.[174]

By the end of 2007, the UNHCR estimated 1,000,000 people had been displaced by the war.[175] The United Nations reported the crisis as being the worst ever humanitarian crises in Africa. The TFG announced that most of the country was not under its control and claimed that the ICU was regrouping, which the Ethiopian government denied. Al-Jazeera reported that fighting between the ENDF/TFG and Islamic Courts forces in 2007 had resulted in several thousand civilian deaths in Mogadishu.[176] By late 2007, Ethiopian military losses had reached unsustainable levels[177] and an excess of 50,000 ENDF troops were deployed in Somalia.[19] Oxford Analytica observed at the end of 2007 that the Ethiopian army aimed to win a war of attrition against the insurgency.[178]

Rise of Al-Shabaab[edit]

The invasion resulted in the deaths of many Islamic Courts Union affiliates, leaving a vacuum for the small group of several hundred youth that served as the ICU's Shabaab militia to gain prominence.[179][23] During the military occupation, Al-Shabaab garnered substantial support from the Somali population, cutting across clan lines. The Ethiopian invasion was the groups primary catalyst for mobilization among the population. Despite its strict ideology, the group was widely perceived as a genuine resistance force against Ethiopian occupation by many Somalis, and while not universally popular, it was widely acknowledged for its effective training and formidable capabilities in pushing out Ethiopian troops. Heavy handed tactics and blatant disregard for civilian life by Ethiopian troops rallied many Somalis to support the Al-Shabaab as it successfully branded itself as the most determined and uncompromising resistance faction.[44][4]

Al-Shabaab forces carried out the first suicide attack of the insurgency on 27 March 2007, against an ENDF checkpoint in Tarbuunka, Mogadishu, using a car bomb. The explosion killed 63 Ethiopian soldiers and wounded another 50. The operation was reported to have been made in retribution for the torture and rape of Suuban Maalin Ali Hassan, a Somali woman, at gunpoint by Ethiopian troops.[180] Adam Salad Adam, was later announced as the bomber responsible for the operation. It was the first recorded suicide attack in Somalia, and a Shabaab propaganda film was released two days after it occurred.[181][182][183]


By the beginning of 2008, insurgent pressure had mounted on the Ethiopian and TFG troops in the south-central regions of Somalia. The Shabeelle, the Jubba Valley along with the Bay and Bakool regions in particular became hot spots. Islamist fighters gained strength and were able to move from different towns with little resistance as they had accrued significant public support. What had at first seemed to be a series of probes soon morphed into an significant insurgent offensive against Ethiopian and TFG forces.[160] In early January 2008, Seyum Mesfin, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister claimed that Mogadishu and Somalia had significantly improved since the invasion and that there were no longer any 'no go zones' in the country.[184] More than 60% of Mogadishu's population had fled the city by the start of the year.[185] Philippe Lazzarini, the United Nations' top humanitarian official, declared Somalia to be the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa and nearly the worst in the world.[186]

The TFG parliament was purged of opposition figures and represented a narrow coalition of Somali society. The government was besieged and dysfunctional, with virtually no progress being made for political transition. The government was plagued with charges of corruption and abuse, including the obstruction of relief aid deliveries.[178] During 2008, TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf began undermining the new Prime Minister, Nur Hassan Hussein. PM Nur had replaced PM Ali Gedi in November 2007, who was widely viewed as corrupt and an impediment to the reconciliation process. In an attempt to undermine an emerging alliance between opposition groups and PM Nur, President Yusuf had TFG forces engage in widespread looting at the Bakaara Market in order to impede Nur's effort. Much of the criminality in south Somalia during 2008 was linked to TFG security forces. In April 2008, Oxford Analytica observed that the TFG was 'little more' than a collection of armed rival groups.[187]

Escalation of insurgency[edit]

Islamist insurgents began adopting sophisticated strategies to win greater public support and legitimacy. To fill in the void left by the Transitional Federal Government, insurgents began to deploy mobile Sharia courts to administer justice while apprehending criminals. They also began clan conflict mediation and distributing aid to the impoverished. Attacks on highway bandits and militia checkpoints became frequent.[160] The insurgency waged an increasingly complex war against the ENDF and TFG. A targeted assassination campaign was initiated against the TFG, primarily aimed at the National Security Agency (NSA), resulting in many NSA agents and informants being assassinated in 2008. Insurgent attacks further increased in complexity and sophistication, with attacks killing scores of Ethiopian and TFG troops weekly.[160]

