Several thousand Somali forces trained in neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya will open a second front against Islamist insurgents by the end of the year in Somalia’s south and central regions, the prime minister said on Sunday.
The forces will try to capture key towns including the port of Kismayo, which is believed to generate a substantial amount of revenue for the insurgency, Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said in the capital of Mogadishu.
Kenya has a force of 2,000 Somali refugees stationed in northern Kenya, and Ethiopia trained a force of 1,000 fighters under a German-funded program.
“Those forces have now completed their training and we are expecting them to come back and really now open a different front,” Sharmarke said. “Unless you open different fronts you’re not going to end this war.”
The prime minister’s comments follow a month of intense fighting between Somali government forces and the insurgents, some of whom have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda.
Government soldiers who had gone for months without pay abandoned key positions in Mogadishu, many of which African Union peacekeepers had to fight to regain. The prime minister was unable to say whether the new forces would be consistently paid.
“Some forces are being paid today and then it will take them four or five months to get another salary,” he said. “You cannot expect those forces to be loyal and defend the country when they’re not getting ... what they’re entitled to.”
An allied militia in the central region was also expected to help with the new front, he said, although representatives of the militia alliance earlier said that relations between them and the government were strained.
Sharmarke said that the government would “definitely” deploy the foreign-trained troops by the end of the year because they wanted to strike while the Islamist insurgents were weakened.
A nurse at Deynile hospital, located in an insurgent-held neighborhood, said that around 20 fighters had come seeking treatment a day over the past few weeks instead of the usual two or three.
Somalia has not had a functioning government for nearly 20 years.
The current administration is protected by 7,100 African Union peacekeepers, who are gradually expanding their bases throughout the capital in an effort to recapture territory from Islamist insurgents.