World Politics Review: Somali Forces Prepare Counter-Islamist Offensive
by DAVID AXE
Forces belonging to the U.S.- and U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia have mobilized for a major offensive against Islamic militants who control much of southern and central Somalia. On Friday, a local journalist who spoke with World Politics Review reported seeing government forces, as well as peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), preparing for battle.
“In the last 24 hours, we have seen many convoys, including tanks from the AMISOM bases,” reported the journalist, who requested anonymity to protect him from Islamist reprisal. “I can see the logistics [convoys] of AMISOM troops going through the city — especially around their bases.” He added that he also saw TFG troops deploying north of Mogadishu, in areas of the city dominated by al-Shabab, an Islamic group that in recent years has aligned itself with al-Qaida, particularly the terrorist network’s Yemeni branch.
In the last year, the 5,000-strong AMISOM contingent has assumed a more active role in Somalia’s civil war. Ugandan tanks and mortars provide heavy firepower for the peacekeepers and the TFG. Exchanges of mortar and gunfire between al-Shabab and pro-government forces killed more than 250 Somali civilians in January, according to the U.N., making it the bloodiest month since August for the war-torn country.
On Jan. 26, al-Shabab attacked an AMISOM hospital in Mogadishu, killing one peacekeeper and at least four civilians. Some reports indicated the attacker was a suicide bomber. Al-Shabab began adopting al-Qaida-style suicide tactics four years ago; such bombings are now common. A suicide attack on Mogadishu’s Shamo Hotel in December killed scores of people attending a medical school graduation. Several government ministers and reporters died in the blast. Another local journalist, Mohamed Omar Hussein, was at the scene and narrowly avoided injury.
The preparations for major combat come just days after Kenyan Vice President Steven Musyoka made the rounds in Washington, warning of the growing threat from Somali Islamists. “As a result of what is going on in Afghanistan, some of these [Afghan] extremists are leaving for Somalia,” Musyoka claimed during an interview at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. “Unless the rest of world looks at Somalia as a peace challenge, it may be too late.”