In February 2008, Al Shabaab captured the town of Dinsoor after probing it several times. This marked a change in their strategy which previously focused mainly on the capital Mogadishu.[188][189][190] Al-Shabaab began governing territory for the first time in 2008 as it started taking control of significant tracts of southern Somalia.[37][4] In March, the ICU seized the city of Buloburde and freed many prisoners.[191] During April, the Al-Hidaya Mosque massacre was carried out by Ethiopian troops, inflaming the insurgency in the capital.[192] The boldest insurgent expansion occurred in April 2008, when Islamist fighters seized control of Jowhar, only 90 km away from the capital Mogadishu.[160] In late May, Jilib and Harardhere fell under the control of insurgents, who then began advancing on the strategic southern port city of Kismayo.[193] Representatives of both the Islamic Courts and Al-Shabaab entered into a secretive agreement to allow the clan militia in power to remain,[194] though Al-Shabaab overran the city later in August.[195]

US airstrikes[edit]

On 3 March 2008, the United States launched cruise missiles on the town of Dhobley where insurgent leader Hassan Turki was reported to have been present. According to AP, US officials claimed the town was held by Islamic extremists but gave few details to the press.[196][197] Dhobley was the last town the ICU held a year prior and it had been bombed by US aircraft in that period.[196]

A month later on 1 May 2008, US Tomahawk missiles bombarded Dhusamareb resulting in the assassination of Al-Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Eyrow - along with another senior commander and several civilians. The attack did nothing to slow down the groups participation in the insurgency.[198] The assassination of Ayro during early 2008 resulted in a sharp radicalization of Al-Shabaab.[199] The killing of Ayro led to foreign fighters integrating within the ranks of the organization, and resulted in the accession of Ahmed Godane as Emir. This change in leadership was facilitated by American intervention and had significant effect on Shabaab's future decision making regarding the usage of tactics such as suicide bombing.[44][200] On 18 March 2008, the US designated Al-Shabaab a terrorist organization.[187] The move proved to be damaging as it isolated moderate voices among the Islamist resistance movement and gave Al-Shabaab further reason to push against peace talks.[199]

Islamist territorial expansion and Djibouti Agreement[edit]

By mid-2008, Al-Shabaab, Islamic Courts Union loyalists and supporters of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) were the primary insurgent forces operating in Somalia.[201] During June 2008 the ICU publicly declared it would continue its attacks on ENDF/TFG bases[202] and a new Islamic court was opened in Jowhar.[203] The Mogadishu-Afgooye-Baidoa highway became a focal point for ICU and Shabaab insurgents; while attacks also began escalating in and around Baidoa. By July, ICU forces controlled the cities of Beledweyne and Wajid.[204] In late July, forces loyal to the Islamic Courts Union engaged in a battle with Ethiopian troops in Beledweyne.[205] The ENDF shelled the western part of Beledweyne with rocket and mortar fire, resulting in an exodus of civilians.[206]

During June a faction of the ARS and the TFG signed a ceasefire agreement after months of talks in Djibouti. The agreement was met with resistance from elements within the TFG, chiefly President Abdullahi Yusuf.[207] The Djibouti Peace Process called for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia.[157] As the insurgency gained most of the territory that had been lost by the Islamic Courts Union during December 2006 and January 2007, fractures began appearing between the different insurgent factions over the Djibouti Agreement. In Beledweyne and Jalalaqsi, the insurgents in power distanced themselves from both Al-Shabaab and the ARS. In October 2008, fighters loyal to the Islamic Courts Union and Al-Shabaab fought each other in Balad.[160] During Autumn of 2008, the insurgency controlled more than 80% of the territory that had been previously lost in the invasion.[39] Al-Shabaab was estimated to be 2,000 strong by the AU during 2008,[22] an increase from several hundred at the end of 2006.[23]

Insurgent victory[edit]

As the situation rapidly deteriorated for the military occupation in mid-2008, Ethiopian troops started experiencing desertions. The ENDF began to draw down its forces deployed in Mogadishu and across towns in Somalia.[160][40] The occupation had a 'corrosive effect' on the ENDF[40] and the Somalia deployment was viewed as a hardship post.[208] Ethiopian troops sustained heavy casualties in the war before the Djibouti Peace Process called for their withdrawal.[157] More than 80% of TFG military and security forces, nearly 15,000 personnel, deserted the government by the end of 2008.[209] The remaining TFG forces suffered from low morale and also experienced desertions, with many troops continually selling their weapons at local arms markets; only for the weapons to come into the hands of insurgents.[160] During September 2008 fierce battles raged between the insurgency and ENDF in the capital.[210] By October 2008, virtually all opposition groups in the Ethiopian parliament had come to the consensus that ENDF forces should be withdrawn from Somalia.[211]

