Beating the Better Mousetrap, Part 1

In the world of landmines versus people, landmines are the mousetraps and we’re the mice.  Technologically, most landmines are pretty basic items.  A physical trigger sets off an explosive charge of varying size which propels shrapnel into the victim.  Some landmines have additional items, like ball bearings, in the casing to make them more destructive.  The casing itself may be made of plastic or metal, but most landmines have a minimal metal content to ensure they can be found using commercially-available metal detectors.  The design of landmines hasn’t changed much in decades, but as mice, we humans want alternative means of overcoming their threat.

In the last few weeks, I have seen a number of new technologies announced to find landmines in the field.  They all have some merit, however, I can’t help feeling that they are more gimmicks than anything else and as gimmicks, they get some headlines, but don’t actually get the job done.

The original gimmicky method of landmine detection is probably the only one that really works, rats, and they work precisely because the rats are used in the same way that dogs are.  For decades, dogs have been used to sniff out explosives in minefields (as well as food in customs halls, truffles in the woods, foxes in the fields, etc.).  Dogs are trainable and have the ready presence of their handlers to monitor and respond to behavior.  Norwegian Peoples Aid and the Marshall Legacy Institute use dogs for mine detection and recently, mine detection dogs have been introduced to Angola.  Coincidentally, APOPO’s Hero Rats have also recently been introduced to Angola to search minefields.  APOPO, a Belgian organization has been training and using Giant African Pouched Rats in Mozambique to find landmines with a strong record of success (hence the opportunity to expand into Angola).  APOPO’s founder, Bart Weetjens, has a very popular TED Talk in which he explains how he started the organization and realized that rats could be used to find landmines and detect tuberculosis.  Weetjens argues that rats are ideally suited to the work because they have exceptional senses of smell, they are trainable, they are very cheap to maintain, and, unlike dogs, do not want to please their handlers, so they are focused solely on the tangible reward of treats and not affection.  But again, the point I would make is the gimmick in this mine detection method is the use of rats over dogs, otherwise the protocols are very similar.  It is when the methods of detection and the tools to find them diverge that I have issues.

When reviewing a new technology and judging whether it is effective or a gimmick, ask yourself this: Would you feel comfortable playing soccer on a field declared clear using any of the following methods?  If yes, then it’s either reliable or you are very brave.  If no, then something in the set-up is wrong.  A few of the very gimmicky mine detection schemes are:

