Uganda wants peacekeepers to take on al-Shabaab, Obama pledges help

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Uganda wants new rules of engagement allowing its peacekeeping troops in Somalia to go on the offensive against Islamist rebels who claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in Kampala last weekend. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama says his country “will redouble our efforts, working with Uganda, working with the African Union, to make sure that organisations like this are not able to kill Africans with impunity.”

The coordinated explosions killed up to 76 people watching the World Cup final after al-Shabaab insurgents threatened to strike Uganda for its contribution to the 6100-strong African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) deployed in Somalia.

Against a backdrop of threats of more attacks by al Shabaab, President Yoweri Museveni said he wanted AMISOM troops to be permitted to take on the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents and prevent more attacks in the region. Museveni also said Uganda would tighten its internal security to keep out foreigners intent on further attacks.

The Ugandan government yesterday added the discovery of a second unexploded device in Kampala is proof that the al-Shabaab group is refusing to let up in their campaign. Eyewitness News reports this “presents a security nightmare for the African leaders who are due to arrive in the country next week.” Uganda has laid on world class facilities for African Union (AU) Summit at Muyonyo on the banks of Lake Victoria.
“The security men have already moved in, sifting through every bag that comes onto the premises, days before the AU ambassadors arrive and more than a week before heads of state are due. Adding to the complications, some international non-governmental organisations have banned some staff from visiting Uganda following the bombing,” the radio news service said.

Reuters continues Museveni says the Ugandan peacekeepers are part of the African Union mission to guard the port, airport and state house. “We are now going to go on the offensive and get these people,” he told a news conference on Wednesday night. Asked if that approach would require a change of mandate for the force, Museveni said, “It will have to be peace enforcement to bring a solution to Somalia.”
al-Shabaab said the attacks had avenged the indiscrimate shelling of civilians by peacekeepers in Mogadishu. Uganda’s grieving, the rebels said, was a result of Museveni’s “flawed policies”. “They bombard the densely-populated areas … with approximately 300 mortars a day. Families are massacred, children are orphaned, women are widows and close to two million Muslims have been displaced,” al-Shabaab said in a written statement dated July 14. In April, the United Nations condemned the shelling of heavily populated areas by Somali forces, AU troops and the rebels, calling it a clear violation of the law of war.

Separately, al Shabaab’s leader, Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, warned Uganda to expect more attacks. “Attacks in Kampala were preliminary. We shall do more as AMISOM continue massacring our people,” he said in an audio tape issued on Wednesday. Museveni said regional powers would not be deterred from sending 2000 more troops to Somalia by mid-August. Regional leaders eventually want 20 000 troops there. “Therefore this force … will be expanded and the African Union will be able to clean up this place,” he said.

Kenya said yesterday a Ugandan who had surrendered himself, confessing to being a member of al-Shabaab but claiming he had no link to the blasts, had been handed over to Ugandan authorities.
“The Ugandan handed himself over just after the explosion. He saw he had joined an organisation that was also killing his own people and that he had been misled …” government spokesman Alfred Mutua told a weekly news briefing.

Meanwhile, US president Barack Obama has warned Africans that groups such as al-Qaeda view their lives as cheap and expendable. Speaking to the South African state broadcaster, the SABC, on

Tuesday, he said “it was so tragic and ironic to see an explosion like this take place when people in Africa were celebrating and watching the World Cup take place in South Africa. On the one hand, you have a vision of an Africa on the move, an Africa that is unified, an Africa that is modernising and creating opportunities; and on the other hand, you’ve got a vision of al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab that is about destruction and death.
“And I think it presents a pretty clear contrast in terms of the future that most Africans want for themselves and their children. And we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to support those who want to build, as opposed to want to destroy,” he said in a transcript posted on the US Embassy in SA’s website.

Obama continued that Somalia has now gone had a generation of war and conflict. “The Transitional Government there is still getting its footing. But what we know is that if al-Shabaab takes more and more control within Somalia, that it is going to be exporting violence the way it just did in Uganda. And so we’ve got to have a multinational effort. This is not something that the United States should do alone, that Uganda or others should do alone, but rather the African Union, in its mission in Somalia, working with the Transitional Government to try to stabilise the situation and start putting that country on a pathway that provides opportunity for people, as opposed to creating a breeding ground for terrorism.”

He also criticised the fascist views of al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. “…what you have seen in terms of radical Islam is an approach that says that any efforts to modernise, any efforts to provide basic human rights, any efforts to democratise are somehow anti-Islam. And I think that is absolutely wrong. I think the vast majority of people of the Islamic faith reject that. I think the people of Africa reject it.
“And that’s why it’s so important, even as we deal with organisations like Al Shabaab militarily, that, more importantly, we also are dealing with the development agenda and building on models of countries like South Africa that are trying to move in the right direction, that have successful entrepreneurs, that have democracy and have basic human freedoms — that we highlight those as an example whereby Africans can seize their own destiny, and hopefully the United States can be an effective partner in that.
“…it’s not just … poverty. I mean, I think there’s an ideological component to it that also has to be rejected. There’s – obviously young people, if they don’t have opportunity, are more vulnerable to these misguided ideologies, but we also have to directly confront the fact that issues like a anti-democratic, anti-free speech, anti-freedom of religion agenda, which is what an organisation like Al Shabaab promotes, also often goes hand in hand with violence.”

French news agency AFP afterwards quoted an unnamed US official as branding al-Qaeda “racist”.

Obama’s intervention marked the first direct comments by the president, whose father was Kenyan, on the Kampala bombings. A senior American official made clear that Obama was taking a direct swipe at the ideology and motives of al-Qaeda affiliates on the continent, which US intelligence agencies say are the extremist group’s most active franchises, AFP added.
“The president references the fact that both US intelligence and past al-Qaeda actions make it clear that al-Qaeda, and the groups like [al-Shabaab] that they inspire, do not value African life. “In short, al-Qaeda is a racist organisation that treats black Africans like cannon fodder and does not value human life,” the official said.

US officials drew parallels between the Uganda attacks and the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed hundreds of Africans, saying that al-Qaeda viewed people on the continent as acceptable casualties. Earlier, another administration official validated al-Shabaab’s claims that it was responsible for the Uganda bombings. He said the group might try to attack outside Africa.


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