Footage uploaded on Islamic Courts insurgent website of an ENDF officer and TFG soldiers defecting to ICU fighters in Mogadishu (7 Sep 2008)[212]

By November 2008, insurgency had effectively won. The majority of south and central Somalia, along with the capital was now under the control of Islamist factions. Ethiopia had redeployed much of its army out of Somalia by the end of the year.[40] The success of the insurgents largely represented ordinary Somalis desire to see an end to the anarchy and occupation, as the TFG was dysfunctional.[207] That same month, ICU insurgents controlled the cities of Jowhar and Beledweyne.[213]

Mired by infighting, the TFG was once again on the brink of collapse.[207] It lost control of the vital port city Merca when the city fell to the insurgency. Al-Shabaab was consolidating a string of military successes and soon began threatening Mogadishu.[148] On 14 November Shabaab forces pushed only 15 km from Mogadishu near ENDF troops positions.[195] Other insurgent factions, such as the Islamic Courts captured towns such as Elas, only 16 km away from the capital.[214]

ENDF Ural in Mogadishu destroyed in an ambush while resupplying besieged troops (22 Nov 2008)

President Abdullahi Yusuf admitted that the country was slipping to the insurgency and "raised the prospect his government could completely collapse." Ethiopia announced it would withdraw its troops from Somalia by the end of 2008 on 28 November.[195] Despite the Ethiopian presence in Mogadishu, by November 2008 insurgents openly walked on the streets and Al-Shabaab fighters would carry out public punishments and training exercises in the capital.[214]

ARS-TFG merger[edit]

After long talks in Djibouti over a ceasefire between the TFG and the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, agreement was reached that the parliament would be doubled in size to include 200 representatives of the opposition alliance and 75 representatives of the civil society.[215] A new president and prime minister would be elected by the new parliament, and a commission to look into crimes of war would be established.[216] A new constitution was also agreed to be drafted shortly.[217]

In December 2008, the TFG parliament moved to impeach President Abdullahi Yusuf, accusing him of being a dictator and an obstacle to peace.[218] That month Yusuf resigned after stating the he had lost control of the country to Islamist insurgents.[42]


January 2009 saw the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia, and the accession of former Islamic Courts Union leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to the Somali presidency.

Ethiopian withdrawal[edit]

Early during December 2008, Ethiopia announced it would withdraw its troops from Somalia shortly, and but later stated that it would first help secure the withdrawal of the AMISOM peacekeepers from Burundi and Uganda before withdrawing. The quick withdrawal of the AMISOM peacekeepers was seen as putting additional pressure on the United Nations to provide peacekeeping.[219]

On 12 January 2009, the last ENDF troops departed from Mogadishu, ending the two year long occupation of the capital.[42][33] Thousands of residents came to Mogadishu Stadium to cheer the withdrawal, and for a period of time the city remained quiet as rivaling insurgent factions cooperated.[220] The Ethiopian occupation mostly failed.[38] By the time of the withdrawal, the TFG possessed control over only a few streets and buildings in Mogadishu with the rest of the city coming under control of Islamist factions, particularly Al-Shabaab.[35] The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops sapped Al-Shabaab of the widespread support it had enjoyed from civilians and across clan lines during the occupation.[4] The groups heavy handed tactics repulsed many Somali supporters.[85]

Situation in Somalia in February 2009, following the Ethiopian withdrawal

Election of Sharif Sheikh Ahmed[edit]

After the parliament took in 200 officials from the 'moderate' Islamist opposition, ARS leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected TFG President on January 31, 2009.[221] Al Shabaab rejected any peace deal and continued to take territories, including Baidoa. Another Islamist group, Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a, which is allied to the TFG and supported by Ethiopia, continued to attack Al-Shabaab.[222][223][224] Al Shabab accused the new TFG President of accepting the secular transitional government and have continued the civil war since he arrived in Mogadishu at the presidential palace.[225]

Casualties and human rights violations[edit]

Islamist insurgents, ENDF troops, TFG forces, AMISOM forces, and other involved parties in the conflict sustained considerable casualties. The true extent of these losses remains uncertain, primarily due to a lack of transparency from the involved parties and a dearth of reporting on casualties.


