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Self Induced Stalemate in Somalia: An Assessment of U.S. Policy Options

Author: Bronwyn E. Bruton
November 12, 2008
Center for Strategic and International Studies


The clock has run out on the current international engagement in Somalia, and the United States faces a dearth of realistic policy options.

The ability of the United States, the United Nations (UN) and the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) to influence political events in Somalia is almost wholly dependant on the presence of Ethiopian military forces. It was the Ethiopian invasion that ended the promising reign of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) over Somalia's unruly capital city, Mogadishu; and the Ethiopian army, albeit with some assistance from the small African Union peacekeeping mission, is the coercive force that has allowed the unpopular Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to remain in power. But the TFG cannot retain power without the support of Ethiopian troops.

Two years after the invasion, the pressures of sub-clan allegiance and ideology have also caused the once-unified Islamic Courts movement to fracture into ever-smaller entities,  and no single faction is capable of retaking control of the country. Now, with no realistic prospect that an Islamic regime will take hold in Somalia, and having declared its utter frustration with the TFG, the Ethiopian army has little reason to extend its occupation and has already begun to draw down its troops. A complete withdrawal is believed to be imminent. Such a withdrawal would precipitate the immediate collapse of the TFG and the end of the international community's most extensive effort to reconstruct a centralized governing authority for Somalia.

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