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May 7, 2009 | 16:33 GMT

3 mins read

Somalia: Al Shabaab Preparing for 'All-Out War'?

Somali media sources reported May 7 that hard-line Islamist militia al Shabaab is transporting troops and weaponry to Mogadishu to battle African Union (AU) peacekeepers who are propping up the Somali government. The confrontation will be Somali President Sharif Ahmed's first major challenge since coming into power in January. Pro-Islamist Somali Web site Goobjoog Online stated that Somali Islamist insurgents were transporting nine tanks (which more likely refers to heavily armed pickup trucks, known in Somalia as "technicals," as al Shabaab has not been seen operating tanks), four missile launchers and several mortars into Mogadishu from strongholds in southern Somalia. The Somali Islamists issued a statement May 6 threatening an "all-out war" against the approximately 4,300 AU peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi who are deployed there. The threat follows reports of weapons deliveries from Eritrea to the former Somali air force base at Baledogle, about 50 miles from Mogadishu in southern Somalia. It also follows the April return of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an Islamist leader with links to al Shabaab, to Somalia from exile in Eritrea, where he had been since late 2006. Eritrea fears that Ethiopia will try to invade and reclaim it. Thus, Eritrea has an interest in supporting anti-Ethiopian forces in Somalia, as it will keep the Ethiopian regime preoccupied with threats from Somalia. The purpose of battling the AU peacekeepers — who rarely patrol beyond static positions at the seaport, the international airport and the presidential palace in Mogadishu, though they do provide close personal protection duties to Somali parliamentarians — is to evict from Somalia the remaining foreign forces supporting the Somali government. (Thousands of Ethiopian troops had supported the government until their pullback in January.) Though Ahmed, a moderate Islamist and a former leader of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC) that controlled much of southern and central Somalia in 2006, is now Somalia's president, hard-line Islamists — including the al Shabaab militia — have rejected his government and its overtures as merely another proxy of Western and foreign (i.e., Ethiopian) interests. Ahmed has managed to cobble together a new government and has sought to implement some form of Shariah law to undercut his rivals, but he has not faced a persistent al Shabaab assault (although sporadic bombings have targeted Mogadishu and other Somali towns). Despite the presence of AU peacekeepers, Ahmed's government does not rely solely on the Ugandans and Burundians for defense against al Shabaab attacks. The Ahmed government has its own militia, the Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, operating in central Somalia. Should heavy casualties occur, the Ugandans and Burundians could be pressed to withdraw, but that would not immediately force Ahmed to yield. Ahmed's own militia would need to be defeated before his moderate Islamist faction could be overthrown. The pro-Ahmed militia in central Somalia likely will receive Ethiopian and other foreign assistance to counter al Shabaab operations, while other warlords — in traditional Somali clan fashion — will arm themselves to defend their interests amid the clashes against the Ahmed government.

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