Ethiopian forces in Somalia sustained heavy casualties[226][227] but the extent and figure of losses remain uncertain, primarily due to censorship on the war enforced by the Ethiopian government government from 2006 to 2009. In early 2007, NBC News reported that in Addis Ababa, a blackout of information regarding the war prevailed. Opposition groups in the Ethiopian Parliament to the ruling TPLF were never informed on the number of soldiers who had been killed in Somalia, a policy which the TPLF continued until and after the withdrawal.[228][211][229] Urban warfare in Mogadishu proved to be especially difficult for the Ethiopian army and caused heavy losses.[230] A January 2009 report by an independent regional security agency estimated at least 3,773 Ethiopian troops had died in Somalia since late 2006.[231] Al-Shabaab operations between 2007 and 2009 had inflicted over a thousand fatalities on Ethiopian troops.[232] By the end of 2007, ENDF casualties had reached an 'unsustainable level'. Somali witness accounts in Mogadishu estimated a rate of approximately 200 Ethiopian casualties weekly.[177] Independent experts claimed the ENDF casualty rate was around 100 troops a week by the end of the occupation. Estimates of losses are further complicated by the practice of ENDF troops in Somalia routinely disguising themselves in Somali TFG uniforms to conceal their presence.[177][233] Shortly after the January 2009 withdrawal, Meles Zenawi publicly declined to disclose the number of ENDF casualties incurred during the occupation, stating on national television:

''...regarding the details on those killed or wounded in Somalia, I think the House does not need to know about how many were killed or wounded...I also think that I do not have an obligation to present such report."[229]


The figures for AMISOM troops killed in Somalia from their deployment in early 2007 to 2009 has also never been publicly revealed. African Union officials only publicly commented on casualty estimates on their entire operation for the first time in 2023.[234] AMISOM suffered several hundred casualties, but the figure from 2006 to 2009 is unknown. Ugandan Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), was one of the largest AMISOM contingents, but never published figures on troop casualties.[233][235]

Civilian casualties and war crimes[edit]

In December 2008, the Elman Peace and Human Rights Organisation said it had verified that 16,210 civilians had been killed and 29,000 wounded since the start of the war in December 2006.[30] In September of that year 1.9 million displaced civilians from homes in Mogadishu alone during the year 2007 had been documented.[32][236]

Ethiopian troops and Transitional Federal Government forces committed human rights abuses and war crimes, including murder, rape, assault, and looting. In their December 2008 report 'So much to Fear' Human Rights Watch warned that since the Ethiopians had intervened in 2006 Somalia was facing a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale not witnessed since the early 1990s. They went on to accuse the TFG of terrorizing the citizens of Mogadishu and the Ethiopian soldiers for increasing violent criminality.[237]

American reporters touring rural Somalia reported that in village after village, locals had described a reign of terror by the Ethiopian army.[238]Amnesty International accused ENDF forces of increasingly engaging in throat-slitting executions of Somalis during early 2008.[239] On April 19, 2008, Ethiopian soldiers committed the Al-Hidaya Mosque massacre.[192][240] The ONLF accused the ENDF of hunting down Ogaden Somalis and Oromos in Somalia for arbitrary detention and executions.[167] Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi publicly dismissed reports of war crimes from the international media and human rights groups as a 'smear campaign' against ENDF forces in Somalia.[241] After attacks on civilian areas in Mogadishu during, European lawyers considered whether funding for Ethiopia and TFG made the EU complicit in war crimes, the deliberations of which were never made public.[242][243]

Result and consequences[edit]

By the end of the occupation, the majority of the territory seized from the Islamic Courts Union during the December 2006 and January 2007 invasion had fallen under the control of various Islamist and nationalist resistance groups.[41][44] The Ethiopian army withdrew from Somalia with significant casualties and little to show for their efforts.[244] The insurgency had effectively succeeded in its goal of removing the Ethiopian military presence in much of the country by November 2008.[40] The Islamic Courts insurgency was successful in achieving several of its most important demands.[14] The invasion failed to empower the Transitional Federal Government, which only controlled parts of Mogadishu and its original 2006 capital of Baidoa by the last weeks of the military occupation.[41][4]

