INTERVIEW-AU force can secure Mogadishu with more troops
Sun Oct 9, 2011 2:40pm GMT
* Militants launched worst attack in Somalia in four years
* AMISOM says changing tactics to confront Qaeda-style attacks
By Yara Bayoumy
NAIROBI, Oct 9 (Reuters) - African peacekeepers can drive out al Shabaab
Islamist militants from remaining pockets in Mogadishu and gain control of
the entire Somali capital within six months if troop levels are boosted by a
third to 12,000, the force commander said on Friday.
The rebels withdrew from most of their bases in Mogadishu in August, but
retained control in two city districts. A suicide bombing on Monday, which
killed more than 70 people, showed the militants were still capable of
launching major attacks in the lawless Horn of Africa nation.
Critics have said AMISOM peacekeeping force and government troops failed to
capitalise on the militants' retreat, unable to push them out completely and
quash an insurgency that has killed more than 20,000 people since 2007.
There are now some 9,000 Burundian and Ugandan troops within Mogadishu, but
AMISOM's mandate allows for a maximum of 12,000 troops. Sierra Leone and
Djibouti have expressed an interest in contributing to the force.
"The number of 12,000 for Phase 1, which is Mogadishu and the surrounding
township, was very minimum, it was the most conservative number. But
unfortunately we don't have them yet," Major General Fred Mugisha told
Reuters in Nairobi.
"We have 9,000 plus, not yet even 10,000, so if we got the balance we would
be able to control Mogadishu. I wish I could get the numbers I want, I would
do it in probably six months."
Sustained pressure by government and African Union troops on al Shabaab, who
were meanwhile suffering from a shortage of funds and rifts among their
ranks, forced the rebels to abandon their front lines Mogadishu.
But regional officials warned the conflict was by no means over and that the
militants, who had vowed to strike again even after they withdrew, would
launch al Qaeda-style suicide bombing attacks.
Mugisha said AMISOM would shift its tactics accordingly in an effort to
prevent a repeat of Tuesday's bombing, which was the group's most deadly
attack in the country in four years.
"... We are putting the measures, as I said, sensitise the public (and)
mount checkpoints," Mugisha said.
"One or two incidents I'm afraid will continue to happen. You have no
training of security forces, no functioning police ... So we are trying to
see how much we can organise the society ... to take precautions against
Mugisha said AMISOM would "in the near future" launch an operation to
capture the remaining 5 percent the militants' control in Mogadishu.
"Every single day al-Shabaab militants and al Qaeda try to launch offensives
to recapture the areas we control," he said.
"It would be counterproductive if we don't push them out of those buildings
completely so that we secure (not only) the civilians, but also our own
soldiers. As a result of that, yes we'll carry out at an attack," Mugisha
Although the rebels managed to strike at the heart of the capital in a
compound housing several government ministries, Mugisha insisted the
militants were fighting a losing battle.
"Even when you look at the recent terror attack in Mogadishu, this is just
to tell the world that 'We are still existing, we are still capable of
killing innocent people'."
"But as I said any serious group that is looking at capturing state power
and ruling the country cannot do what they did. They are on the losing
side," he said. (Editing by Richard Lough)
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Received on Sun Oct 09 2011 - 16:40:58 EDT