  • Bees: The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) commissioned research on the “Stealth Insect Sensor Project” in 2004, but decided that “Bees are not reliable enough for military tactical use.”  However, the initial research suggested that bees could be used to locate explosive compounds at very low concentrations.  Using very small radio transmitters to track the bees location, one could identify likely sites of landmines by placing a hive within three kilometers of a minefield.  The thought is that bees would work like dogs without the handlers.  They would be cheap and easy to disperse.  The problem is that bees are not perfectly trainable.  There is no guarantee that the bees would not find something else within the three kilometer radius of the hive that is more appealing than a landmine, like a flower.  And there is still the case that another means would be needed to verify any possible landmine discovered by a bee and there is no way to ensure that the bees have absolutely surveyed the entire area within the radius of the hive (KSL.com).  In short, it’s a gimmick and not one that is reliable enough for me to test.
  • MouSensors: I think a good sign that a mine detection system is a gimmick is when it comes with a cute name like “MouSensor.”  MouSensors are genetically modified mice that are designed to be “500 times more sensitive than normal [mice] to the smell of TNT.”  MouSensors “are so sensitive to TNT that encountering the molecule is likely to change their behavior involuntarily” so little or no special training would be necessary.  Basically, MouSensors freak out at the merest scent of landmines and by attaching a location chip to the MouSensors, handlers would just monitor the mice on a computer screen and record the location of the seizure.   Yes, scientists at Hunter College in New York City have built mice that go into fits when they landmines (io9.com).  If PETA were to find out about this, it would probably also go into seizures.  Like the bees, all locations identified by the MouSensors would need to be verified and cleared; unlike the bees, housing and storing the MouSensors is not addressed and how the demining teams would get the mice to return home predictably is an open question.  Very gimmicky, but no more so than bees.
  • Nano Fiber Film: Staying within the academic community and just a short train ride from Hunter College, researchers at the University of Connecticut have developed a “fluorescent nanofiberous film” that can detect trace amounts of explosive vapors released by landmines and is activated by ultraviolet light.  The film can also be configured as a small paper test strip to spot check areas.  Awesome, it’s CSI Landmine.  But here is the hitch: to use the film to find landmines, “the nanofilm could be rolled out over a piece of land like a giant roll of paper towels.”  So to sample a field, one would need enough film to cover the entire field and then either wait for dark to expose it the UV light or use a specially-equipped camera.  Yes, it would work, but it’s a little complicated and the need to completely cover a field with the film to ensure it is clear of landmines feels a little off.  The process is undergoing a large-scale field test in Sweden and it may have some merit, but let’s see how the test goes (Discovery News).  Also, who would want to be the person who has to roll out the film over the minefield.  Less gimmicky than bees or MouSensors but still impractical.
  • Drones: Quantum International Corporation won’t call them drones, but says it wants to develop “autonomous, robotic vehicles” that will use spectral analysis to find landmines.  In theory, the drones may also be able to clear the mines that they find, making this a distinct improvement over the other methods described above which only find the mines.  The drones could be programmed to search in a more systematic manner than bees or mice ever could, but there is a significant problem: cost.  Quantum International Corporation is getting into the robot demining business to “improve… our company’s shareholder value” and “estimate the market value for this technology to be in the billions” of dollars (Robotics Tomorrow).  Who is going to pay those billions of dollars?  Humanitarian demining is already under-funded and the additional competition from drones – which do not have the best reputation within the humanitarian disarmament community at the moment – will be unwelcome.  Demining isn’t an area one gets into to make money and so while this is much less gimmicky than the others, I’m very skeptical about how likely it is to move forward as proposed.
  • Mine Kafon: Okay, I admit, this looks cool:

But will it work?  The Mine Kafon was designed by an Afghan-born designer and is wind-propelled.  Like the mice and the bees, it won’t work systematically; like the drones it has the capacity to destroy the mines as it goes; but unlike any of those, it can’t work in rough terrain or in wooded areas.  It’s based on toys the designer, Massoud Hassani, made as a child and probably should stay that way (CNET.com)

In 1996 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Program in Science and Technology for International Security “drew together a disparate group of participants, including a field worker from Laos with many years of demining experience; researchers with expertise in physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, material science, and anthropology; several people working on high-tech mine-detection schemes; and three experts on demining” to review the technologies and methodologies available for demining and concluded “the use of a metal detector, hand-held probe, and explosive charge is generally accepted as the most reliable demining method despite its laborious and perilous nature.”  The researchers predicted the development of chemical sensors like the nanofilm above and the spectral sensors like in the drones, but they supported further improvements on the slow and laborious work of manual demining through use of magnetometers to assist standard metal detection, an “air knife” that uses high-pressure air to expose buried landmines and Lexfoam which can be used to detonate found mines.  Their ultimate recommendation was for the “development of autonomous, mechanized demining systems to incorporate some of the more sophisticated detection technologies” available; essentially Quantum’s drones (MIT Technology Review).  Again though, I would point out that until the reliability of new technologies is certain, the slow and steady method of manual mine detection and clearance remains the only viable and humane means.

Michael P. Moore, October 31, 2012

Advertisements

Unnecessary Risks

One of the main goals of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) was to stigmatize the use of these weapons so that even states that are not parties to the treaties would be reluctant to use them.  In Libya, when forces loyal to Gaddhafi used cluster munitions, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton referred to that use as “inhumanity” despite the fact that the United States has refused to sign the CCM (Arms Control Association).  So when Human Rights Watch published a report documenting the use of cluster munitions by the Assad regime against Syrian civilians, it was international news (Huffington Post).  I heard the report about Syria’s use of cluster munitions during a news blurb on NPR during rush hour, and the reason it was news because of the strength of the stigma.

