Nervously, world powers eye greater Somalia action
Fri Feb 24, 2012 12:22pm GMT
Feb 24 (Reuters) - * London conference shows heightened interest in Somalia
* Cautiously growing optimism although scepticism remains
* Growing appetite for military, other involvement
By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent
LONDON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Somalia might still be described as the "world's
worst failed state", but international enthusiasm for involvement there is
ticking up to levels not seen since the 1994 withdrawal of international
Following the October 1993 "Blackhawk Down" debacle in which 18 US
servicemen and well over a thousand Somalis died in a botched Mogadishu
battle, world powers have largely left Somalia to anarchy, chaos and
conflict. Some estimates suggest more than a million people may have died
since Somalia's last government collapsed in 1991.
But Thursday's London conference on Somalia -- which brought together
representatives of more than 40 countries including U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon -- appeared to be the
latest sign that approach might be beginning to shift.
Officials say growing worries over Somalia becoming perhaps the leading
global haven for Islamist militancy and the rising cost of Somali piracy --
estimated to cost the global economy some $7 billion a year -- helped spur
"For two decades politicians in the West have too often dismissed the
problems in Somalia as simply too difficult and too remote to deal with,"
British Prime Minister David Cameron told the summit. "Engagement has been
sporadic and half-hearted. That fatalism has failed Somalia. And it has
failed the international community too."
But with the capital Mogadishu largely under transitional government and
peacekeeper control, Islamist group Al Shabaab on the back foot and apparent
if largely unexpected progress against piracy and a regional hunger crisis,
a cautious optimism is also driving involvement.
The examples of semi-independent and relatively stable enclaves such as
Somaliland and other non-Al Shabaab held areas -- and now perhaps Mogadishu
itself -- are boosting international hopes the country might not be as
ungovernable as previously feared.
"We are moving Somalia from the "too difficult" box into the "difficult"
box," said one Western official.
While many officials, analysts and Somalis themselves remain sceptical,
leaders such as Britain's Cameron and Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan appear
increasingly to see the country as an arena on which they can show global
and personal leadership.
CHANGING THE LANDSCAPE?
In August, Erdogan became the first non-African leader in years to visit the
country, part of a wider strategy positioning Turkey as a growing regional
and global power. Turkish firms have also begun major reconstruction
projects in the country including an airport, spurring Somali hope other
investors from other countries will now follow.
Whilst United Nations and Western diplomats -- and indeed Somalia's
government itself -- have largely based themselves in neighbouring Kenya,
Turkey has opened relief camps within Somalia and an embassy in Mogadishu.
Others now look set to follow.
The UN is already relocating its political office to Mogadishu, while
Britain said it was also looking to reopen its long-closed embassy. U.S.
Secretary of State Clinton was more noncommittal, but she too talked of
moving to a "more permanent" U.S. diplomatic presence in the country.
Attendees at the summit made it clear Somalia's current
internationally-backed transitional government was expected to stand down
when its mandate expires in August. In its place, foreign officials hope,
will be a new government that should be more representative and accountable,
drawing up a new constitution.
"The August deadline probably isn't realistic," said Adjoa Anyimadu, a
researcher and Somali specialist at London-based think tank Chatham House.
"But the idea of a government chosen by Somalis rather than the
international community is a good one. We're almost certainly not talking
true democratic elections at this stage but any more accountable process is
better... And there's no doubt the international community is more confident
than it was on Somalia "
British officials say that while the London conference did not yield any one
particular breakthrough or agreement, it did help speed activity on a range
of fronts necessary to build on recent successes.
Indian Ocean nations agreed several steps to tackle piracy, moving to track
the payment of ransoms and pin down pirate kingpins as well as setting up
new agreements by which countries in the region would try and imprison
pirates captured at sea.
Successful hijackings of merchant ships fell sharply in the second half of
2011 largely due to greater use of private armed guards and a more
aggressive approach by naval forces, international maritime officials say.
There were also multiple new pledges of humanitarian aid for the Horn of
Africa. Aid agencies say malnutrition and hunger remained widespread there,
but that a robust and rapid response to last year's drought staved off more
HEIGHTENED MILITARY INTERVENTION
But 18 years after U.S. and UN peacekeepers mounted their humiliating
retreat, there is also growing apparent appetite for heightened military
A British-sponsored UN Security Council resolution agreed the expansion of
the African Union AMISOM mission from 12,000 to a surprisingly precise
17,731. That figure would include new Sierra Leonean and Ugandan troops, a
senior U.S. State Department official said, as well as placing thousands of
Kenyan troops already in the country under AU command.
