Friday, February 9, 2007

The first troops from an African Union peacekeeping force could arrive in Somalia as early as next week, but the force will likely be only half as large as originally hoped and too weak to help the faltering U.S.-backed government in Mogadishu, analysts are warning.

Representatives from the Somalia Contact Group met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, yesterday to appeal for troops and money for an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, following the ouster late last year of a militant Islamist movement that had seized power in Mogadishu.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazer, who attended the Tanzania meeting, told a Senate hearing earlier this week that U.S. transport planes are standing by to ferry about 1,500 Ugandan troops to Somalia, waiting only for an authorizing vote in Uganda’s parliament expected any day.

“We can deploy them the day after their parliament decides,” she told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing Tuesday. “I keep hoping in the next week or two.”

But it is now expected that the AU force will be at best half the size of the hoped-for 8,000-troop deployment, with other African contributors still facing legislative votes and other delays. The need for troops is urgent as the Ethiopian invasion force that helped the Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, take power late last year is pulling out.

“Frankly, I think we are already a little bit behind the U.S. government timetable,” she said.

Miss Frazer said the Bush administration sees a “window of opportunity” for political reconciliation, but private Somalia analysts say the TFG has shown no signs of compromising with its political opponents or reversing more than a decade of economic and political chaos.

“The political dialogue is not going well,” said Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia specialist at Davidson College.

“The TFG appears to be intent on seeking a victor’s peace,” he said, while anti-government forces “seem committed to rendering Mogadishu ungovernable.”

David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and State Department coordinator for Somalia, said virtually every African country considering sending troops to Somalia has imposed conditions on their deployment. He said it was unlikely an AU force of just 4,000 troops could put down challenges to the TFG from Somalia’s clan warlords or from militant Islamist groups in the south.

“I’m not sure any number of AU troops could secure Somalia at this point,” Mr. Shinn said.

A Mogadishu street protest against the peacekeeping force turned violent yesterday, as two rockets landed near one of the capital’s best-known hotels, Reuters news agency reported.

Somalia has seen a dizzying round of power shifts in the past eight months, when a power-sharing accord between the TFG and a militant Muslim movement known as the Council of Islamic Courts broke down.

Islamist forces assumed power over nearly the whole country, only to be ousted in December when an Ethiopian invasion force joined with the TFG to take over in Mogadishu.

But the TFG has been unable to establish security in the capital, battling warlords and Islamic Courts factions that U.S. officials say have clear ties to al Qaeda.

The Bush administration has proposed aid to Somalia totaling $100 million for fiscal 2007, Miss Frazer said.

Clan rivalries and the TFG’s failure to seek political reconciliation could clear the path for a comeback by still-potent Islamist forces, according to a new analysis by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

“Ethiopia’s offensive has left the bedrock of revolutionary Islam in Somalia very much intact and capable of replenishing its losses within a relatively short time,” the think tank warned.

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