[Dehai-WN] THE NEW YORK TIMES: African force makes historic strides inside strife-ridden Somalia

[Dehai-WN] THE NEW YORK TIMES: African force makes historic strides inside strife-ridden Somalia

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 25 Nov 2011 14:01:33 +0100

African force makes historic strides inside strife-ridden Somalia

By Jeffrey Gettleman THE NEW YORK TIMES

Friday, November 25, 2011


NAIROBI, Kenya - When the first batch of African Union peacekeepers landed
at Mogadishu's decrepit airport in 2007, they were immediately shelled by
insurgents with mortars and given little chance of success. This was Somalia
after all, the graveyard of several other doomed interventions, and the
African Union soldiers were a last resort for a deeply troubled mission.

But four years later and nearly 10,000 soldiers strong, the African Union
force in Somalia has hardened into a war-fighting machine - and it seems to
be winning the war. Analysts say the African Union has done a better job of
pacifying Mogadishu, Somalia's capital and a hornet's nest of Islamist
militants, clan warlords, factional armies and countless glassy-eyed
freelance gunmen, than any other outside force, including 25,000 U.S. troops
in the 1990s.

The peacekeepers have "performed better than anyone would have dreamed,"
said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council,
a Washington research institution.

Their surprising success has put the African Union in the driver's seat of
an intensifying international effort to wipe out Somalia's al-Shabab
militants once and for all. Kenya, Ethiopia, the United States, France,
Djibouti, Burundi and Uganda have all jumped in to some degree against
al-Shabab, a brutal and wily insurgent group that is considered both a
regional menace and an international threat, with possible sleeper cells
embedded in Somali communities in the United States and Europe.

Members of al-Shabab have been terrorizing Somalia for years, imposing a
harsh and alien form of Islam, chopping off heads and unleashing suicide
bombers, including Somali-Americans recruited from Minnesota. But the
African Union has dealt al-Shabab a crippling blow in Mogadishu, which is
what may have encouraged Kenyan and Ethiopian forces to recently invade
separate parts of Somalia in an unusual regional effort to spread al-Shabab
thin on several fronts and methodically eliminate them.

But members of al-Shabab are hardly giving up. Young, messianic insurgents
are viciously resisting the African Union troops, sometimes fighting hand to
hand, with both sides suffering heavy losses.

African Union officials, who have been reluctant to disclose casualties and
in the past even provided apparently false accounting of the numbers,
revealed that more than 500 soldiers had been killed in Somalia, making this
peacekeeping mission one of the bloodiest of recent times.

Oct. 20 was a particularly bad day. Shortly after dawn, several hundred
peacekeepers marched into Deynile, one of the last al-Shabab strongholds in

"It started off easy, too easy," groaned Cpl. Arcade Arakaza, a Burundian
peacekeeper, from a hospital bed in Nairobi.

There was little resistance, with a few al-Shabab fighters fleeing in front
of them. Civilians smiled from the bullet-riddled doorways, saying things
like, "Don't worry, Shabab finished."

But suddenly the entire neighborhood opened up on the peacekeepers with
assault rifles, belt-fed machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, "women,
kids, everyone," Arakaza said. It was a classic envelope trap, with members
of al-Shabab drawing the peacekeepers deeper into their lair, sealing off
the escape routes and then closing in from all sides.

Dozens of peacekeepers were wounded, including Arakaza, who was shot through
the groin, and more than 70 killed in the span of a few minutes. But the
African Union soldiers clawed back, eventually capturing a chunk of
al-Shabab territory.

Unlike the Americans, who hastily left Somalia after 18 soldiers were killed
during the infamous Black Hawk Down debacle in 1993, or the United Nations
mission that folded not long afterward, the African Union has pressed on. It
plans to send thousands more young men from deeply impoverished sub-Saharan
nations into the maw of Somalia, an arrangement that is lucrative for the
governments of the contributing countries and the soldiers themselves - they
each can make $1,000 a month as a peacekeeper compared with as little as $50
back home.

The U.S. government is helping foot this bill, contributing more than $400


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