Africa readies troops for Somalia; US funds effort

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KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — African leaders are pledging thousands of new troops for Somalia to fight al-Qaida-linked militants responsible for the twin World Cup bombings that killed 76 people, and the U.S. says it will help bankroll the military campaign.

But internal documents obtained by The Associated Press show that that African Union forces and Somali troops don’t trust one another, and that Somalia’s government “lacks consistency, coherence and coordination,” raising questions about whether more AU troops can solve the Somali impasse.

African leaders and U.S. officials called for stepped-up efforts in Somalia as an African Union summit here concluded Tuesday. The summit opened only days after the July 11 bombings in Kampala, an attack that prompted Uganda’s president to call for Africa to band together against Somalia’s militants.

Al-Shabab, Somalia’s most-feared militant group, claimed responsibility for bombing two sites where people were watching the World Cup final game on television, and said the blasts were in retaliation for civilian deaths caused by African Union troops in Mogadishu. They also have vowed to attack Burundi, the other African country that has been providing troops to the AU.

At the summit, Africa’s leaders voted to immediately dispatch 2,000 more Ugandan and Burundian troops to the African Union mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, boosting levels from 6,000 to the maximum mandate of 8,000.

The AU has commitments of 4,000 troops — 2,000 from IGAD, a bloc of East African nations, and one battalion each from both Guinea and Djibouti, AU commission chairman Jean Ping said at the summit’s closing news conference. The AU is considering a request to raise the ceiling number for the total number of troops, he said, without giving a figure for the rise.

America’s top official for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson, said that with a stronger AU force the African Union force could defeat al-Shabab, which intelligence officials say has been bolstered by foreign fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We believe that it is necessary to have more troops on the ground and we in Washington have committed ourselves to support additional troops on the ground in the same fashion that we have supported the existing Burundi and Ugandan troops,” Carson said Monday.

Since 2007, the U.S. has given training, logistical support and equipment worth more than $176 million to AMISOM, and Carson has promised additional resources to Burundian and Ugandan troops without giving a precise figure.

But an internal report written last month by military experts from IGAD, the bloc of East African nations, cast doubt on the efforts being made by AMISOM troops. The report said there is a lack of trust between AU and Somali forces, and that the effectiveness of AMISOM troops is hindered by the Somali government’s many weaknesses.

“The team found out that there is a misunderstanding and lack of trust between AMISOM and (Somali) security forces and this has caused poor coordination of tasks amongst them,” said the report, which was obtained by the AP. The report also said the Somali government’s approach to its duties “portrays a government with no clear vision.”

Despite that, African Union leaders said they are considering a plan to give the force a stronger mandate and had requested helicopters from Western donors to allow the AU troops to take offensive action against the al-Qaida-aligned insurgents. Currently the peacekeeping forces can only respond to attacks or when they see militants.

That, though, could sour relations with Somalis even more. Internal documents obtained by the AP earlier this month showed that the AU knows the civilian casualties its troops cause in battle are turning Somalis against it.

The U.S. call for more troops comes as members of Congress are taking an increasing interest in the violent Horn of Africa nation, the site of a failed early 1990s U.S. deployment that ended shortly after the military battle chronicled in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, 13 House Democrats compared the situation with al-Shabab in Somalia to the Taliban’s in Afghanistan when it allowed sanctuary for al-Qaida to plan the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“Al-Shabab-controlled territory in Somalia is becoming a safe haven for terrorists from around the world,” the 13 members said. “The United States must not sit back. … Extremists in Somalia have already made clear their intentions to harm us, and if they have not done so already, they will soon seek capabilities to carry out attacks in the United States.”

The letter said the U.S. should offer regional states “extensive financial, material and logistical support” to improve security.

Some analysts, though, said that simply sending in more troops was unlikely to solve the problem.

“The current situation in Somalia just does not call for a large peacekeeping operation,” said David Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia. “AU troops cannot police all of Somalia.”

Shinn, a professor at George Washington University and one of the coordinators of U.S. policy in Somalia in the early 1990s, said that the failure of U.S. and U.N. involvement in the country showed large-scale foreign intervention would not work. “That was not the solution then and it will not be now,” Shinn said.

Somalia’s weak transitional government welcomed the commitment of more troops but said that long-term peace in Somalia depends on building up the government’s security forces.

“We really believe strongly that if the Somali government army were given the support they need then AMISOM would only be a kind of supporting force,” Somali Foreign Minister Yusuf Hassan Ibrahim said.

The internal IGAD report, though, showed how far Somalia’s forces have to go. The Somali troops do not have a physical headquarters. Equipment and weapons held by Somali forces, including ammunition, are not accounted for.

Somali “forces are not assigned barracks or camps and are staying wherever they can get accommodation,” said the report, adding that there is “no formal and effective system of receiving and accounting for returning trainees from neighboring countries.”

In an ominous sign of what international forces in Somalia might face, the opposition group Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia warned against new troop deployment.

“The Somali people will be united to defend their country forcefully and fiercely from any foreign aggression or military occupation,” the statement said.


Associated Press Writer Malkhadir M. Muhumed reported from Nairobi, Kenya.