Uganda has started sending 2,700 new troops to war-torn Somalia, a military spokesman said on Tuesday, as African Union peacekeeping troops continue efforts to stabilize the nation.
The fresh troops will reinforce the security of Somalia’s presidency, the parliament, all ministries and the airport, as well as the country’s sea port, Ugandan army chief, General Katumba Wamala, said. The soldiers have had several weeks of specialized training from U.S. and French instructors to help them deal with attacks by insurgents, a spokesman for the Ugandan military said.
The deployment comes three weeks after Ugandan troops helped Somalia’s army to recapture the strategic port of Barawe, long-held by the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab militants who have used it to import arms and foreign fighters.
“Be vigilant and despite being a people’s force, please guard against the terrorists taking advantage of that relationship to cause harm on you,” Gen. Katumba told the troops as they prepared to depart from a Ugandan base for Somalia.
The consignment is the 17th Uganda has sent to Somalia since 2007, as part of a U.S.-backed military mission to rid lawless Somalia of militants. They will replace a consignment that participated in the capture of Barawe earlier this month.
Although al-Shabaab militants were driven out of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, as well as major towns, three years ago, the militants are still bunkered down across much of the countryside. Until it was driven out of Barawe, the militant group was governing the port town under a strict interpretation of Islamic law, ordering floggings, amputations and executions for various crimes.
Ugandan officials say that Kampala agreed to contribute troops to the mission in 2007 to choke off the flow of illicit arms and ammunitions to cattle rustlers who for years had terrorized Uganda’s northeastern region of Karamoja. But Kampala has paid a heavy price for this role.
In July, 2010, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for multiple bomb blasts in Kampala, in retaliation for Uganda’s presence in Somalia. The attacks killed 79 people, including one American. Last month, security officials uncovered a terrorist cell in Kampala and arrested 19 suspects who were allegedly planning to strike several targets, according to Ugandan and U.S. officials.
Somalia hasn’t had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, making it a haven for terrorists, pirates and illicit arms dealers.
Other countries with troops in Somalia include Djibouti, Kenya, Burundi ,Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.