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E. African Nations Back Kenyan Offensive in Somalia

African Union peacekeepers are seen in the Deynile district of the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, October 20, 2011.

African Union peacekeepers are seen in the Deynile district of the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, October 20, 2011.

The six-nation east African regional group the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has pledged full support for Kenya's military offensive against al-Qaeda linked militants in southern Somalia. Other countries in the region are considering joining the effort as the militants appear to be losing their grip on the famine-stricken Somali countryside.

IGAD held an extraordinary ministerial level meeting Friday, five days after Kenya launched an offensive against al-Shabab. More than two battalions of Kenyan troops backed by air power streamed into southern Somalia after Shabab rebels were blamed for a series of kidnappings of foreign tourists and aid workers.

A communiqué issued after the brief meeting in the Ethiopian capital welcomes Kenya's move to scale up security operations.

Amid reports that Kenyan troops are advancing on the strategic rebel held port of Kismayo, Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula appealed for international support for ending al-Shabab's stranglehold on Somalia.

"We as a region have called upon the international community to support implementation of previous decisions to impose no fly zones in al-Shabab dominated areas and a blockade of the port of Kismayo," said Wetangula.

Wetangula declined to speculate on how long it might take to subdue al-Shabab. Reminded that Ethiopia had sent troops to Somalia in 2006 in a failed attempt to dislodge the rebels, the minister suggested Kenyan troops would stay as long as it takes to get the job done.

"Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, IGAD countries want peace yesterday," added Wetangula. "Not even today, so whatever timeline we are looking at is a question of an emergency. We must get rid of this problem as quickly as is practically possible so people can concentrate on human development activities and economic activities. The sooner the better."

Ethiopia's deputy prime minister and foreign minister Hailemariam Dessalegn said his country is considering joining the military campaign. He said it was "high time" for a regional response to al-Shabab's provocations.

"The long term goal is to eradicate al Shabab from Somalia and this is the proper time and the process shows al-Shabab is coming to an end," said Hailemariam.

Somalia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hamid Ali Masheye reported that government troops backed by African Union AMISOM peacekeepers have been making steady progress in driving the last of al-Shabab remnants out of the capital, Mogadishu. The rebels retreated last month after controlling most of the city for three years.

Masheye said a furious offensive Thursday had succeeded in clearing the last al-Shabab held neighborhood in the capital.

"They are now being defeated in Mogadishu," noted Masheye. "The Somali National army, getting support from AMISOM, is driving them from Mogadishu. Last night there was a big fight in Mogadishu, and the Somali National Army and AMISOM troops drove them out of their last stronghold in Mogadishu."

Masheye and others confirmed that 10 AMISOM fighters had been killed in the latest clashes. They ridiculed as propaganda rebel claims that 70 peacekeepers had died.

Uganda and Burundi have approximately 9,000 troops serving in the AMISOM force. AU officials are working on plans to increase the number of peacekeepers to 12,000 by the end of the year.