Part of the reason I started this blog was the birth of my daughter and the realization that many, many fathers in the world would have fears for their daughters that I would never have, including a fear of landmines.  It is to one of those fathers I wish to speak to now.  Specifically to the father of this little girl, who is almost the same age as my own:

You did not need to take this photo.  We know that Assad has attacked his own people, that he has used indiscriminate weapons, that he has put children in extreme danger.

But Assad did not put that bomb in your daughter’s hands.  You did.  You have put your own child in greater danger than the dictator you wish to defame had done, and you did it deliberately.  By trying to shame Assad, you have brought greater shame upon yourself.  These photos are not necessary and expose your children to horrific harm.   You have failed in your most basic duty as a father, to protect your daughter from harm.  Do not make this mistake again.  And to every other father, learn from this.  Your responsibility is to your children.  Protect them and do not endanger them like this.

Michael P. Moore, October 20, 2012


Off Topic – Football, Oil and Invest in Africa

Frequent readers of this blog, both of you, will recall in January I wrote about how Everton Football Club received sponsorship dollars from Hanwha SolarOne, part of the Hanwha group of companies which in addition to making solar panels, also makes landmines.  As a longtime fan of Everton, I felt deeply offended that they would take money from such a company and have been without a team since (btw, Everton have won 15, lost 5 and drawn 9 since the post came out; you’re welcome, Toffees).  When the 2012-2013 English Premier League season started I looked around for a new team and have been weighing the relative merits of two candidates, Stoke City and Newcastle United.  Last weekend however, I watched a game with Sunderland who were sporting their new jersey sponsored by “Invest in Africa”:

Invest in Africa is a not-for-profit investment group founded by Tullow Oil plc, an oil exploration company with active oil projects in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire among other countries in Africa.  When the sponsorship deal was announced, the Independent, the New York Times and the Football Ramble (a Sunderland-focused blog) all wrote pieces questioning the deal and bringing up concerns about the relationship between oil and African politics.  Tullow Oil has been regularly accused of bribing Ugandan officials with payments documented in Uganda’s Parliament (All Africa) and was forced to issue  unconvincing denials in October 2011 (Wall Street Journal) and April 2012 (Wall Street Journal).  Since Uganda is the most corrupt nation in East Africa (All Africa), I’m tempted to believe that Invest in Africa’s investments include envelopes of cash.  It’s a shame because the idea of promoting investment in the developing world is a good one; probably why former British Foreign Minister (and Sunderland vice-chairman) David Miliband pushed for the deal. 

So the search for a new team continues.  If you have suggestions for the official Landmines in Africa football team, please share them.  But keep in mind that teams associated with defense industries (Everton, Bolton, Bayern Munich), oil industries (Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, PSG, Manchester City and Sunderland), Luis Suarez (Liverpool) and Manchester United do not meet the “fit and proper” test.

Michael P. Moore, October 12, 2012


The Month in Mines: September 2012, by Landmines in Africa

There is no simple narrative to tie together the mine action stories from the Continent this month.  In Angola, Somalia, the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and South Sudan, positive news was tempered by negative or less-welcome news. 

 

Angola

At one point in September, Colombia tried to lay claim to the title of country with the second-most landmine victims after Afghanistan with 10,000 reported casualties, but a report from Voice of America (VOA) re-stated the long-standing statistic of 80,000 persons injured by landmines in Angola.  VOA described the slow and pain-staking work of deminers but also the rewards of the work, highlighting how demining has opened up areas for tourism.  Work in Angola is progressing, but an additional five years have been requested to complete demining, a request that will be considered at the Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty later this year.

