(photo credit: APS)
launched multiple attacks on government bases and African Union
peacekeeping troops and at least 19 people, including women and
children, were killed in the heaviest fighting in a day seen in
Somalia's capital in months.
Friday's battle came two days before
President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed marks his first year in power and
underscored that his goal of ending violence in a nation shattered by
nearly two decades of war remains as elusive as ever.
30 people were wounded in the hours-long fighting, said Ali Muse, the
head of the ambulance service in Mogadishu. Residents cowered in their
homes, unable to venture out as the warring sides pounded each other
with artillery, mortars and machine guns.
Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage,
a spokesman for the insurgent al-Shabab group, said the early morning
attacks were aimed at pre-empting an anticipated offensive against the
Islamist militia, which controls much of southern regions, most of the
capital and some central regions.
Rage said two fighters
al-Shabab fighters were killed. Barigye Bahoku, spokesman for the AU
peacekeepers, said one of the force's 5,100 soldiers was injured. Muse
said women and children were among those killed but didn't know how
Somali police spokesman Col. Abdullahi Hassan Barise said the insurgent attack was beaten back.
a lull throughout the day, fighting resumed for about 30 minutes Friday
evening. Gunshots could be heard in the southern part of Mogadishu.
Hassan said mortar shells hit the homes of his neighbors, killing four
of them. Hassan said he and other men moved the bodies away from the
wreckage to another house nearby. He also said there were five people
wounded, but they could not take them to a hospital because it was
night and it wasn't safe to move around.
When Ahmed was sworn in
on Jan. 31, 2009, world leaders touted his government as the "best
option" for Somalia. At the time, Ahmed was co-leader of an Islamic
insurgency and there was hope he and his supporters would be able to
draw in more of the Islamists and help stabilize the capital, which has
been the epicenter of the Somali conflict.
Foreign governments in
April pledged more than $250 million in money and resources for
Somalia's fledgling security forces, but only a third has been
Ahmed has been unable to ride a groundswell of support
to put pressure on the insurgents and hasn't established a national
security force capable of defeating them, analysts say. Al-Shabab,
which the US State Department has designated as a terrorist
organization with links to al-Qaida, and its Islamic Party ally strike
government forces and installations and AU bases almost at will.
"The key problem facing Ahmed's government is the lack of a reliable force," said Rashid Abdi of the International Crisis Group.
current army and police force has a reputation for corruption, with
members even setting up extortion checkpoints in government-controlled
areas. They refuse to allow cars and people to pass without them paying
a fee — a throwback to the days when Mogadishu was divided among
warlords whose militiaman extorted money at checkpoints.
government can't pay its own security forces regular salaries because
donors have been slow to release money, but when money does come in
officials allegedly pad the payroll with nonexistent personnel.
Abdi said the government must create a highly trained, highly motivated force with enough resources and regular salaries.
Somalia's humanitarian crisis, meanwhile, has gotten worse.
number of Somalis who need humanitarian aid has swelled from 1.8
million in January 2008 to 3.6 million today even as the lack of
security, particularly in southern Somalia, has forced many aid
agencies to suspend operations. Earlier this month, the UN food
agency suspended distribution of desperately needed aid because of
attacks on its staff.