KAMPALA (Reuters) - Four African nations have sent army officers to Somalia before deciding whether to commit troops to the Horn of Africa nation, where rebels are battling the fragile government, a senior Ugandan military official said.
The Somali crisis and the African Union’s (AU) peacekeeping mission in Somalia will top the AU summit being hosted by Uganda, two weeks after Somali rebels launched their first attack on foreign soil with twin bomb attacks in Kampala.
The al Qaeda-inspired al Shabaab group said the attacks were to avenge the deployment of more than 6,000 troops in Mogadishu by Uganda and Burundi. Regional powers want more than 20,000 peacekeepers to quash the insurgency and some are calling for a stronger mandate allowing the troops to take on the rebels.
“We think very soon we’ll see infantry troops because now those officers have been there, they have worked with us for more than six months on the ground and I think they have seen that the mission can be done,” General Edward Katumba Wamala told the Ugandan parliament’s defence committee late Thursday.
Katumba, who is Uganda’s chief of land forces, said Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia had all deployed officers on a fact-finding mission.
The Kampala attacks, which Uganda says were carried out by suicide bombers, have thrust Somalia back onto the international agenda and diplomats say that African leaders now feel under pressure to take action at the AU summit.
The United States has said it is prepared to step up assistance to the AU peacekeeping force, AMISOM, and one official said lethal operations could be expanded.
Katumba drew links between al Qaeda, al Shabaab and a recently dormant rebel group in Uganda, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which the east African nation says has regrouped across the border in Democratic Republic of Congo.
“There’s a link between the al Qaeda cells, the al Shabaab and the ADF and if we think we can dismiss the situation in Somalia ... and sit and be safe, then we’re deceiving ourselves”, he warned the legislators.
In the late 1990s, ADF waged an insurgency from its bases in the Rwenzori mountains along its western border. ADF originally fought to establish an Islamic state in Uganda and was blamed for a series of deadly blasts in the capital Kampala.
The Ugandan army believes the ADF continues to recruit young Muslims.