Saturday, November 15, 2008

A war deadlier than the war in Iraq is about to end

Just two days ago I wrote about the imminent demise of the US- and Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia at the hands of Islamist rebel forces, but the post sort of rambled and didn't explain very well the significance of the event. The Somali Mogadishu politicians are squabbling over cabinet positions while rebels are "within a few kilometers of the city," playing Nero while Rome burns, and a little-known, but very bloody chapter in the war on terror is about to come to a close.

While no American troops were involved, money and training were provided by the US to Ethiopia in order to fight the recently-established Islamists in Somalia, and the public blessing of Ethiopia's mission by the State Department probably didn't hurt. The Bush administration viewed it as another front on the global war on terror, and took advantage of Ethiopia's presence in Somalia during the war to attack al-Qaeda leaders by air and ground.

The American financial obligation of $20 million might have paled in comparison to the trillions spent in Iraq, the rate of civilian deaths has been much higher. In total, about 10,000 civilians have been killed since Ethiopia invaded a little over two years ago and 1.9 million displaced, among a population of less than 4 million (60% of Somalia's 10 million official inhabitants live in breakaway unrecognized states that weren't threatened by the Ethiopian invasion). This compares to 100,000 civilians dead in Iraq since early 2003 and 4.7 million displaced among a population of 23 million (I excluded the 7 million Iraqis who live in Kurdistan, which the war has barely touched in terms of civilian deaths). In Afghanistan, there have been about 7,000 direct civilian deaths in seven years among a population of 32 million. That means that the per capita civilian death rate of the war in Somalia is higher than that of the Iraq war by about a third, and it beats out the Afghan war by at least an order of magnitude. And if what will be the sixth battle for Mogadishu is drawn out and deadly, this ratio could rise.

Like what is bound to happen in Afghanistan and Iraq, the proxy invasion of Somalia will have been an abject failure. The same Islamists that the Ethiopians chased out two years ago will be returning to power, but this time bringing along with them another possible civil war among the different Islamic factions to be fought before one of them emerges on top.

Update: The death toll appears to have surpassed 16,000 according to another report.


Richard Kulisz said...

100k civilians dead in Iraq over the last 5 years? That's fucking retarded. Last I heard, the rate of casualties was 100k EACH year.

Raționalitate said...

I'm using the most conservative and narrowly-definted estimate (, since I could only find a survey of Somali deaths that was similarly narrow. If you include deaths of civilians for reasons that themselves were spawned by the wars, then both numbers are going to be much larger, but these numbers are harder to come up with accurately.