Terrorists, Militias Pose Survival Challenge to Somalia's New Gov't

July 7, 2008 - 7:16 PM

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Somalia's new transitional government is trying to relocate from its temporary base in Kenya to its natural home in Mogadishu but is faced with what intelligence officials and diplomats say is a formidable challenge posed by terrorists and other armed groups.

The U.S., whose peacekeepers withdrew from Somalia after a failed mission in the mid-1990s, is not directly involved in current efforts to restore stability but is involved in counter-terror operations in the broader region.

Somalia has not had a functional central government since 1991. A transitional government was formed last year after two years of peace talks and was initially based in Kenya because of lack of security at home.

Its planned move to Mogadishu has run into difficulties.

A terrorist cell known as al-Isla has in recent weeks disrupted an African Union (AU) fact-finding mission to Mogadishu, and a BBC journalist was shot dead outside a hotel in the city.

Kenyan anti-terrorism police confirmed that three suspects arrested recently near the joint border with Somalia are members of the terrorist group. Articles found in their possession indicated a likely involvement in the death of the journalist.

The three, a Sudanese national and two Kenyans, were caught while traveling along a road not normally patrolled in Kenya's northeast, an anti-terrorism police officer said.

On them were training manuals, including information on explosives, instructions on assembling bombs, and suicide bombing tactics.

Police also found a list of names of recruits who had undergone training by al-Isla cells and who were evidently to be sent to Afghanistan for further training.

Independent intelligence reports in Nairobi said a terror cell headed by an Egyptian with links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network had been training more than 3,000 fighters in readiness to mount attacks on AU peacekeepers should they deploy in Mogadishu.

The deployment is uncertain at this stage.

President Yusuf Ahmed initially asked the AU to provide 20,000 peacekeeping troops, but the number was later scaled down to 6,700 troops to be provided by member states of a regional body, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

IGAD comprises Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Somalia itself.

But some members of the transitional government are reportedly opposed to African peacekeepers, preferring troops to be provided by Arab states. One reason is apparently because Ethiopia has long been considered an enemy, and many Somalis don't want Ethiopian peacekeepers in their country.

Rival warlords who have kept Somalia in an anarchic state since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 are also opposed to the deployment of peacekeepers. The government is trying to get the groups to disarm.

Mohammed Affey, Kenya ambassador to Somalia, said that while a number of armed factions which have political intentions have joined the government, the challenge posed by freelance militias remained.

Hussein Aideed, a warlord who is now deputy prime minister in charge of internal security, said reining in militias was a major challenge. He also stated that the new government would not compromise with terrorists but "will fight terrorism under the pan-African coalition."

While the United States will not directly participate in efforts to stabilize Somalia, a U.S. Embassy official in Nairobi said the U.S.-led anti-terrorism task force headquartered in neighboring Djibouti would continue to monitor Somalia's coastline in a bid to deter terror activity.

"We do not operate in Somalia directly; however, indirectly we operate around the borders of Somalia in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya and at sea off the coast of Somalia," said Captain Toni J. Tones of the Combined Joint Task Force for Horn of Africa.

Tones said the task force's primary function was not to pursue terrorists but to influence the people of the region through a variety of operations.

"We conduct military-to-military training to bolster security of the host nation and civil affairs projects like school, clinic renovations, and a veterinarian program to improve the lives of the people so they will be less susceptible to the extremist rhetoric and pressures."

Tones said U.S. policy with regard to Somalia was still developing and "we expect it to continue to develop on positive lines."

The task force was established in 2001 to "detect, disrupt and defeat" transnational terrorist groups operating in the region and to enhance the region's long-term stability as part of the post 9/11 war against Islamist terrorists.

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