‘Zero collateral effect’ ensured; support to U.S. on a case-by-case basis

The failed U.S. navy SEALs raid along the coastal town of Barawe in Somalia was part of a broader U.S.-Somali military and intelligence engagement to fight insurgents in the conflict-prone east African state, Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud said in a rare interview.

Mr. Mahmoud said no firm evidence had yet emerged that that Somali nationals were involved in last month’s insurgent attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, or that the attack was planned on Somali soil.

In a joint report last week, the United Nations (U.N.) and African Union (A.U.) warned that Al-Shabab, the Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group that took responsibility for the Westgate mall, Nairobi attack, was rearming, regrouping and refinancing even as the 17,709-strong continent of African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom) was geographically stretched and unable to make fresh inroads into insurgent territory.

On the U.S. raid, Mr. Mahmoud described cooperation with the Americans as proceeding on a case-by-case basis, rather than “blanket operational endorsement”.

“In the case of Barawe, we were informed. The way it happened, and the way it was planned was okay with us,” he said, describing Barawe as a target for further military action as the port had emerged as a safe haven and financial centre for Al-Shabab.

U.S. authorities said the SEALs were after Al-Shabab commander Abdulkadir Mohammed Albdulkadir, but withdrew after a prolonged firefight with Al-Shabab fighters drew large crowds. Mr. Mahmoud said the withdrawal was consistent with a tacit pact that such raids minimise civilian casualties.

“We agreed such operations would have zero collateral effect. That is the reason why they immediately withdrew,” he said.

Western diplomats said they expected Barawe would be a major military target once Amisom boosts its numbers by an additional 6,235 troops of which, three battalions would be used for a temporary surge lasting 18 to 24 months.

“The core issue is funding for these additional troops,” a western diplomat said. Last week, the U.N. and A.U. called for new donors to support the Somalia mission. The European Union (EU) has provided more than €400, or 85 per cent of Amisom’s total cost, since 2007 but may not continue to provide funding at the same rate.

Mr. Mahmoud said he disagreed with the assessment that Al-Shabab was regrouping in Somalia, but welcomed the possibility of an international troop surge. “Al Shabab is very damaged,” he said, “These suicide bombings are a way to show their supporters they are not dead.”

The troops surge was important but the eventual goal, he said, was to strengthen the Somali army to fight Al-Shabab and enforce the writ of the Somali government across its fractured territory.

“The international community [wants to] contain Al-Shabab inside Somalia, but that is not practically possible, the only thing that is possible is to uproot them from Somalia” he said, “These kind of groups don’t have borders.”

  • No firm evidence yet that Somalis were involved in Nairobi attack

  • ‘Containing’ Al-Shabab not possible, we need to ‘uproot them’