It was an especially bloody day in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu yesterday, where reports indicated that around 30 people were killed and as many as 70 wounded. Eyewitnesses quoted by VOA and CNN International reported that the fighting between the African Union peacekeeping force, AMISOM, and the militant al-Shabaab was the worst in months.
Fighting started early in the morning when al-Shabaab reportedly launched mortars at the Mogadishu airport, where Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was boarding a plane bound for Uganda to take part in a conference about displaced populations in Africa. The president was not harmed. Reports citing local journalists say that a firefight ensued when AMISOM responded to the Shabaab attack by shelling a popular market area called Bakara, known to be a Shabaab stronghold.
A common theme from the reports is that the violence in Mogadishu is increasingly following a destructive pattern: Somali insurgents attack an A.U. or government base, and AMISOM responds by firing into a Shabaab stronghold, often strategically located among civilian homes. As a result, animosity toward AMISOM is growing.
AMISOM denies the reports that it has targeted residential areas, alleging that al-Shabaab stages attacks to fan anti-AMISOM sentiment. But civilians are skeptical. One business man quoted by the Associated Press said:
"What cannot be denied is that most of the fire comes from the bases of the African Union, and they hit and kill civilians in the rebel-controlled areas. People have eyes and ears, they know what is going on."
Two years into its mission, funding shortfalls, staffing shortfalls, and relentless attacks by al-Shabaab plague the peacekeeping force. Only 5,000 peacekeepers of the 8,000-strong force have deployed. Still, AMISOM has managed to carve out and protect a section of the capital for the fragile U.N.-backed government. But as public frustration with AMISOM over its alleged targeting of civilian areas grows, it’s hard to imagine that the Somali government will avoid being viewed as guilty by association – and that would certainly be a distressing trend in a conflict characterized as a struggle over hearts and minds.
Photo: Insurgents in Mogadishu (AP/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)