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Zenawi: will he cut and run, or Commit suicide….??

by Mohamed Hebaan

My assessment of this conflict is that of our war with the Tigrayan regime will go through two more phases. The first phase in which the Tigrayan occupation forces and their allies had the upper hand lasted for two months. The second phase that started in March 2007, in which the fighting forces keep pushing one another back and forth is the most critical phase of this conflict, and will last about one year, though it could be over much earlier than that.  The third phase will be very short:  It won’t take more than two weeks.

As everyday goes by, the balance of this conflict will keep shifting:  the resistance movement will get stronger day after day and week after week, whereas the Tigrayan occupation forces and their allies will get weaker,
more demoralized and disillusioned day after day and week after week!

It is a fact that today the Tigrayan occupation forces are superior in terms of having more lethal firepower.  However in all other aspects of this conflict, the balance is heavily tilted to the advantage of the resistance

First the resistance fighters are in their land and among their people, whereas Tigrayans are strangers in a strange land.  The overwhelming majority of the people in Mogadishu support the resistance fighters, whereas
the overwhelming majority of the people in Mogadishu cannot stand seeing the Tigrayan forces, adding insult to injury, and debasing the people’s dignity and honor by deliberately setting up their headquarters at the former Ministry of Defense, of this once proud nation!

And if nothing else, the courageous and unprecedented solidarity of Mogadishu elders and their determined opposition to the occupation has dramatically changed the balance of the power in favor of the resistance!
In fact, anything that occupation forces and their stooges did or might do after that historic solidarity is merely catching up, or playing overtime. And it is my gut feeling that when the historians of the future look back
the demise and the disastrous adventure of Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia, the most critical factor that will be highlighted by every historian will be the elders’ historic stand!

The agenda of the Ethiopian regime toward Somalia was never hidden:  it was always to divide and subjugate, and to dismember and terrorize!  The Ethiopian regime divided Somalia into little Bantustans, and its clans into
sub-sub-clans.  So that every sub-sub-clan will be crushed, one at a time, and all Somalis will be then terrorized forever!  However, at this crucial moment in Somali history, the heroic solidarity of Mogadishu elders has been a painful slap in the face of the Ethiopian regime, and it has absolutely nullified and shattered the enemy’s schemes and tactics!

The Battle of Mogadishu ……The Battle of Addis Ababa…………….

The stakes are too high for Males Zenawi, the Ethiopian Prime Minster.  His options in this conflict are restricted to two, both of them very grim! Zenawi’s two unpleasant options are:

1—      To quit Mogadishu and run!
2—      To dig his heels and commit the ultimate suicide!

Both of these options have direct and immediate consequence for Mr. Zenawi. Before I analyze Mr. Zenawi’s two painful options, let me share with the readers the option that I personally prefer.

Contrary to the popular Somali demand, I prefer the Tigrayan occupation forces to remain in Mogadishu for sometime, and this my reasons.

The Tigrayan regime invaded our country and killed thousands upon thousands of Somalis, destroyed, raped and terrorized millions of Somalis.  The enemy that inflicted all that on our people is today in a huge death-trap, otherwise known as Mogadishu! Every Ethiopian soldier in or around Mogadishu is essentially sitting on his grave.  And the longer the Ethiopian soldier stays in Mogadishu the certainty and the clearer it becomes that, not only he will be buried in the very spot he is sitting on, but also the entire Ethiopian forces in
Mogadishu will either surrender or completely annihilated!

True, the Tigrayan occupation forces have been vicious and merciless in their constant and indiscriminate bombardment of people of Mogadishu. However that viciousness and that cruelty only solidified the resolve, the solidarity, and the determination of the resistance, and of the population, and of the elders of Mogadishu!  And it’s that resolve, and that solidarity and determination that will break the backs of the enemy forces and the back of every stooge that allied with them.

In their latest offensive, and because their superior firepower, the Ethiopians may gain certain operational advantages over the resistance.  And that advantage may last few weeks or up to three months, depending on how successful their offensive is.  However while the success of the Ethiopian offensive may prolong the conflict by about three or four months, it won’t change the outcome of this conflict in any way:  The Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu will be crushed!  That there is no doubt about it!

Anyhow, since the issue is not about my options, but about Mr. Zenawi’s, let us see, in some depth, the two difficult choices the Ethiopian PM has to make.

1—If  Mr. Zenawi quits Mogadishu and runs away, the consequences will be as

To begin with, Mr. Zenawi’s rationalization and excuses for running away from Mogadishu are already obvious.  He will claim that he accomplished his job.  He will assert that he destroyed the UIC, enabled the TFG to stand on its feet and settle in Mogadishu, and made it possible for the African Union Troops to come in and take over the peacekeeping operations.  Having done all of that, Mr. Zenawi will emphasize, there is really no reason why should the Ethiopian forces stay in Mogadishu any longer!

