Rebels in Mogadishu prepare for military offensive

Rebels in Mogadishu prepare for military offensive
# 11 February 2010 04:42 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. The AL-QAEDA-affiliated rebel group al-Shabab is reinforcing positions inside Mogadishu, ahead of a long-awaited offensive by troops from the country’s weak but western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), APA reports quoting web-page.
According to reports from the Somali capital, newly trained fighters have been pouring into the city over the past 24 hours ahead of the anticipated attack.
“If that’s true, it shows that they are concerned that the offensive could succeed,” said EJ Hogendoorn, Horn of Africa project director at the International Crisis Group in Nairobi .
For several weeks, the TFG has promised to drive back the rebel forces that control much of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia. That threat was reiterated by the country’s foreign affairs minister during a recent visit to Japan. He said the offensive would begin “very, very soon”.
Meanwhile, 2,500 Somali troops are reported to have been training in Kenya for such an offensive in a move designed to reassert the government’s legitimacy.
The TFG under President Sheikh Sharif only controls a few blocks in the capital and little of the south of the country, meaning it has found it difficult to establish basic public services. However, some doubt that the government has the firepower or resources to defeat the rebels. Since the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in December 2008, an African Union force of some 5,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi has largely kept the transitional government alive.
“To date, the TFG has been able to hold on in Mogadishu with the support of Amisom forces,” says Roger Middleton, a consultant researcher on Africa Programme with Chatham House in London.
“There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that TFG forces have become stronger or more effective in recent months so it seems likely that they will continue to need the support of Amisom.”
Somalia has been plagued by violence since the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991. That has allowed groups such as al-Shabab to take control of large swathes of the country.
Fighting in Mogadishu, as well as the towns of Belet Wayne and Dhuusamareeb, killed 258 last month, according to the UN. It has also displaced 82,000, leaving an increasing number dependent on external food aid.
Last month, the UN World Food Programme suspended aid in southern Somalia because of attacks on its staff.
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