HARGEISA, 18 September 2009 (Somalilandpress) – Twin suicide car bombs that struck the main African Union (AU) military base in Mogadishu and killed 17 peacekeepers have raised serious questions about the credibility of Somalia’s feuding government.
The attack showed the ability of the al Qaeda-linked rebels to strike the heavily-guarded heart of the AU mission AMISOM, and underlined the administration’s lack of control over a country that is of growing concern to Western security experts.
In the short term, there is no realistic chance of peace returning. Here are some possible scenarios going forward.
MORE ROBUST PEACEKEEPING?
The Somali government has long called for AMISOM to be strengthened. The force was supposed to be 8,000-strong, but still only has about 5,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi.
Other African countries that had pledged in principle to send soldiers may be dissuaded by the audacious attack on the force’s headquarters, but many were already reluctant, arguing in private that there was no peace for their troops to keep.
The prospect of a fully-fledged, robust U.N. military mission looks even more remote — for largely the same reasons.
Burundi and Uganda have said they will not be chased off the job by the insurgents. But without more support they will not be able to do more than try to guard the sites they hold and attempt to win local hearts and minds, for example by continuing to provide free medical treatment for residents.
Both nations say they want AMISOM’s mandate toughened. But the rising death toll may weaken their resolve and fuel opposition at home.
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PRESIDENT AHMED QUITS?
Western and regional observers see President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed as the best hope in 20 years of restoring stability since the former Islamist rebel’s January election at U.N.-backed talks in Djibouti. But attempts to engage influential ex-ally Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys have failed. Ahmed is also losing influence over a government split between his supporters and opponents including allies of his predecessor, Abdullahi Yusuf.
It has seen little of the more than $200 million pledged by donors in April to help Somalia boost security, mostly because the administration lacks robust institutions and is viewed as corrupt and ineffectual by some donors.
Last month, Ahmed toured Gulf Arab states seeking support, and will visit the U.N. General Assembly this month. But without concrete promises to strengthen AMISOM, or ideally a more robust U.N. force to replace it, he could decide enough is enough — sending the international community back to the drawing board.
REBELS SEIZE CAPITAL?
The al Shabaab rebel group, which Washington says is al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia, rejoiced in its attack on Thursday, saying it was in revenge for the U.S. killing of a most wanted al Qaeda suspect in the rebel-held south on Monday.
It denounces the AU peacekeepers as “crusaders” defending an apostate regime and has called for more foreign jihadists to come to the country and flood its ranks.
Al Shabaab and its allies run much of southern and central Somalia, but while AMISOM remains in Mogadishu the rebels will find it hard to oust the government from strategic sites like the airport, seaport and hilltop presidential palace.
If it succeeded, there could be a repeat of 2006 when Ahmed’s Islamic Courts Union toppled U.S.-backed warlords to rule the capital for six months. Then Ethiopia invaded, with tacit U.S. support, and drove them out of the city.
Late on Thursday, the Ethiopian government vowed to stand firmly alongside the Somali government and AMISOM in their “heroic endeavours to stem the tide of terrorist violence”.
A NEW FRONT IN SOMALILAND?
One possibility is that the insurgents will open a new front in their campaign by exploiting growing political tensions in the northern breakaway enclave of Somaliland, which declared itself independent in 1991.
The region has been relatively peaceful compared with the rest of the country, but many of al Shabaab’s leaders and young recruits come from there. The insurgents targeted its main city Hargeisa last October with suicide bombings at the Ethiopian embassy, the local president’s office and a U.N. building.
At least 25 people were killed in those attacks.
Last week, three people died and six were injured when Somaliland police dispersed hundreds of opposition protesters angry over election delays, underlining the growing insecurity that the rebels might hope to exploit.