During 2007 and 2008, Somalia plunged into severe levels of armed conflict, marked by frequent assassinations, political meltdown, radicalization, and the growth of an intense anti-American sentiment. The situation in the country exceeded the worst-case scenarios envisioned by many regional analysts when they first considered the potential impact of an Ethiopian military occupation.[199] For the Americans the invasion had resulted in nearly the complete opposite of what had been expected, as it had failed to isolate the Islamic movement while solidifying Somali anger to both the United States and Ethiopia. The result of the invasion had been the defeat of Somali Islamists considered to be 'moderate' while strengthening the movements most radical elements.[245] According to the Conciliation Resources report titled 'Endless War':[246]

Military occupation, a violent insurgency, rising jihadism, and massive population displacement has reversed the incremental political and economic progress achieved by the late 1990s in south-central Somalia. With 1.3 million people displaced by fighting since 2006, 3.6 million people in need of emergency food aid, and 60,000 Somalis a year fleeing the country, the people of south-central Somalia face the worst humanitarian crisis since the early 1990s.

As ENDF forces withdrew from Somalia, tensions between the differing resistance factions exacerbated.[40] By the end of 2008, most elements of the pre-invasion Islamic Courts had merged into one of the two wings of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia or had joined Al-Shabaab. Some Islamic factions continued operating under the ICU banner into 2009 and tended to support the new TFG government led by Sharif Ahmed, which described the ICU groups as the governments 'paramilitary'.[247]

Radicalization and terrorism[edit]

In 2024, Somalia's Minister of Justice Hassan Mo'allin Mohamoud publicly stated the wave of terrorism the country is experiencing was the 'direct result' of the 2006 invasion.[248] A sharp increase in radical recruitment in Somali communities in Europe and the United States since 2007 has been linked with the overthrow of the ICU and the Ethiopian military occupation.[249] During 2008 there were an estimated 100 foreign fighters in Somalia, a figure which increased to 450 the next year as Al-Shabaab gained strength.[104]

Al-Shabaab was particularly empowered by the occupation, as it established itself as an independent resistance faction in early 2007. The group became battle hardened over the next two years and notably began governing territory for the first time in 2008.[37][44] Instead of eliminating 'Jihadist' activity in Somalia, the Ethiopian invasion had the effect of creating more 'Jihadis' than had existed in the country before.[4] By the time of the ENDF withdrawal, Al-Shabaab's forces had grown significantly in numbers, swelling from just six hundred to several thousand fighters strong since the invasion began.[23] After the killing of the groups leader Aden Hashi Ayro in 2008, Al-Shabaab began publicly courting Osama bin Laden in a bid to become part of Al-Qaeda, but was rebuffed by bin Laden. Following his death, Al-Shabaab pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in 2012.[44][250]

In July 2022, Al-Shabaab launched a major incursion into Ethiopia.[251]


Attacks off the Somali coast were suppressed by anti-piracy operations carried out by the Islamic Courts Union's coast guard during 2006. Following the ICUs overthrow, incidents of pirate attack rapidly proliferated during 2007 and 2008.[136][252][16] Top personnel in the Seafarers' Assistance Programme reported that elements of the TFG and Puntland governments were involved in piracy due to lucrative profits.[252] As the Ethiopian army was being driven from southern and central Somalia by the insurgency, ENDF military bases provided safe havens for Somali pirates who had secured large ransoms; in return for cash payments from the pirates.[253]

Continuation of the conflict and occupation[edit]

Mediation had begun between the newly formed Hizbul Islam and the new Transitional Government of Sharif as well as a growing divide being reported in the Al Shabaab organization that controls much of southern Somalia as a large number of Al Shabaab leaders who had held positions in government during the six-month reign of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006 had met behind closed doors with the President of the Transitional Government and the TFG had announced that Sharia law would be implemented in Somalia, but it had not acted on it.[254][255] Sharif's forces and African Union troops clashed with the Islamic Party and Al Shabaab forces, leading to at least 23 death.[256]

Despite the withdrawal of most ENDF troops following the 2008 Djibouti Agreement, there has been a continued occupation of Somalia by the Ethiopian army. Two weeks after the January 2009 withdrawal, it was reported that Ethiopian troops had once again crossed the border following the fall of Baidoa to Al-Shabaab. Bereket Simon, spokesman for the Ethiopian government, described the reports as fabrications and responded "The army is within the Ethiopian border. There is no intention to go back,"[257] In late 2011, Ethiopian troops re-entered Somalia (coinciding with Kenya's invasion) in large numbers for the first time since their 2009 withdrawal.[244] In 2014 the Ethiopian troops that deployed in some parts of Somalia joined AMISOM. Former head of the ICU, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed continues to campaign for the withdrawal of the occupying Ethiopian forces. In May 2020 the Forum for National Parties which he leads, described the presence of non-AMISOM Ethiopian troops in Somalia as;

A blatant disregard for the longstanding agreement between the Federal Republic of Somalia and the AMISOM troop-contributing countries (TCC), which clearly defines the scope of the African Union peacekeeping mission in our country.

