RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This week's events in Somalia have once again and for the moment transformed its political fortunes. For 15 years, Somalia was at the mercy of vicious warlords who prevented the U.N.-backed transitional government set-up two years ago from even entering the capital, Mogadishu. Then in June, strict Islamists drove the warlords from power. The Islamists brought peace and order, but in turn soon imposed harsh Taliban-like rule.
Now the Islamists are on the run, allowing Somalia's official government to finally enter Mogadishu. Its first order of business is to impose martial law and resume humanitarian flights into the city.
To put this in perspective we're joined now by Mike Pflanz, he is East Africa correspondent for London's Daily Telegraph. Hello.
Mr. MIKE PFLANZ (East Africa Correspondent, Daily Telegraph): Hi. Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Give us just the briefest history of why Ethiopia sent in troops to back Somalia's government in exile after, you know, it's been there for a couple of years.
Mr. PFLANZ: The Ethiopians are essentially concerned about the rise of the Islamists in Mogadishu. The Islamist had made the aim of introducing a very strict Islamic-style law to the areas that they control of Somalia. Ethiopia, right next door, it's a region's next to Somalia are massively Muslim, and it's a 50-50 Christian-Muslim country in Ethiopia. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi is very keen to try keep those radicals who had taken control in most of Somalia out of his own country.
MONTAGNE: Let's put the geography in perspective. Somalia is in Africa, of course, but it is just across the water from Yemen and the Middle East.
Mr. PFLANZ: Exactly, yes. I mean it's impossible to overstate how close the Horn of Africa is to the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, these countries are less than a day's boat ride across the Red Sea, across the Strait of Adan(ph) from Somalia. You could get on a boat in Yemen, which is one of the forces which has been supporting the Islamists in Mogadishu. You can get on a boat -you can be in Somalia within a day. You can be in Mogadishu, which is further down the coast within two days.
It's a very un-policed coastline. There's very little authority that can stop people who are trying to come across from Arabia into Somalia. It is very, very close.
MONTAGNE: And as the Islamist leaders fled Mogadishu, at least one said it's not over, compared it to Baghdad. Could they mount a strong guerilla campaign given their physical position there?
Mr. PFLANZ: The question very much, Renee, is whether there's any fight left in the Islamists as a military force. They've been roundly beaten by the Ethiopian superior firepower. The majority of the fighters who had said that they were loyal to the Islamists have thrown off their uniforms, disappeared off into the bush. However, 3,000 hard-line loyalists, who could easily be described as fundamentalists, have headed south to a town just over the border from Kenya.
Now these people could very easily regroup and form some kind of guerilla fighting force, perhaps be rearmed over the water from Arabia. We could be facing a very serious problem.
MONTAGNE: You were just north of Mogadishu last week, what did you see there?
Mr. PFLANZ: At the time that I was in Somalia, the town where I was staying and reporting from was still under control of the Islamists. One thing that should be stated about the Islamic Courts Union, they did bring for the first time in 15 years a level of law, security, order and some development to areas such as where I was last week. So a high level of uncertainty and initial hope that the place would finally become more peaceful and secure disappearing and a lot of concern that the Ethiopians would bring the instability and war that the country had seen before back again.
MONTAGNE: Just finally, the West has done little to stop wars and massive killing elsewhere in Africa, Darfur, the Congo. Quite simply, what is at stake in Somalia for the West?
Mr. PFLANZ: Somalia itself is not as unified as it was in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The problem is that you can have certain elements from outside Somalia, from outside Africa, and we're talking of al-Qaida here, who can come into Somalia, a massively un-policed state, there's no central authority at all, and they can begin to set up the kind of terror training camps that we saw in Afghanistan. And that is the problem.
That can be exported across the Horn of Africa. We could be facing a third front in the West's war on terror. That's why Ethiopia and Washington have been so keen to make sure it never does start.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. PFLANZ: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Mike Pflanz is East Africa correspondent for London's Daily Telegraph newspaper. He also writes for the Christian Science Monitor. He spoke to us this morning from Zanzabar.
And now a quick correction. On Monday, NPR incorrectly identified the weak U.N.-backed transitional government in Somalia as Christian-led. We were wrong. Somalia is a predominantly Muslim nation.
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