Despite the development opportunities created by demining, some mine action projects are having trouble finding funds.  The Angolan Red Cross, despite the patronage of Isabel Dos Santos, daughter of recently re-elected Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos and one of the richest women in Africa (Wikipedia; Louise Redvers, personal communication), requested support for its mine action activities through the Angolan Press Agency.  Blaming international donors for stopping their support of mine action programs in the wake of peace in Angola, the Angolan Red Cross will be limited to only mine risk education activities (All Africa).

 

The Sudans

The long-running dispute along the border between Sudan and South Sudan looked closer to resolution after the leaders of the two countries met and reached agreement on oil shipments and revenues.  The question of Abyei’s status (should have been resolved by a referendum that Khartoum never allowed to take place after occupying the region militarily) has been forward to international arbitration.  This agreement should help the humanitarian situation along the border which has been worsened by each sides’ arming of rebels fighting the other government and Khartoum’s bombing of rebel-held areas in South Khordofan and Blue Nile.  Landmines are also present in the region (All Africa) and deliveries of humanitarian aid have been lost due to landmine accidents (All Africa).

Demining activities have been delayed due to rains and flooding in the summer months, but with the dry season coming on, international operators have been able to pick up their activities (although some NGOs – hooray to Norwegian People’s Aid, Mines Advisory Group, SIMAS and the Danish Demining Group – continued demining throughout the summer).  Some organizations took advantage of the period to conduct mine risk education seminars and to engage in victim assistance programming for landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities.  Also of note, the development of the South Sudan National Policy for Persons with Disability is underway which will likely have significant bearing on victim assistance programming in South Sudan (UNMAS). 

 

Somalia

Politically and militarily, Somalia has made impressive gains this month.  Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a moderate from the Peace and Development Party and a longtime civil society activist, was elected President over corruption-tainted incumbent Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in a not-necessarily democratic, but internationally-recognized election.  Within days Mohamud was the target of assassination attempts but has also toured the country and met with stakeholders.  Shortly after Mohamud’s election, the Kenyan Army and AMISOM forces arrayed themselves for the final assault on Al Shabaab’s stronghold of Kismayo. 

The extent of problems in Somalia is evident not just from the assassination attempts against the new President, but also in the fact that a single deminer could have removed 60 landmines in Mogadishu over the last five years when there are hundreds of deminers active in the country (All Africa).  Landmine and IED attacks continue to harass armies allied with the Somali government with several blasts in Mogadishu (All Africa; RBC Radio), Afgoye (RBC Radio) and Beledweyne (All Africa) killing at least six people and injuring 20 more.  Casualties include civilians as well as the soldiers target by the explosions.  In Kenya, near one of the refugee camps housing hundreds of thousands of Somalis who fled the fighting and famines, two policemen were injured when they tried to respond to another blast that injured civilians.  Reports suggest the first explosion was “bait” to lure the policemen past a planted landmine (All Africa).

In preparation for defending Kismayo, Al Shabaab has been busy laying thousands of landmines in the jungles of Lower Juba.  These minefields are intended to delay and deter any advance from AMISOM and Kenyan forces.  “It will take an unforeseeable amount of time to de-mine Lower Juba because of the proliferation of landmines along the main road between the town of Afmadow, which is controlled by the joint forces and Kismayo, which is the next destination for advancing allied forces,” [Retired Somali army Lieutenant Faisal Abdinur Berey] said. “Many al-Shabaab members have maps of the landmines, which have killed many passers-by and camel herders” (Sabahi). 

 

Senegal

The International Committee of the Red Cross in West Africa published a report on the vulnerability of women and children during conflict, highlighting the impact of landmines in Senegal among other stories. The report described the recovery process and needs for one woman injured by a landmine laid by rebels in the Casamance region.  Martine’s story nicely details the full spectrum of victim assistance from emergency medical treatment to socio-economic reintegration while also providing a model of peer support and how providing assistance and emotional support to other survivors has helped Martine in her own recovery (ICRC, pdf). 

