Ethiopia – which has been amassing forces along the border with Somalia while secretly maintaining some inside – openly sent troops on July 20 to the town of Baidoa. This move was made not only to protect the Somali transitional government there against the advancing militias of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), but also to take a leading role in the US's ‘war on terrorism' in the "failed state". Addis Ababa denied sending troops into Baidoa, but two days later Ethiopian troops entered Somalia again, taking control of a second town, Wajid, which is 70 kilometres (about 45 miles) from Baidoa.

There seems to be no doubt that Ethiopian troops have crossed into Somalia, as both Western journalists and aid-workers in the country have confirmed it in the face of loud denials by Addis Ababa. In fact, an estimated 5,000 Ethiopian soldiers are believed to be inside Somalia, not only to protect the weak government of president Abdullahi Yusuf, himself a former warlord, but also to open "a new front in the American-led war on terror", as one British media report has put it. While denying that it has despatched any troops into its neighbour's territory, Addis Ababa has made its determination to protect the transitional government quite clear – for instance, as Berhan Hailu, the Ethiopian minister of information, did on July 19. "We have the responsibility to defend the border and the Somali government," he told Associated Press. "We will use all means at our disposal to crush the Islamist group if they attempt to attack Baidoa."

Both Washington and Addis Ababa have good reason to be worried about the growing strength of the ICU: the last Somali warlord to be left resisting the group in Mogadishu surrendered on July 11 after two days' fighting. Abdi Awale Qaybdiid fled after a large number of troops handed over their weapons. As a militiaman loyal to him said, "it has become necessary to surrender and give peace a chance." The ICU seized most of Mogadishu in June, and Qaybdiid was the only warlord to continue to hold out. His surrender means that Washington has no warlords left to wage its war on its behalf.

But it was not only Qaybdiid's militia that was ambushed by the ICU on July 9. Those loyal to Hussein Aideed, the interior minister, a deputy prime minister in the interim government, were also attacked fatally. In fact, the government is so weak that it is trapped in the small town of Baidoa and is therefore useless to the war that Washington is determined to prosecute regardless. The warlords who constitute it are hated by most Somalis for starting a civil war, along clan lines, in 1991, when president Siyad Barre was toppled, and waging it for 15 years thereafter. They are hated even more for acting as American agents and loyal allies of Ethiopia, Somalia's traditional arch-enemy.

Not surprisingly, the despatch of Ethiopian troops and the public statements by senior ministers and officials in Addis Ababa that they are determined to defend the interim government have angered Somalis even more, improving the ICU's reputation and portraying Abdullahi Yusuf and his ministers in Baidoa as agents of the US and Ethiopia. He is certainly their candidate for the presidency of a future secular government in Somalia, and is known to visit Ethiopia regularly; he is also known to have stayed there for a long period in the past.

Clearly, both Washington and Addis Ababa are totally opposed to the establishment of an Islamic government in Somalia or any part of it. The Christian rulers of Ethiopia and the US government, which under Bush is strongly influenced by the Christian right in the US, are prepared to go to any lengths to prevent an Islamic group from gaining power in Somalia. The Ethiopians fear that such a group would unite the Somalis and might even influence those in the Ethiopian region of the Ogaden to resume their struggle to join their brethren in Somalia. The Bush administration has put Somalia at the centre of its war on terrorism, arguing that al-Qa‘ida has established a base there: a claim that is dismissed as utter nonsense by Somalis and even by Western journalists visiting the region.

In these circumstances, both Washington and Addis Ababa are ready to use military force, as indeed they have done in the past. Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia in 1993 and 1996 to crush "Islamic militants" who were said to be planning to establish an Islamic regime. Both have been engaged – and continue to be – in a lot of military cooperation, and in fact carry out joint exercises along the Ethiopian-Somali border, tracking ‘suspected terrorists'. The US is able to take part in the military exercises because it has a strong military and intelligence presence in neighbouring Djibouti, a former French colony whose population is totally Somali.

To give credibility to its cooperation with Ethiopia and its military and political blackmail of Somalia, Washington claims that Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of ICU, is a terrorist and keeps him on America's list of most-wanted terrorists; other senior members are wanted by the US for involvement in the bombing in 1998 of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

That the claim by Washington and Addis Ababa that Somalia is in the grip of terrorists is false is plain enough, as is the presence of Ethiopian troops there despite the denial by Ethiopian leaders. Yet neither the so-called international community nor the United Nations have condemned the military invasion of a "failed state", which has now no chance of recovery because of the invasion. One explanation for this silence is that the US, not Ethiopia, is in charge of the aggression and has brought pressure to bear on the ‘international community', including the UN and its Arab allies, to keep them silent. If Washington is able to exert pressure on them to be silent in the face of Israel's invasion of Lebanon and Palestine, it can do so even more easily in the case of the invasion of Somalia.