In June 2006, an Islamist militia seized control of the capital of neighboring Somalia and established control in much of that country"s south. Ethiopia, which has clashed in the past with Somalia"s Islamists and considers them a threat to regional security, began amassing troops on Somalia"s border, in support of Somalia"s weak transitional government, led by President Abdullah. In mid-December, Ethiopia launched air strikes against the Islamists, and in a matter of days Ethiopian ground troops and Somali soldiers regained of Mogadishu. A week later most of the Islamists had been forced to flee the country. Ethiopia announced that its troops would remain in Somalia until stability was assured and a functional central government had been established. Battles between the insurgents and Somali and Ethiopian troops intensified in March, leaving 300 civilians dead in what has been called the worst fighting in 15 years. Amid a growing threat from militant Islamists, Ethiopia began withdrawing troops from Somalia in January 2009. At this point, Somalia was far from stable. Indeed, Ethiopia"s presence in Somalia sparked increased guerrilla warfare and even further weakened the transitional government. Many feared that the withdrawal, along with Somalia"s political instability, would provide Islamists an opportunity to fill the power vacuum.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi"s Ethiopian People"s Revolutionary Democratic Front won parliamentary elections by a wide margin in May 2010. The U.S. and the European Union said the vote failed to meet international standards, and the opposition refused to recognize the results. Nevertheless, parliament elected Zenawi to a fourth term.