Doha - United States military officials say Somalia could return to chaos in four months if international peacekeepers don't quickly replace departing Ethiopian troops - now propping up the country's weak government.
A Somali government spokesperson echoed the warning on Sunday, saying Islamic fighters were regrouping and the US-backed transitional government lacked troops, training and weapons to deal with them.
Abdirahman Dinari said: "We need the support of the international community to deploy forces and assist us in securing the country."
Dinari said fighters from the deposed Council of Islamic Courts were counterattacking just as the invading Ethiopians had begun pulling out.
Innocent civilians killed
According to the spokesperson, Islamic fighters "are coming back to Mogadishu. They're destabilising sections of the city. They're killing innocent civilians. They're attacking police stations".
A pair of US military officials, interviewed in Qatar last week, said a worrying power vacuum was developing in Somalia, with Ethiopian troops hastening their departure amid reports that the army that invaded in December was being debilitated by malaria.
Both US officers spoke on condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the information.
One officer said that most troubling was that none of the 10 to 20 Council of Islamic Courts leaders or their al-Qaeda allies were known to have been killed or captured, and most of the few-thousand-strong militia remained intact inside Somalia.
US officer said: "They're probably just lying low. They're probably waiting for Ethiopia to leave."
Heightening the pressure, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that he would pull a third of his troops out of Somalia within the next two days. Meles was speaking on the eve of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
SA forces 'too stretched'
The African Union had approved a plan to send about 8 000 peacekeepers for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the United Nations.
Nigeria, Malawi and Uganda had said they wanted to contribute troops, but no firm plans were in place. Meanwhile, South Africa said its forces were too stretched to contribute.
Ethiopian forces had been widely credited with a quick success in ousting the Islamic Courts militia from controlling most of Somalia and installing the weak, UN-recognised government in the capital, Mogadishu.
US forces played a limited role in the campaign, training and supplying the Ethiopian army, mounting air raids on militia targets and stationing a US Navy carrier battle group off the Somali coast.
But, impoverished Ethiopia lacked funds and staying power to sustain an occupation of its chaotic neighbour.
According to an American official, the US military had no plans to increase its role beyond backing its Ethiopian allies.
Police hit in latest Somalia violence
MOGADISHU: Gunmen attacked a Somali security boss and fired rocket-propelled grenades at police stations in the latest wave of guerrilla-style ambushes on the government and its Ethiopian allies, residents said yesterday.
Gunmen opened fire on Mogadishu Police Chief Ali Said’s convoy yesterday afternMOGADISHU: Gunmen attacked a Somali security boss and fired rocket-propelled grenades at police stations in the latest wave of guerrilla-style ambushes on the government and its Ethiopian allies, residents said yesterday.oon, witnesses said. He survived, but one civilian was wounded in the ensuing shootout.
“I heard a big explosion. When I came out of the shop, I saw uniformed police exchanging fire with gunmen in civilian clothes,” said local shopkeeper Mohamed Hussein.
Another seven people were hurt when gunmen fired rockets at two police stations in Mogadishu late on Saturday, before opening up with machine-guns at officers on guard outside.
The government blamed remnants of an Islamist movement which vowed a long guerrilla war after it was ousted from Mogadishu over the New Year.
“We will make sure such individuals are filtered from society and apprehended,” said spokesman Abdirahman Dinari.
Leaflets circulating at the weekend in Mogadishu, and purporting to be from the defeated Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC), urged residents to avoid collaboration with Ethiopians or face “losing lives and property”.
Ethiopia’s military joined Somali government forces late last month in a two-week offensive that drove the Islamists out of strongholds in south Somalia they had held since June.
Witnesses said assailants on two vehicles fired two rockets at Wardigley police station in south Mogadishu late on Saturday, before shooting at officers on guard. Rockets were simultaneously fired at Howlwadag police station in the centre.
“In Howlwadag, two policemen and three civilians were wounded while in Wardigley, a civilian and a policeman were injured,” police officer Ali Nur told Reuters.
In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi warned that while the Islamists were no longer a military threat, they could regroup if there was not reconciliation among Somali clans.
“If the politics are not right, then they can in the future rebuild their capacity,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Although suspicion for the recent Mogadishu violence has fallen on hardcore remnants of the SICC, the Somali government has other enemies including warlord and clan militias, plus criminals opposed to the restoration of order.
Meles also told Reuters a third of his troops in Somalia would be withdrawn soon as part of a phased exit.
That increased the urgency for an African peacekeeping force to Somalia, which many diplomats see as the only way to prevent a dangerous power vacuum in the Horn of Africa nation.
President Abdullahi Yusuf’s interim government, formed at peace talks in Kenya in late 2004, is the 14th attempt to restore central rule since the 1991 ouster of a dictator. It would be vulnerable without Ethiopia’s military muscle. – Reuters
Wife of al-Qaida suspect deported from Kenya to Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia: The wife and three children of a senior al-Qaida suspect wanted for the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa has been deported to Somalia after fleeing to neighboring Kenya earlier this month, the Somali government spokesman said Monday.
Halima Badroudine Fazul Husseine was among 23 people shackled hand-and-foot and deported over the weekend from Kenya, said government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari. Her husband, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, is a Comoron believed to have been given a haven by a now-ousted Somali Islamic movement and accused by the U.S. of masterminding the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds.
Dinari said those deported will be investigated and, if links to terrorism are suspected, tried. Those cleared by the initial investigations will be released, Dinari said.
Dinari's government, with crucial military help from neighboring Ethiopia, was able to chase the Somali Islamic movement from the capital and much of the south of the country in late December, but it still struggling to assert authority. Meanwhile, Ethiopian and Somali troops continue to clash with remnants of the movement. The U.S. has launched two air strikes at al-Qaida suspects believed among the remnants of the Islamic movement.
So far 57 suspected fighters and supporters of Somalia's routed Islamic movement have been sent back to the country after fleeing, Dinari said. They include suspected fighters from Yemen, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sweden, Comoros, and Morocco, he said.
Meanwhile in southern Somalia, a government security official said on Monday that Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, a major figure in Somalia's routed Islamic movement had been injured in an air strike on Jan. 21. The official, who spoke on condition of condition of anonymity because it related to security issues, said the attack took place 160 kilometers (99 miles) west of the southern seaport town of Kismayo. He said the details had been received during interrogations of Islamic fighters.
The official added that bodyguards loyal to Aweys carried their injured leader deep into thick forests to evade capture.
Aweys is on a U.S. list of people with suspected ties to al-Qaida, though he has repeatedly denied having ties to international terrorists.
Another top leader of the ousted movement, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, apparently afraid for his life, turned himself in to authorities in Kenya on Jan. 21. Many consider Ahmed a moderate who could contribute to rebuilding Somalia. He has not been tied to al-Qaida.
The U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, who also represents U.S. interests in Somalia, met last week with Ahmed in Kenya, according to a U.S. Embassy official who refused to elaborate.