Countries bordering Somalia are planning to coordinate a major assault against positions held by al- Shabaab militia in Somalia, using ethnic Somali military officers being trained in their respective boundaries.
Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti who share the border with Somalia are all training military personnel on behalf of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, which though boxed-in by militias, enjoys international recognition.
Under the United Nations laws, TFG can request another UN member to train military officers on its behalf.
Independent intelligence reports suggest the assault could start “in the next few months” but will depend on the assessment of the preparedness of the recruits now being trained by the trio. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is expected to offer logistical and moral support to the assault but will not directly participate.
“Our role will continue to be that of purely peacekeeping,” said Gaffel Nkolokosa, the public information officer of the mission in a telephone interview.
AMISOM’s spokesperson Major Barigye Ba-Huko told journalists that Somalis are responding positively to the training by the peacekeepers which is intended to counter attacks by al-Shabaab.
AMISOM is, however, helping train Somalia military officers and even new recruits only within Somalia, its officials told the media.
Reports suggest that Kenya is training 3000 army recruits on behalf of the TFG, Ethiopia 1500 and Djibouti 3000. These numbers were however not confirmed independently with the TFG government.
Although respective countries maintain that those being trained were proposed by the Somalia government, reports suggest that the trainees are ethnic Somalis drawn from the participating countries including Somalia itself.
Because of the geographical position of Somalia, ethnic Somalis are to be found in Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti whose borders form an arch around the troubled country with one of the longest coastlines in the world.
Statistics drawn from several sources indicate that ethnic Somalis number around 15-17 million and are principally concentrated in Somalia itself at 9 million.
Others are to be found in Ethiopia (4.6 million), Yemen (a little under 1 million), Kenya (about half a million), Djibouti (350 000), and an unknown but large number live in parts of the Middle East, North America and Europe.
Intelligence reports suggest that as a result of this planned assault, al-Shabaab has also been strengthening its numbers by establishing a single command rather than its previous organization that comprised several militia groups, each with its own political head.
The militia group has also acquired freshly painted tanks that is has been parading in areas of Mogadishu where it controls.
Reports also suggested that al-Shabaab is planning to stage dedicated suicide bombing attacks in countries that are involved in the training of the government forces, but it was not clear if this will happen before or after the assault is launched.
The planned assault has been spearheaded by both the government and AMISOM and will be a major test for the Africa Union on whether it will succeed in taking over territory from the radical Islamists associated with Al Qaeda.
Previous attempts to re-stabilise Somali have been thwarted by the higher fire power possessed by the militias and clan differences that have led to the proliferation of militias.
As a consequence, the country is awash with small arms at the hands of non-state actors which security experts say are major catalyst for instability.
Success in reclaiming the country would require strength in numbers and military hardware on the part of the TFG army which should disarm insurgents in areas it takes over from the militia.
The exercise would also require an adequate pool of officers trained in community policing, who will them take over the liberated areas and establish law and order.
The United States is footing a huge chunk of the bill for training the TFG forces with the other finances coming from donors like the European Union. US last year admitted that it is supporting the Somalia government in money and equipment.
Michael Ranneberger, the ambassador of the US for Kenya has said this support will continue in 2010
But according to Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security, the support that Somalia is receiving from the international community is not adequate.
“The International community must step up its efforts to save Somalia from further ruin in 2010,” he said. “The interests of the rest of the world would be at stake unless al-Shabaab and Yemeni terrorists are tackled.”
The underlying reason for the planned assault is the growing concern that the Somalia issue has become a global problem with the profile of the country’s capacity to become a terrorist training and hiding ground increasing every day.
“The situation [in Somalia] is getting out of hand and it is going to affect everybody in this region, not only Somalia,” said Wafula Wamunyinyi, Deputy African Union Representative to Somalia.
The assault is also linked to the planned increase in the number of AMISOM troops because liberated areas will require peacekeepers to take over.
Last week, the AU extended the mandate of AMISOM beyond January 28 for one year. Reports not confirmed by AMISOM officials by the time of going to press indicated that the number of troops will be increased from the current 5200 soon.
The AU Peace and Security Department also in mid-December approved plans to train more peacekeepers on maritime security and air defence capabilities to better protect war-ravaged Somalia.
“There exist operational limitations to the performance of AMISOM in the areas of maritime and air defence capabilities,” said the AU in a statement.
Restabilising Somalia has been a challenge for the region and is now emerging as a global focal point especially because of growing instability in neighbouring Yemen, both of which are in the Arabian Peninsula and which have insurgents driven by similar ideologies.
A group known as Conciliation Resources which works on peace building and conflict resolution initiatives recommended that international action would be more effective if the world responded to the war in Somalia as an elite and clan-based conflict over power, territory and resources; a regional struggle for supremacy between Ethiopia and Eritrea and a jihadist insurgency.
“Stable areas of governance in Somalia such as Somaliland and Puntland show that Somalis can achieve durable political structures when these are built on genuine reconciliation,” the group said.
It said international mediators have been slow to recognize the significance of Islam and of engaging with religious leaders in Somalia.
Somalia’s TFG’s mandate expires in October 2011, by which time a new government will be put in place through elections.
It remains to be seen if those elections will be held in a peaceful, stable Somalia with a central government.