World political powers focus on Afghanistan as Somalia time bomb ticks

10:38, December 04, 2009      

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The United States, Britain and other major world political players have announced that they are planning to send tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban who have links with al Qaida, a terrorist group.

The announcement by these powers especially the U.S. which said on Tuesday that it was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan has attracted a lot of international attention at the cost of other conflicts elsewhere in the world, according to analysts.

For the military experts meeting here, Somalia is a time bomb that the world is not giving much attention. Somalia, like Afghanistan, has al Qaida cells, which according to Nathan Mugisha, the commander of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, are getting stronger.

Already the al Shabaab, an insurgent group fighting the Somali government, has captured key strategic points along the Somali-Kenya borderline, according to reports.

The Islamist outfit, which has links with al Qaida, has embarked on recruiting youths from different parts of the world including Africa.

Half of the recruits are from Kenya, according to Wafula Wamunyinyi, AU Deputy Special Representative for Somalia. Some are from other African countries like Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi.

These recruits coupled with others from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, Bangladesh and many other countries have opened up a war front that Africa or the world is not yet taking seriously.

The suicide blast at a graduation ceremony in Mogadishu on Thursday that left three government ministers dead and dozens of others injured is one of the many shocking but not surprising incidents in this Horn of African country.

Wamunyinyi warned in an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday that as the fight against al Qaida intensifies, the terrorist group is most likely to relocate to Somalia.

"This (troop deployment in Afghanistan) obviously is going to push al Qaida, if they find an escape route, the only safe place is Somalia," he said.

"The Africans who feel they are secure or they can not be affected by this threat will feel it when they get attacked. But we don't want to wait until they are attacked," he added, calling for more troop deployment.

Observers say that Somalia can not be compared with Afghanistan or the mineral rich Democratic Republic of Congo because it has no major economic interest to the developed world or major multinational corporations.

The United States has a lot on its plate, Iraq and Afghanistan, so concentrating on Somalia which is not seen as a major strategic threat makes no sense.

According to the Ugandan military, Africa should and must take the responsibility to pacify Somalia because it will be the first to suffer the wrath if al Qaida is allowed to have strong bases in the lawless country.

Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, Uganda's army spokesman, said here on Thursday at the end of a two day meeting of current and potential troop contributing countries to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) that countries that pledged peacekeepers like Ghana and Nigeria must stop dragging their feet and act.

According to Maj. Gen. Mugisha because of the reluctance to deploy more troops, the situation in Somalia now warrants that over 40,000 soldiers be deployed instead of the 8,000 peacekeepers that were originally planned.

He said at the Thursday meeting that over 20,000 peacekeeping troops and another 20,000 Somali Transitional Federal Government soldiers are needed to pacify the whole of Somalia.

"If AMISOM had been supported as initially pledged, if we had 8,000 troops, the situation would be far different," he said.

Currently there are only about 4,300 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi deployed in Somalia. The other African countries have not honored their pledges to contribute troops.

It is not feasible in the near future that even these troops will be deployed because countries are raising concerns of payment among other issues.

The funders of the peacekeeping mission, mainly the developed countries, do not allow their funds to be used in purchase or hiring of military hardware, which is a key necessity to the operation.

According to most of the participants at the meeting here, piracy in the Gulf of Aden is thriving because of the African or international reluctance to solve the Somali problem, saying the ransom paid to free the hijacked ships is fueling the insurgency.

According to Mugisha, the pirates have to pay a percentage of the ransom to the insurgents for giving them an enabling environment.

Despite complex challenges, some analysts say that the ill-equipped AMISOM force has been able to bring in some resemblance of peace.

At least it has been able to secure key installations like the Mogadishu seaport and the airport, which have enabled access to the country.

Source: Xinhua
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