NAIROBI, Kenya – NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — African Union peacekeepers have established nine new bases in Somalia's capital in recent months and will help develop Somali government forces to defeat al-Qaida-linked Islamist insurgents, an AU official said Friday.
The announcement follows several days of bloody clashes in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu. The bloodshed that has left more than 100 people dead comes amid growing concern over the insurgency's ability to mount terrorist attacks.
The gradual expansion of peacekeeping bases follows an abandoned plan for a dramatic offensive by government forces earlier this year. The government soldiers were not properly trained or equipped, and diplomats say there was concern that they would not be able to hold any territory they took.
The nine new bases have been established over the past five months, often after heavy fighting. They have helped secure a key road linking Somali government buildings with the airport, where the peacekeeping force has its main base.
Somalia's Islamist insurgents cannot outgun the peacekeepers' tanks and armored vehicles, so instead they dig trenches across the dirt roads and lay explosive devices and spring ambushes.
Around 300 insurgents have been killed in recent days, said Wafula Wamunyinyi, the deputy head of the AU commission for Somalia. There was no way of independently verifying his figures.
There are around 7,200 AU troops in Somalia at the moment, and more are expected in coming months to bring the force up to 8,000, the size allowed by the original mandate. But AU and diplomatic officials have been discussing expanding beyond that to 10,000 or even 20,000.
Uganda this week said it was ready to send 10,000 additional forces to Mogadishu if the U.S. provided the funding.
Wamunyinyi said AU troops would work to help develop Somalia's underpaid and under-equipped government forces, but it would take a long time to reconstruct the country's security forces. Soldiers say their commanders frequently steal their wages. They often sell their weapons or ammunition in the marketplace to buy food for their families.
America is helping fund an EU-led program to train 2,000 Somali government soldiers for six months in Uganda, which supplies the bulk of the peacekeeping force. In July, the main Islamist militia claimed responsibility for bombings in the Ugandan capital that killed 76 people. Al-Shabab said it was retaliation for civilian deaths caused by Ugandan troops.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, ever since clan warlords toppled Somalia's socialist dictator. The current conflict is still complicated by clan loyalties but mainly pits a fractious alliance of Islamist forces against the weak U.N.-backed government and its allied militias.