An African force fighting Somalia’s Shebab rebels has asked the European Union and the United States for help in wresting control of the key port of Kismayo, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Tuesday.
“Our aim is to get to Kismayo by August,” Odinga said, saying that taking the Shebab’s last bastion would entail an “operation by land, sea and air.”
The African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM) has “asked the EU to help us with the Atalanta forces that they have there; they are reluctant,” Odinga told a meeting with international media.
Between five and 10 warships, depending on the period, are deployed off the Horn of Africa as part of the European Union’s Atalanta operation launched in 2008 to protect merchant vessels from Somali pirates.
Atalanta’s mandate was expanded in March to include airborne operations against pirate bases on the Somali coast.
However no mention was made of possible operations against the Shebab Islamists who are fighting the weak transitional government and who still control a large chunk of south and central Somalia.
“We have asked the Americans for assistance … we are talking about financial assistance,” he said.
The assault on Kismayo “is going to be a joint effort,” the prime minister said. “We are working with other international groups which are in Somalia,” he said, citing Ugandan troops within AMISOM as well as Ethiopian forces.
Kenya rolled tanks and troops across the border into Somalia in October, while the Ethiopians went in one month later.
The Kenyan contingent, which according to Nairobi numbers 4,631 soldiers, was officially integrated into AMISOM in early June.
Burundian and Ugandan troops in AMISOM pressured the Shebab into abandoning fixed positions in the capital Mogadishu in August.
The Islamists have lost other major towns such as Beledweyne and Baidoa but have so far held on to the port of Kismayo, from which they draw most of their revenue.
“Kismayo is the real major source of supply of the Shebab. Without the control of Kismayo, it is very difficult to completely neutralise the Shebab,” Odinga said.
He said camps need to be built, as well as infrastructure, after military conquests in south and central Somalia “to create an environment in Somalia which will facilitate a volontary return of Somalis in Somalia.”
Odinga added: “The international community needs to help us in doing it.”
The prime minister said the refugee camps at Dadaab in eastern Kenya, currently the world’s biggest, shelter nearly 600,000 people, mainly Somalis.
He said the overall number of Somalis in Kenya was “close to one million,” adding that the burden was becoming onerous.