But Mr. Zenawi’s claims are one thing, the reality on the ground will be totally different thing!  If Zenawi claims to have destroyed the UIC, it will be the UIC that will be calling the shots in Mogadishu the very day
that Ethiopian forces start fleeing Mogadishu!  If he claims to have enabled the TFG to stand on its feet and settle in Mogadishu, when the Tigreyan forces are chased out of Mogadishu, there will no stooge-infested-TFG neither in Mogadishu, nor in Baydhaba, or anywhere else in Somalia!

(The African Union troops will be completely under the mercy of the Somali resistance fighters, and hence, they are not a factor in this conflict. They will either remain in their basis, or they will be stripped of their
guns and tanks.)

As you can see, every assertion made by Zenawi, will be disproved by the reality on the ground. Therefore Zenawi will lose face!  His own Ethiopian people, his American friends, the African Union, all his friends and foes throughout the world will see the writing on the wall that when goings got tough, Zenawi dashed for safety!!

Nevertheless, despite the humiliation of losing face, there is one important benefit that Zenawi will reap from this option:  he will be able to hang on to his power in Addis Ababa for couple of more years, or perhaps a little bit more!  For any dictator, this is very important consideration. Now let us look at Zenawi’s only other option.

3—      If Zenawi decides to remain in Mogadishu, he will commit the ultimate suicide!

Unlike the option of pulling out which carries both benefits and risks or upside and downsides, for Zenawi and for his Tigrayan regime, staying in Mogadishu is pure self-destruction!

Since the balance of power shifted considerably, and given their relative strength and their knowledge of the land, the resistance forces are, for the first time in this conflict, capable of taking a page from successful
tactics of liberation movements everywhere, and do things they never thought about in the past such as cutting off the supply lines and re-enforcement line from the occupation forces in and around Mogadishu!  What would make the resistance job of cutting the supply lines and re-enforcement lines easier is that, militarily, the ratio of the fighters required to stage a successful ambushes against the enemy supply-lines is very small.  Only ten sufficiently armed men can, not only disrupt, but wreck havoc on a re-enforcement platoon of more than 300 three-hundred-soldiers.

The resistance forces not only will be able to cut off the supply-lines and re-enforcement lines from reaching Mogadishu, but, overtime, they can also restrict the movement of the Tigrayan forces in Mogadishu to their basis by staging successful and deadly ambushes against the enemy forces every time they venture out of their basis.  This will result in a situation where the occupation forces will be increasingly confined to their barracks. And since their supplies and the re-enforcement they receive will first dwindle, then completely cut off, the Ethiopian occupation forces will be between rock and hard place:  If they remain in their barracks, they will starve; and if they venture out of their basis they will be mowed down!  We are not there yet, but that is exactly where we are heading.

On the other hand, because they control the supply-lines, and the people of Mogadishu are fully behind them, the initiative will be solely in the hands of resistance fighters, who will attack the enemy when they want, and starve them when they want!  And because they are in their land and among their people, time is on the side of the resistance.  That is, the resistance fighters can wait as long as they need, whereas the Ethiopian forces in
Mogadishu will simply remain sitting ducks.   When the supplies of the Tigrayan forces sufficiently dwindle, the resistance fighters will most likely give an ultimatum to the largest Ethiopian base in Mogadishu to surrender by a certain date, or risk to be overrun!  Either way, the Ethiopian forces in that base will crumble, and every other Tigrayan base in Mogadishu will very likely surrender without firing one shot!  Thus the crushing defeat of the Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu will conclude the sad story of the Ethiopian venture, and mark it as one of the most horrific modern defeats of the Abyssinian Empire.

When the Ethiopian forces are annihilated in Mogadishu, the ramifications will shake Addis Ababa, for indeed the battle of Mogadishu is also the battle of Addis Ababa!  Thus when his forces are crushed in Mogadishu, Males Zenawi will be either killed or overthrown by one his Tigrayan associates or rivals.  And if the cracks are too deep in the body of the long declining Ethiopia, the whole edifice of the Abyssinian empire may just collapse! That means, a defeat in Mogadishu means that Mr. Zenawi will be gone!  The Tigrayan regime will collapse, and Ethiopia could be just as well!  That is why, for Mr. Zenawi, the option of staying in Mogadishu is, in reality, no option at all:  it is pure self-annihilation!

Now given the two unpleasant choices, illustrated above, that are facing the Ethiopian Prime Minster, the interesting question is which option will Mr.Zenawi choose?

