New Somalia government offensive against Al Shabab
The weak, transitional Somalia government may finally bring President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed some badly needed legitimacy if newly trained forces can push back the militant Islamist group, Al Shabab.
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The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), backed by some 4,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops, has largely kept the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia alive over the past two years, since the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in December 2008. Training up a Somali army that can defend its territory makes sense, yet a long-standing UN arms embargo against Somalia makes that difficult. And Al Shabab’s increasing use of terrorist methods is making the international mission more costly in lives.Skip to next paragraph
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Diplomats in Kenya privately confirm the East African country has come under pressure to step up its support for the Sharif government, training 2,500 Somali troops. Kenya has also increased its armored patrols along the porous border with Somalia. But officially, Kenya denies reports that it has trained Somali troops. “That report is not true and should not be taken seriously,” Kenyan Internal Security Assistant Minister Orwa Ojodeh told the Daily Nation newspaper in Nairobi.
Fighting over the past month has led some human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, to condemn the reported training and arming of government troops. “International concern for the future of the Somali government has not been matched by an equal concern for the human rights of civilians,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International Deputy Director for Africa, in late January.
Naming Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Uganda as training sites for Somali police and military, and the European Union, France, Germany and Italy as providers of that training, Ms. Kagari added: “Mortar attacks continue to claim lives – it is time for international donors to apply tighter controls to their support for the government.”
Frequent artillery battles, between Shabab and government forces, take a deadly toll on civilians. Yet Shabab has reportedly begun withdrawing arms and troops from a few of its strongholds, including Mogadishu’s main Bakara Market, a sign that the militia takes the current offensive seriously.
Fighting now serves two purposes: to give the government some breathing room in Mogadishu, where it currently controls the airport, seaport, and just a few blocks around the presidential palace; and it helps establish enough credibility to encourage moderates within Shabab and another allied Islamist militia, Hizbul Islam, to come to the negotiation table.
“We do feel that the solution has to be a political one, not a military one,” says Mr. Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group.