Somalia’s embattled president urged regional powers to step up the fight against the growing number of foreign fighters he said are joining the ranks of Islamist insurgents in the Horn of Africa nation.
Days after neighbouring nations promised to deploy an extra 2,000 peacekeepers to the anarchic country, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said the swelling number of militants posed a growing threat to regional security, Reuters reports. “Somalia is at risk from the growing number of foreign militants (here). We cannot turn a blind eye. Things have gone beyond a level we can tolerate so there is an urgent need for international or regional help,” he told Reuters late on Friday.
Foreign investors in Kenya, east Africa’s largest economy which shares a largely porous border with Somalia, cite the Islamist insurgency as a serious concern. Western diplomats and security officials fear Islamist extremists could use Somalia as a launch pad for attacks across the volatile region and further afield.
Ahmed said his government, which controls little more than a few blocks in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and is heavily dependent on an African Union peacekeeping force to ensure a semblance of security, was unable to carry out its functions. “My government can do little to forge its institutional duties because of constant attacks,” he said.
Earlier this week, the regional bloc IGAD vowed to boost AU troop numbers to more than 8000 but said they eventually wanted a 20 000-strong force, including United Nation blue helmets. “The IGAD leaders have agreed that Somalia can no longer remain as it is, because every country in the region, including Ethiopia, will face the terrorist threat,” Ahmed said in an interview.
Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in 2006 to oust an Islamist movement from Mogadishu. That sparked the Islamist insurgency which still rages. Hardline Islamist group al Shabaab, which claims links to al Qaeda, has previously threatened to attack Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as Uganda and Burundi which have sent peacekeepers to prop up Ahmed’s struggling administration.
It is not yet clear whether Ethiopia, an IGAD member along with Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia, will send peacekeepers. For now, a UN resolution prevents Somalia’s immediate neighbours from contributing troops, although regional leaders have suggested the ban should be reconsidered.
In southern Somalia’s coastal town of Kismayu, local al Shabaab commanders and residents say the Islamists are on a massive recruitment drive. “They are getting hundreds of volunteers who are joining them because there is no work and they (rebels) pay some money,” resident Ali Yusuf told Reuters. “Everyone we recruit we send to a training camp. Inside the camp he will get a weapon and ammunition,” said one al Shabaab fighter who did not want to be named.
More than 21 000 Somalis have been killed since the insurgency began in 2007, while about three million people, almost a third of the population, are dependent on aid.