 

Libya

The clearance work in Libya in the aftermath of the revolution there has been nothing short of remarkable.  “To date the 24 mine clearance and 29 risk education teams comprising 300 personnel currently operating in Libya have destroyed 191,000 landmines and ordnance and cleared 2,650 homes and 75 schools of UXOS [unexploded ordnance]. They have also provided 153,000 Libyans with UXO risk education.”  Unfortunately, landmine and UXO contamination in Libya dates back to World War II and even though NATO has provided some information on the ordnance it used and has shared a list of unexploded ordnance, NATO “has so far refused to provide exactly where weapons struck and when they failed to function properly.”  The human toll is significant with over two hundred Libyans killed or injured by landmines and UXOs since the conflict ended (IPS News).

 

United States

The US State Department released the 11th edition of its annual report, “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” detailing the “accomplishments of the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program.”  The report reiterates the fact that the “United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction” providing $142 million in aid to 42 countries in 2011 and that over the last twenty years, US funding has “helped countries safely dispose of over 1.6 million excess small arms and light weapons, over 90,000 tons of munitions, and nearly 33,000 excess or poorly-secured man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS)” (State Department).  This is good and impressive stuff, but the United States continues to remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty and the current Administration’s review of the 2004 Landmine Policy is still ongoing after three years.  As long as the US remains outside of the Mine Ban Treaty, other countries will also do so.  The US is a leader in the movement to ban landmines, always has been.  There is no reason why it should not take the next logical step and sign and ratify the Mine Ban Treaty. 

 

Democratic Republic of Congo

In August, landmine survivor Dedeline Mibamba Kimbata became the first woman to represent the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in wheelchair racing at the Paralympics in London.  In September she applied for asylum in the United Kingdom saying “she had not benefited from money given to Congolese athletes by games officials” and “In my area, 95% of people voted against [DRC President Joseph] Kabila.”  Kimbata was part of a group of Congolese Paralympic athletes seeking asylum and photographed wearing “Stop Kabila Now” shirts.  The athletes “criticised the Congolese government on the African TV channel Ben TV since arriving in London. They claim this has meant that they are regarded as traitors.”  Their asylum application is under review (The Guardian). 

 

As Jerry Garcia once said, “Every silver lining has a touch of gray.”

 

Michael P. Moore, October 8, 2012


Battles over Beledweyne and the Ethiopian Occupation

As the final assault on the Al Shabaab stronghold of Kismayo is underway, I’d like to re-focus the attention further inland, to the town of Beledweyne.  Beledweyne is about 30 kilometers from the border with Ethiopia, is the capitol of the Hiraan district, and has been the base of operations for Ethiopia’s army after it invaded Somalia in November 2011.  Ethiopian troops seized Beledweyne from Al Shabaab on December 31, 2011 and have held it ever since. This week the new President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, visited Beledweyne as fatal floods struck the city.

 

A few important background items to keep in mind: First, there are at least four separate armies operating in Somalia allied to the internationally recognized government; they are the Somali Army, the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers (the backbone of which is formed by Ugandan and Burundian soldiers with some Sierra Leonean and Djiboutian soldiers mixed in), the Kenyan Defence Force (officially part of the AMISOM force, but operating fairly independently it seems) and the Ethiopian army.  There are several clan-based militias that are allied with these forces, but the command and control structures are not very clear.  In theory, the Somali army and two wings of the AMISOM force (one under Ugandan control and focused on security in Mogadishu and central Somalia, the other under Kenyan control and focused on southern Somalia) are allied and operating under United Nations and African Union mandates.  The Ethiopian army has refused to “re-hat” and join the AMISOM command structure.