If history is any guide, and the tendencies and the survival instincts of dictators everywhere is anything to go by, Mr. Zenawi’s eventual and well calculated choice is not really that difficult to ascertain, rather it is
fairly predictable:  Zenawi will quit Mogadishu and run!

Certain groups and governments will try to dissuade Zenawi from leaving Mogadishu, but he will pay no attention to any of those.  The Americans will urge him, cajole him, and alternately pressure him, but he will ignore them!  His Somali stooges of the TFG will beg and plead with him, but he will rebuff them!

Zenawi’s hardened attitude against staying in Mogadishu will be understandable: his own survival and the survival of his regime are at stake.  Thus if he miscalculates and allows his forces to be annihilated by the hyper ferocious Somali patriots of Mogadishu, the Bush administration and the Somali stooges of the TFG will be of little use to him!

That Zenawi will want to leave Mogadishu quickly is obvious.  But exactly when is not that clear.  Here, the timing of the evacuation is where Mr. Zenawi can make an unintended miscalculation!  If he decides to evacuate his forces, but misjudges the gravity of the situation and over stays few more weeks than necessary, the evacuation window that is now open to him may completely close in the face of his forces!

What do I mean by the closure of the evacuation window?

I mean the resistance groups who are very strong at the moment, who will get stronger day after day, may decide, not only to cut off the supply-lines and re-enforcement lines to the Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu, but they may also decide to cut off the ESCAPE routes to the Ethiopian forces in and around Mogadishu!  Thus, the closure of the escape-routes combined with the closure of the supply-lines and re-enforcement lines will be the biggest TIME-Bomb that any week may explode on Zenawi’s face!

One way that the Ethiopian Prime Minster may avoid the ambush of his forces when leaving Mogadishu is to make a deal with Mogadishu elders and the resistance leaders.  However since negotiations are the essence of politics,
and politics, as they say, is the continuation of the war by other means, Mogadishu elders and the resistance groups will make some demands of their own including, but not restricted to, to leave all heavy armaments behind, and also release all the Somali prisoners that the Ethiopian forces kidnapped when they invaded the country, including all of the UIC prisoners and the prisoners transferred to Ethiopia by the Kenyan regime.

Mr. Zenawi and his generals may scoff at these demands, but then it will be up to Zenawi and his generals to solve the following riddle:

How can the Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu survive without supplies and re-enforcements reaching them?   And how can these Ethiopian forces leave Mogadishu while their escape routes are mined and cut off?

Indulging in premature triumphalism??  Well, just count the days, and watch Zenawi’s desperate moves!

Post Script:

The resistance leaders and the elders’ council need to elevate their informational offensive geared toward Somali soldiers who found themselves in the unfortunate position of fighting alongside their country’s and their
people’s worst enemy, the  Tigrayan forces.  Almost all of these Somali soldiers, it should be remembered,  regardless of which region they originated from or which clan they may belong to, enlisted in the service
NOT to fight in Mogadishu and die alongside Ethiopian soldiers, but primarily for employment and economic reasons!

Therefore, given the opportunity, every Somali soldier fighting alongside the enemy would have jumped to any opportunity if, in some miraculous way, he could be whisked out of the death-trap that he is in, and dropped off in the safety of his home town.

The resistance leaders and the elders’ council should give that opportunity to those trapped Somali soldiers, and should publicly convey to them that every Somali soldier who deserts the enemy will be welcomed with open arms. Moreover the elders’ council should guarantee that each and every one of those Somali soldiers will be safely returned to their home towns, with travel expenses paid in full!  The fact the elders’ council, just few days ago, safely returned some Somali prisoners to their relatives solidifies the credibility of the elders’ message.

This is a powerful and life-saving message and every sane Somali soldier alongside the Ethiopians will most likely jump on it.  It goes without saying that such appeal should be publicized as wide as possible using all
the means available.

It is also critical that the resistance leaders and elders’ council should and must ensure that the prisoners of the war, regardless of whether they are Ethiopians or Somalis, be treated humanely.  Treating prisoners with
respect and humanely is not only an Islamic conduct, but it is also a winning strategy.  As vicious as the war, the word still gets around between the fighting forces.  And if the Ethiopian soldiers, many of whom being poor Muslims forced to fight this war, become convinced if they surrender they will be tortured and killed a painful death, they will fight ferociously until they use their last shot!  If however they become aware that prisoners (both Ethiopians and Somalis) are treated well by the resistance fighters and by the elders, they would opt to surrender rather than fight bitched battles, because if they continue fighting they may die in the fight.  But if they surrender, they will definitely safe their lives!  That is why treating prisoners humanely is a winning strategy.

In the heat of the battle and in the most difficult circumstances, never underestimate the power of compassion and kindness!

Mohamed Heebaan
E-mail: [email protected]

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