Troops from Ethiopia -- which fought a controversial US-backed campaign
against Somali Islamists between 2006 and 2009 -- also re-entered the
country late last year and this week captured the key southern town of
Baidoa alongside Somali forces. Ethiopian troops will not come under the AU
mission and say they will withdraw once stability is restored.
Somalia's transitional government would clearly like more support. In
interviews and during the conference itself, Somali Prime Minister Abdiwell
Mohammed Ali said repeatedly that he would welcome foreign air strikes
against Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab targets providing there were no collateral
civilian casualties. Al Shabaab recently announced it was allying itself to
Secretary of State Clinton bluntly rejected the call, saying that whilst she
was no military strategist she knew enough to know that such strikes would
be "a bad idea". Instead, she pledged a tougher line on enforcement of
sanctions -- particularly blocking charcoal exports to Middle Eastern
countries believed a major source of Al Shabaab funding.
But early on Friday, Somali officials said there did appear to have been an
airstrike in southern Somalia -- perhaps one of the largest so far --
killing at least three foreign Al Shabaab fighters. Analysts say that while
it is not entirely clear who launched that or previous similar strikes, U.S.
unmanned drones appear the most likely suspects.
"In many ways, I think I was more confident before the summit," said
Anyimadu at Chatham House. "All this emphasis on security and talk of
airstrikes -- there's a real risk we will simply repeat the mistakes of the
past." (Reporting By Peter Apps)
* Residents heard warplanes overhead before explosion
* Rebels seized in Mogadishu house raids (Recasts, adds new quotes, colour)
By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU, Feb 24 (Reuters) - A missile strike killed four foreign Islamist
militants south of Somalia's capital on Friday, an intelligence official
said, a day after the country's prime minister called for foreign air
strikes against the al Shabaab rebel group.
Residents reported hearing a large explosion which targeted a car in the
early hours of the morning in an area known as 'Kilometre 60', between
Mogadishu and the port town of Marka in the insurgent-controlled Lower
"A very senior Egyptian was killed. Three Kenyans and a Somali also died," a
senior intelligence officer who declined to be named told Reuters.
The al Qaeda-backed militants confirmed a missile strike in Kilometre 60 on
a website but said it was not clear if the dead were its fighters or
Somalis in central and southern Somalia regularly report drones and
warplanes flying overhead. While the United States never comments officially
on drone strikes in Somalia, Washington has authorised covert operations in
the Horn of Africa nation in the past.
At a London conference on Thursday aimed at energising attempts to end more
than 20 years of anarchy in Somalia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
said air strikes on areas of Somalia controlled by al Shabaab would "not be
a good idea".
She said she had no reason to believe anyone was contemplating them.
EXPLOSION "SHOOK THE GROUND"
One civilian said fighter jets roared overhead before a loud blast ripped
through the night air.
"First we saw a huge flash and then a big explosion shook the ground," said
a resident, who gave his name as Hassan. "Later we saw a huge crater and
nearby trees were burned."
Al Shabaab is the most powerful of an array of militias spawned by the
conflict in Somalia, where armed groups have a history of wrecking attempted
political settlements and perpetuating war, instability and famine.
They are, though, on the back-foot, ousted from Mogadishu last year under
military pressure and now losing territory to Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in
the south. Financial troubles and divisions have weakened the group,
security analysts say.
Kenya, which sent troops across the border in October and has launched a
campaign of air strikes on rebel strongholds in southern Somalia, denied it
carried out the attack.
The Somali government says in the past five years hundreds of foreign
fighters have joined the Islamist insurgency from Afghanistan, Pakistan and
the Gulf region, as well as Western nations such as the United States and
Somali authorities on Friday seized 25 suspected al Shabaab members in
possession of firearms and explosives during house raids in Mogadishu.
"We suspect many fighters are hiding among the population. We are searching
everywhere to eliminate any al Shabaab fighters who returned to the
capital," Khalif Ahmed, Mogadishu's national security chief told Reuters.
The insurgents called their withdrawal from Mogadishu in August a tactical
retreat and have since stepped up suicide and bomb attacks on the coastal
city. (Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Rosalind Russell)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Fri Feb 24 2012 - 18:05:54 EST