MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s prime minister pledged to crush a four-year Islamist insurgency within three months on Tuesday as his troops backed by African peacekeepers seized new rebel positions in the capital Mogadishu.
Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed told government-run Radio Mogadishu that government forces were well prepared to tackle the militants but it was unclear if his comments marked the start of a second phase of a nationwide offensive.
Regional powers and donors have in the past few weeks slammed the slow pace of political reform and security gains across the country, as the interim government and parliament near the end of their mandate.
Political analysts say this month’s military surge against al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants might be politically motivated as leaders seek to restore reputations.
“Our forces have made tangible advances in their recent fighting against al Shabaab and hopefully we will eliminate them and end the conflict within 90 days,” Mohamed said.
Somalia’s military commander General Abdikarim Farah said fighting raged on in Mogadishu’s northern districts while government troops were also advancing on rebel positions in southern Somalia.
Neighbouring Kenya sent troops just across its border with the lawless Horn of Africa nation to support Somali troops engaging insurgents in the strategically important town of Dobley, several military and security sources told Reuters.
They also said Kenya continued to deploy reinforcements along the desert frontier where residents reported heavy exchanges of artillery fire between rebels, Somali forces and their allied militia.
“Our army moved inside Somalia, to Dobley, to help a group of Somali troops who had been ambushed on Sunday. Our forces met stiff resistance, they sustained some injuries but all left safely,” said a security source involved in the operation.
Kenya’s government spokesman Alfred Mutua denied Kenyan troops had entered Somali territory.
“We have troops on our side because we do not want those Somalis crossing over to Kenya and bringing their war to our side,” Mutua said.
Under the terms of a 2009 deal, the Somali government and parliament’s mandate is set to expire on August 20 this year, by which time they were supposed to have enacted a new constitution and held elections.
The Somali parliament’s decision to extend its own mandate by three years dashed an opportunity to build more of a politcal consensus on how to move forward after August 20, a senior European Union diplomat said on Tuesday.
Nicholas Westcott, the EU’s managing director for Africa, said an extended mandate for parliament might be acceptable, and for government too, if it could be linked to a credible road map for political reform.
“If we can (make the link) there may still be some case for extension, but maybe not for three years because we need there to be some clear benchmarks that we are making progress,” Westcott told a news conference in Nairobi.