News / Africa

Militant al-Shabab Fighters Bear Down on Somali Capital Mogadishu

Mariama Diallo

A top United Nations official, Lynn Pascoe, the U.N. under-secretary-general for political affairs, says he is "hopeful" for Somalia, where the government is trying to fight off an offensive by Islamist militants. This comes as Uganda is offering to send more troops to the beleaguered nation if the United States provides funding.

The militant group al-Shabab in late August launched an offensive aimed at toppling Somalia's Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia know as AMISOM. Mogadishu has come under heavy shelling. More than 100 people are dead.

Uganda says it will send more troops if the United States provides more funding. The State Department has responded by saying it will continue to provide equipment, training and logistical support, and encourages other donors to step forward with additional help.

Walid Phares from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says the U.S. is already doing too much in other parts of the world. "We are now overseeing the withdrawal of troops in Iraq. We are engaged in escalation in Afghanistan. There is an issue of concern in Yemen just across from Somalia," Phares said.

But given the urgency of the present situation, Phares proposes an alternative. "Let's keep in mind that Somalia is a member of the Arab League. So we need a lot of financial support from the oil rich countries Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait…all the emirates. They have to pour in some money if they consider Somalia as a member of the Arab League," Pharea said.

Author Bronwyn Bruton, who writes regularly about the Horn of Africa and visited Somalia in April, advocates what she calls a new approach to Somalia. "The Shabab appear to be a very unified and directed organization, but, in fact, it's a very loose conglomeration of a lot kinds of people. Currently they are unified to get rid of Amisom, the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia and the TFG, the Transitional Federal Government, but without that unifying purpose, there is actually not a lot of cohesion there," Bruton said.

Bruton adds that some fears about al-Shabab are unrealistic. "These fears we have about the Shabab becoming the new Taliban in East Africa are very much overblown…. In this particular situation, it's worth asking if we didn't have this sort of artificial government in name only sitting in Mogadishu, then would the Shabab have a nationalistic reason to attack outside of the country," Bruton said.

But a spokesman for the Ugandan Army, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, says critics should not be so harsh on the TFG. "I mean, how can it be capable when it is just building from scratch? And dealing with an international terrorist group that is being funded by remnants in Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye.

Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed continues to enjoy U.N. support, but Kulayigye says the U.N. must do more. "One may ask why the U.N. appointed a permanent person for Darfur, for DRC, for Burundi, but there is no permanent person for Somalia. Isn't that a bit suspicious?," Kulayigye said.

Walid Phares from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says something drastic has to be done because of repercussions for the Horn of Africa region. "What they need to do is the crafting of political national unity even with forces they don't agree on everything with… The second stage is for the United States to be very active not just with the government but with non government organizations with popular organizations in Somalia. That's the best we can do at this time," Phares said.


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