Responding to increased violence by Islamist insurgents in Somalia – Al Qaeda's base in Africa – the United States is preparing to help Nigeria and Burundi deploy peacekeeping troops to the Somalian capital, according to the top US diplomat in Africa.
The announcement comes as international aid agencies report increased kidnappings of foreign aid workers, and warn that violence in Somalia has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the region.
Since their ouster early last year by joint Ethiopian and Somali forces, the Islamists have waged a guerilla war, which according to international rights groups and aid agencies has left at least 6,000 civilians dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.
An uninterrupted civil war has plagued Somalia since the 1991 overthrow of president Mohamed Siad Barre, defying numerous peace initiatives and truce deals.
After the Ethiopian army pulled back, 8,000 African Union peacekeepers were supposed to be deployed. But so far, only 2,600 have been sent, far less than needed, and violence has escalated sharply this year. Reuters reports that the US says it is pushing to assist troops on the ground.
A smaller contingent of 1,600 Ugandans and 600 Burundians already there has been unable to stem the chaos in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.
Last week, Nigeria said it had about 800 soldiers ready to go to Somalia as soon as the Nigerian government gave its final approval.
Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said Washington stood ready to support that deployment....
"We are procuring armoured personnel carriers for them now - with the Nigerians we are getting their equipment list from them. But of course, the United States can't bear the burden of this financially alone, so we're also reaching out to other countries."
The announcement comes weeks after Somalia's government, which has support from the US government and is backed by the Ethiopian Army, brokered a fragile peace accord with the Islamists, who are fighting for the creation of an Islamic state, some in collaboration with Al Qaeda. But many hard-liners refuse to cooperate, and the deal has fallen apart, Agence-France Presse reports.
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an influential radical cleric, has rejected the deal, which was supported by western powers, including the European Union, United States, Norway and the United Nations.
The cleric, accused of links to Al-Qaeda by the United States, argued it failed to set a clear deadline for the withdrawal from Somalia of Ethiopian troops.
Aweys and his allies stayed away from the talks, saying they would not take part unless Ethiopian troops backing government forces since late 2006 pulled out of Somalia.
According to the accord, Ethiopians would withdraw after the UN deployed peacekeepers within 120 days of the armistice taking effect.
According to an Asssociated Press report in USA Today, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Monday called the level of violence in Somalia "incredible" and warned that it is seriously hampering the aid agency's ability to work in the region.
"Since the beginning of this year, the number of incidents targeting either Somali journalists, civil servants, prominent local leaders, government officials (or) humanitarian actors ... has just increased in an incredible proportion," [Pascal Hundt, the ICRC's outgoing head of delegation for Somalia] told reporters.
In addition Somali insurgents have begun adopting tactics used in Iraq and Afghanistan — suicide attacks and roadside bombs, Hundt said.
So far this year nine aid workers have been abducted, according to a report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
A Somali employee of the U.N. refugee agency was seized June 21 outside the capital, Mogadishu.
Five people kidnapped last week alone are still being held.
Earlier this year, Medecins Sans Frontieres pulled out its foreign staff from Somalia after three of its aid workers were killed by a land mine.
As aid workers are increasingly targeted, a humanitarian crisis has spiraled out of control in Somalia, making it one of the worst in Africa, according to a Bloomberg news report.
Somalia is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in a decade due to an escalating conflict and food and water shortages caused by a severe drought and rising commodity prices, aid workers said....
The United Nations said last month that more than 2.6 million Somalis – 35 percent of the population – need food aid. Some 900,000 people have been displaced from the capital, Mogadishu, scene of some of the fiercest fighting.
The majority of displaced Somalis are living in camps with no access to medical facilities, the ICRC said.
"We're working with those council members who are not so sure about this to convince them that this is the right thing to do, and that we need to do it quickly," [Ms. Frazer] said.