Second, Ethiopia invaded and occupied large portions of Somalia from 2006 to 2009.  Ethiopia’s goal was to displace the Islamic Courts Union from control in Somalia and return power to the United Nation’s-backed Transitional Federal Government which controlled only small portions of Baidoa at the time of Ethiopia’s invasion.  Ethiopia was very successful in driving out the Islamic Courts Union, but its occupation of Somalia created tremendous ill will within the populace, ill will that gave rise to a guerrilla war against the Ethiopians and led to the rise of the Al Shabaab militia.  Al Shabaab’s opposition to the Ethiopians made it very popular at first and when the Ethiopians withdrew under pressure from the insurgents, Al Shabaab was given a free hand to act in Somalia.  Until Kenya and Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2011, Al Shabaab controlled all of Somalia except for the couple square miles of Mogadishu protected by AMISOM forces. 

Third, Eritrea, Ethiopia’s neighbor and former ally, has been accused of providing logistical, financial and material support to Al Shabaab, and before Al Shabaab to the Islamic Courts Union.  Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a vicious border war in 1998 and have routinely engaged in brinksmanship over a contested piece of blighted and deserted land.  For over a decade, Eritrea has been subject to brutal economic and political sanctions and rather than engage Ethiopia in direct conflict, Eritrea has sought to support various militias that are arrayed against the Ethiopian government, including some active within Ethiopia’s borders.  This support has led to the impression that Ethiopia and Eritrea are fighting a proxy war in Somalia. 

Fourth (and somewhat linked to the third point), southern Ethiopia is primarily made of up of ethnic Somalis.  When the border was drawn, it split the Somali population along both sides of the border and the demarcation of that border led to a war between Somalia and Ethiopia in the 1970s. Ethiopia has been wracked by conflicts organized along ethnic lines and Ethiopia’s desire for political stability in Somalia is tied to its own internal interests. A lawless Somalia allows a safe space for rebels against the Ethiopian government to organize and train; however, it also creates the perception among Ethiopian soldiers (especially those with memories of the last invasion), that all Somalis are enemies or providing comfort and refuge to enemies. 

So, background out of the way…

 

Since the Ethiopian takeover of Beledweyne, there have been numerous attacks against Ethiopian and civilian targets.  These attacks have primarily used landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and those are what I have been tracking. In press reports, the explosives used have been described as “roadside bombs,” “remote-controlled landmines,” “IEDs” and “landmines.”  I have not bothered to try and distinguish between them, only to compile a list of such events:

Table 1: Insurgent attacks using Explosives against hard and soft targets in Beledweyne

Date of Story Target Type of Attack Casualties Source
Sept 26, 2012 Ethiopian Military Convoy Landmine 1 dead http://allafrica.com/stories/201209261409.html
Sept 8, 2012 Somali troops IEDs Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201209080523.html
July 17, 2012 Ethiopian & Somali troops Roadside Bombs Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201207180090.html
July 8, 2012 Somali troops Guns, RPGs 3 killed, unknown wounded http://allafrica.com/stories/201207090135.html
June 28, 2012 Ethiopian & Somali troops Roadside Bomb Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201206290029.html
June 14, 2012 Ethiopian Military Convoy Roadside Bomb Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201206140566.html
May 14, 2012 Ethiopian Military Convoy Landmine Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201205141167.html
April 23, 2012 Ethiopian Military Convoy Roadside Bomb 2 Killed http://allafrica.com/stories/201204231397.html
March 8, 2012 Ethiopian Military Convoy Landmines Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201203080218.html
Feb 21, 2012 Ethiopian troops Landmine Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201202210269.html
Feb 5, 2012 Ethiopian troops Guns and RPGs Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201202050021.html
Jan 24, 2012 Gov’t HQ and Ethiopian soldiers Vehicle-borne suicide bomb 33 killed http://allafrica.com/stories/201201250865.html
Jan 19, 2012 Ethiopian troops Landmine Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201201191316.html
Jan 17, 2012 Ethiopian tanks Landmines None http://allafrica.com/stories/201201170244.html
Jan 6, 2012 Ethiopian troops Roadside Bomb Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201201061131.html
Jan 5, 2012 Military convoy Grenade Unknown http://allafrica.com/stories/201201061055.html

 

Al Shabaab promised to engage in an insurgency campaign after withdrawing from Beledweyne (All Africa); similar promises were made after Al Shabaab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu and can be expected if Kismayo falls.  In Beledweyne, the insurgency campaign, highlighted by the explosive attacks listed above and several targeted assassinations not listed, has sparked brutal reprisals from the occupying Ethiopian soldiers.

