How long can it be before a major newspaper splashes an exclusive on U.S. intelligence or military support for Ethiopia's offensive in Somalia?
"Officially, we haven't put anybody in Somalia," a U.S. military spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
But U.S. officials have declined to condemn the Ethiopian action, and an NSC spokesman said Ethiopia has "genuine security concerns" in Somalia. The New York Times got its hands on the U.S. State Department's internal guidance on the conflict:
Should the press focus on the role of Ethiopia inside Somalia," read a copy of the guidelines that was given to The New York Times by an American official here, "emphasize that this is a distraction from the issue of dialogue between the T.F.I.'s and Islamic courts and shift the focus back to the need for dialogue." T.F.I. is an abbreviation for the weak transitional government in Somalia.
"The press must not be allowed to make this about Ethiopia, or Ethiopia violating the territorial integrity of Somalia," the guidance said.
Senior US military officers conferred recently with Ethiopian leaders. What's more, top U.S. officials are keenly interested in several terrorism suspects thought to be in Somalia. I would be shocked if, despite official denials, a few CIA or special operations folks weren't tagging along as Ethiopian-backed forces entered Mogadishu.
UPDATE: The anti-Islamist forces have taken the Somali capital and declared themselves in charge.