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Ethiopian troops launch major offensives against Islamist insurgents in Somalia

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Ethiopian troops are set to withdraw from Somalia by the end of the year and in doing so may hasten the collapse of the Western-backed transitional government and the victory of Islamist forces that took control of most of the country last year.

But Ethiopian troops have begun carrying out a major offensive against Islamist forces this week, raising questions about the withdrawal. If the Ethiopians stay, more violence is expected to ensue; if they leave, the government is expected to fall to hard-line militants.

In the balance hangs the future of a country that could become a new breeding ground for terrorists.

Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia at the tail end of 2006 to oust Islamists that had controlled most of the country for more than six months. Since then, the Ethiopians have been fighting ever-growing skirmishes with the Islamists, and their presence is now seen as furthering the conflict. Their withdrawal was finally decided during a "recent agreement between the more moderate members of the Somali opposition and the transitional government [that] was reached in Djibouti," Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports.

The decision comes at great cost, the Associated Press (AP)reports:

Ethiopia recently announced it would withdraw its troops by the end of this month, leaving Somalia's government vulnerable to insurgents, who have captured most of southern Somalia and even move freely in the capital.

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