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More troops to Somalia

UGANDA: African leaders gathering in Kampala days after Somalia’s Shebab carried out deadly suicide attacks in the Ugandan capital are expected this weekend to mull sending more troops to war-torn Mogadishu.

The venue for the African Union summit was picked long before the July 11 attacks that killed 76 people but the unprecedented bombings were expected to inject renewed urgency in the continental body’s approach to Somalia.

The Al Qaeda-inspired group Shebab who claimed the attacks, the region’s worst in 12 years, said they were in retaliation for Uganda’s leading role in the AU’s mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

But instead of being bullied into a pull-out, Uganda looked set to take advantage of the 53-member organisation’s summit to muster support for a beefed-up deployment and more aggressive mandate.

Heads of state meeting from Sunday to Tuesday are expected to endorse a decision made earlier this month by the regional body IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) to send an extra 2,000 troops to Mogadishu.

While Uganda, which already provides more than half of the existing contingent, has called on its neighbours to chip in, Kampala looks once again set to contribute the bulk of the reinforcements.

“We are capable of providing the required force if other countries fail to do so,” Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said last week in the aftermath of the attacks.

AMISOM’s more than 6,000 troops are better trained and equipped than the Shebab but their mandate has restricted them to protecting Somalia’s weak western-backed transitional government.

Uganda has said it was seeking a “license to kill” for AMISOM forces to make an impact but the force’s defensive mortar shelling has caused many civilian casualties and analysts argue the Shebab are trying to draw it into a trap.

“We are quite worried about the consequences of such an operation, because if they are engaged in quite an indiscriminate manner, they run the risk of playing in the hands of the Shebab,” said the International Crisis Group’s Ernst Jan Hogendoorn.

Somalia’s seemingly inexorable descent into chaos and the rise of a group affiliated to Al-Qaea that has proved its ability to strike beyond Somalia’s borders are likely to overshadow the summit’s official theme of maternal and child health. Kampala, Thursday, AFP

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