On Christmas Day 2006, Ethiopia invaded its neighbour, Somalia. The aim: to drive out a coalition of Islamists ruling the capital, Mogadishu, and install a fragile interim government that had been confined to a small town in the west. But Ethiopia was not acting alone. The US had given its approval for the operation and provided key intelligence and technical support. CIA agents travelled with the Ethiopian troops, helping to direct operations…
In a rare moment of candour earlier last year, the US special envoy to Somalia, John Yates, admitted to fellow diplomats that their strategy had failed. “We set the agenda and then we lost control,” he said. One diplomat present at the meeting said the US was finally beginning to realise that the insurgents were winning.
Somalia is now experiencing its worst period of violence in two decades. The daily battles between Ethiopian-backed government forces and the insurgents have had a devastating impact on the population.
More than 600,000 people fled Mogadishu last year. Around 200,000 are now living in squalid impromptu refugee camps along a 15km-stretch of road outside the capital. According to UN officials it is the largest concentration of displaced people anywhere in the world. Those same officials now consider Somalia to be the worst humanitarian catastrophe in Africa, eclipsing even Darfur in its sheer horror.