Security patrol the streets during fighting between al-Shabab extremists and soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. AP
Sixty-one tons of weapons and ammunition arrived Tuesday in Mogadishu, the U.S. said in a statement of support for a historic Somalia-led military offensive against al-Shabab extremists that has recaptured dozens of communities since August.
In a separate joint statement with other leading security partners Qatar, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Britain, the U.S. said they will support Somalia’s efforts to manage weapons and ammunition that could allow the United Nations Security Council to lift its arms embargo on the country.
“A very productive meeting,” Somalia’s national security adviser, Hussein Sheikh-Ali, tweeted after the Washington gathering.
The government of Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared “total war” last year on the thousands of al-Shabab extremists who for more than a decade have controlled parts of the country and carried out devastating attacks while exploiting clan divisions and extorting millions of dollars a year in their quest to impose an Islamic state.
The current offensive was sparked in part by local communities and militias driven to the brink by al-Shabab’s harsh taxation policies amid the country’s worst drought on record. Somalia’s government quickly lent support. Now neighbors Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti have agreed to a joint “search and destroy” military campaign.
Somalia is recovering from decades of conflict, and the federal government is eager to shed the country’s history as a failed state and attract investment. Under the current president, the government is cracking down on al-Shabab’s financial network and encouraging religious authorities to reject the extremist group’s propaganda — even enlisting a former deputy al-Shabab leader as Somalia’s current minster for religious affairs.
The U.S. has an estimated 450 military personnel in Somalia after President Joe Biden reversed his predecessor Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces. The U.S. supports Somali forces and a multinational African Union force with drone strikes, intelligence and training.
The increased support for the Somalia-led offensive comes as the AU force is set to withdraw from the country and hand over security responsibilities to Somalia by the end of 2024.