Somalia: Jihadists, regime eye big pushes
Mogadishu, Somalia (UPI) Feb 15, 2011
As Somalia enters its 21st year of war, the U.S.-backed transitional government has doled out long-overdue back pay to its troops and says it's preparing a big offensive against Islamist al-Shahaab rebels who hold most of the lawless country.
But the insurgents, who are linked to al-Qaida, were joined by longtime rivals of the Hizb-ul Islami militia in November and look like they're ready to make a big push of their own against the beleaguered regime.
The TFG, installed with the aid of the U.S.-backed Ethiopian army in December 2006, controls only a tiny enclave of Mogadishu since the Islamists seized most of the ancient port city in May 2009.
It is kept going only by U.S. and European funding, largely aimed at preventing an Islamist takeover in the Horn of Africa country.
Both sides talk big as a matter of course. Both mounted major offensives in late 2010, in which al-Shabaab made some gains in Mogadishu. But neither was able to deliver a knockout blow.
Somalia hasn't had a functioning government since clan warlords united to topple dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in January 1991 and then turned on each other.
The country has been torn by perpetual clan and militia wars since, with tens of thousands killed, and in recent years has become an arena in the U.S.-led campaign against al-Qaida.
It's seems strange now, but under Barre, Somalia's military was the fourth most powerful in Africa behind South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria. But the TFG's troops are poorly trained and led and miserably demoralized, according to Western aid agencies working in Somalia.
Despite al-Shabaab's merger with Hizb-ul Islam, the insurgents are plagued with clan rivalries, internal rifts and defections so it's unlikely any new offensives will break the current stalemate. But both sides seem to building up to a showdown of sorts.
In December, the U.N. Security Council voted to increase the number of African Union peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu, known as Amisom, from 8,000 to 12,000.
Amisom, mainly made up of troops from Uganda and Burundi, is the most competent force the TFG has and, because of its firepower, is considered to be the only reason the regime hasn't been defeated.
Al-Shabaab appears to have anticipated the U.N. move by absorbing Hizb-ul Islami to counter the TFG's plans.
On Nov. 20, Prime Minister Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed vowed to drive al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu, the battered seaside capital that has borne the brunt of the conflict, in a 100-day campaign.
But the TFG's army is a motley collection of ex-militiamen and others who underwent fairly basic training in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia, paid for by U.S. and EU funds.
In January, some 8,000 government troops received salaries that hadn't been paid for months -- mainly because their commanders and officials in the corrupt regime largely funded by Western governments were pocketing the money.
The Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank that monitors global security, reported Feb. 10 that the United States spent $6.8 million to train some 2,100 Somali soldiers in Djibouti, where U.S. forces maintain a sizeable counter-terrorism base, and Uganda in 2009.
The EU spent another $6 million training 2,000 men in Somalia, it said.
Conditions with TFG forces got so bad in recent months that U.N. sources and Western aid groups said hundreds of soldiers were deserting, defecting to the insurgents or simply selling their weapons and ammunition to the other side.
Their camps as "grisly," Jamestown reported. "Some soldiers suffer from malnutrition and the wounded do not receive enough medication."
Information Minister Abdulkareem Jama said Jan. 14 the army will get another 4,000 men in the coming months to raise its strength to 12,000.
He didn't say where the troops would come from, although 1,000 Somalis are reported to be undergoing training in Uganda at this time.
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