The letter went on to accuse the ENDF of a 'cavalier attitude' in there response to having shot down a civilian plane in Berdale which was carrying medical supplies for assistance in the COVID-19 pandemic.[258] On 13 November 2020 Bloomberg reported that Ethiopia withdrew thousands of troops from Somalia and redeployed them to assist the Ethiopian government in the Tigray conflict.[259]

Further reading and external links[edit]




  1. ^ Axe, David (December 2, 2010). "WikiLeaked Cable Confirms U.S.' Secret Somalia Op". Wired. The Washington Post's Pauline Jelinek, citing anonymous sources, described U.S. Special Forces accompanying Ethiopian troops. CBS news revealed that U.S. Air Force gunships were active over southern Somalia during the Ethiopian blitz. Through all the reporting, U.S. officials remained vague or silent on the subject of Washington's involvement. All the same, evidence was mounting that the U.S. had played a leading role in the Ethiopian invasion.
  2. ^ a b Rice, Xan; Goldenberg, Suzanne (January 13, 2007). "How US forged an alliance with Ethiopia over invasion". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved June 20, 2024.
  3. ^ "Somalia insurgents accuse Kenya over border security". Reuters. March 8, 2009. The group has been angry at Kenya since it helped capture Islamists trying to flee Ethiopian and Somali government troops in early 2007.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Hassan, Abdulahi (March 2008). "Inside Look at the Fighting Between Al-Shabab and Ahlu-Sunna wal-Jama" (PDF). CTC Sentinel. 2 (3).
  5. ^ "Burundi joins Somalia peace force". BBC. February 1, 2007. Archived from the original on February 10, 2007. Retrieved February 9, 2007.
  6. ^ "Burundi troops ready to join Somalia peacekeepers". Reuters. March 27, 2007. Archived from the original on April 1, 2007. Retrieved April 2, 2007.
  7. ^ "Malawi to send peacekeepers to Somalia". IRIN. January 22, 2007. Retrieved February 9, 2007.
  8. ^ "Nigeria to send peacekeeping battalion to Somalia". Reuters. January 24, 2007. Archived from the original on February 16, 2007. Retrieved February 9, 2007.
  9. ^ "Ugandan Troops Set to Arrive in Somalia as Part of AU Force". Shabelle Media Network. February 16, 2007. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved February 16, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  10. ^ a b "Ogaden rebels destroy Ethiopian military convoy en route to Somalia". Sudan Tribune. Ogaden National Liberation Front. December 24, 2006. Retrieved December 14, 2023.
  11. ^ a b "Ogaden rebels to resist Ethiopian army if it attacks Somali-statement". Sudan Tribune. Ogaden National Liberation Front. November 28, 2006. Retrieved December 14, 2023.
  12. ^ a b c "Ethiopia prepares to attack Somali Islamists – Eritrea". Sudan Tribune. August 21, 2006.
  13. ^ "Horn of Africa's challenges grow - Somalia". ReliefWeb. Oxford Analytica. November 5, 2008. Retrieved May 4, 2024. The insurgents in Somalia have essentially won -- they now control most of south and central Somalia and much of the capital.
  14. ^ a b Besenyő, János; Issaev, Leonid; Korotayev, Andrey (April 3, 2024). "Revolutionary and Quasi-Revolutionary Events in Somalia (1960–2023)". Terrorism and Political Contention: New Perspectives on North Africa and the Sahel Region. Springer Nature Switzerland. p. 376. ISBN 978-3-031-53428-7. ...the revolutionary insurgency of the Islamic Courts Union finally turned out to be more or less successful, as its members finally managed to get a considerable degree of power in the country and to implement some of their most important demands.
  15. ^ Mueller, Jason C. (January 2, 2018). "The Evolution of Political Violence: The Case of Somalia's Al-Shabaab". Terrorism and Political Violence. 30 (1): 116–141. doi:10.1080/09546553.2016.1165213. ISSN 0954-6553. S2CID 148494845. the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion, and subsequent two-year occupation, proved to be a prime catalyst for mobilization and the first critical juncture
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See also[edit]