In March, Human Rights Watch reported that Ethiopian troops and their allied militia, the Shabelle Valley State group, committed summary executions in response to insurgent attacks.  Human Rights Watch also accused Ethiopian troops of arbitrary detention and beatings of those detained.  A representative of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the State Minister for Internal Affairs Dr. Ali Hassan, denied the charges saying, “human rights violations involving TFG authorities on the ground in those regions has not occurred” (All Africa).  Of course, since the Ethiopian troops are not part of the TFG and the militias are not under any formal command mechanism, Dr. Hassan was sort of telling the truth, if one parses his statement.  But even beyond the reports compiled by Human Rights Watch, the dispatches compiled above provide a more chilling document.  Human Rights Watch did not accuse the Ethiopian troops of killing civilians, but there is compelling evidence that Ethiopian soldiers in Beledweyne have fired indiscriminately into crowds after explosive attacks:

September 26, 2012: One innocent passerby was killed instantly and one other was also seriously injured in an indiscriminate fire by Ethiopian troops. (All Africa)

July 18, 2012: Witnesses said Ethiopian troops have killed at least 10 innocent civilians, including women and children and wounded 9 others, some of them seriously, after opening fire indiscriminately on crowd near the bomb site at a village in eastern Beledweyne town on Wednesday. (All Africa)

July 17, 2012: [L]ocal sources on the ground in Beledweyne say that the [Ethiopian] troops fired indiscriminately after the attacks and that there is a possibility of civilian casualties. (All Africa)

June 28, 2012: Following the attack which was used a remote-controlled {land] mine, Somali and Ethiopian forces opened fire at nearby civilians, but no deaths reported so far. (All Africa)

May 14, 2012: I don’t know the exact number of casualties, but Ethiopian soldiers shot dead two civilians following the blast. (All Africa)

April 23, 2012: According to local sources in Beledweyne Ethiopian troops killed another 3 civilians who were near the site of the explosion. The three men were gunned down following the blast, one was chased down and killed just as he approached his house.

Two other men living in the neighborhood were also executed. “Two men were gunned down in the neighborhood of Baladul Amin, the two of the men were taken out of their homes and executed.” (All Africa)

January 24, 2012: Ethiopian soldiers have separately killed on Tuesday afternoon three persons, including teenagers and a well-known businessman, whom they blamed to have links with Al-shabab militants. (All Africa)

January 19, 2012: Witnesses indicated that the blast did cause any casualty but fire shots by Ethiopians claimed the death of two nearby civilians and five others who have been rushed to the hospitals in the town of Beldweyn for treatment. (All Africa)

These killings have taken place as the Ethiopian government and AMISOM have made repeated promises to withdraw Ethiopian troops and replace them with peacekeepers.  This promise was first made in January 2012 (All Africa) and reiterated in April (All Africa), but the first peacekeepers did not arrive until June (All Africa).  In recent days, after the death of longtime Ethiopian leader, Meles Zenawi, the new Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said “Ethiopia would reinforce the support it has been providing to Somalia in its effort to be a peaceful and stable country,” while the Somali prime minister requested “Hailemariam to continue the full support of Ethiopia to Somalia,” suggesting that Ethiopian troops will remain in Somalia for some time to come (ERTA TV). 

As long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia, they will be targets for insurgent and explosive attacks and the Ethiopian troops have demonstrated a callous disregard to the Somalis living in areas they have occupied.

Michael P. Moore, October 3, 2012