NAIROBI, Kenya — Problems including corrupt officials and a lack of supplies have delayed Somalia’s military offensive against Islamic insurgents, but even before the first shot has been fired new warnings have emerged that blood may be spilled for little or no gain.
In signs the offensive is approaching, close to 1,000 additional troops arrived from Uganda last week to support the African Union’s forces in Mogadishu, and the Islamists have been digging trenches across the capital’s streets to impede AU armored cars. The AU backs the beleaguered Somali government and has more than 5,000 troops stationed in the country.
But Somalia’s government, whose forces are weak and poorly trained and equipped, has not described how it would consolidate any gains made in the offensive or win the support of the people, who are splintered into hundreds of clans.
Experts say the government does not appear to have a political plan ready to deploy after the end of the fighting, which is likely to kill scores of civilians.
Foreshadowing a struggle just to take ground from al-Shabab, an Islamic militia loosely linked with al-Qaida, a U.N. report this month said Somalia’s security forces lack resources, organization and a functional chain of command, and blamed the problems on a lack of commitment by the country’s leaders.
The Somali government, for its part, says it is committed but needs more international support, even though more than $180 million has been poured into the country by the U.S. alone in the last three years.
As the commander in chief, President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed would order the start of the offensive. Ahmed told The Associated Press that efforts are under way to professionalize and better equip the security forces, but the government lacks money to pay the soldiers, many of whom have been trained in neighboring Djibouti by the African Union.
U.S. officials in Washington say they have given money to help pay for Somalia’s soldiers, but declined to discuss how the money was delivered, to whom, or how they could be sure it reached the fighters. A U.N. report said the government’s ability to pay soldiers is hindered by deep corruption.
The U.N. Monitoring Group of Somalia found that the Somali military is dominated by a command structure based on clan loyalties and noted that corruption has deprived soldiers of pay and meals and is so bad that Somali commanders and troops often sell their arms and ammunition to militants.
"The consequences of these deficiencies include an inability of the security forces of the Transitional Federal Government to take and hold ground," the U.N. monitoring group said in its scathing analysis. "As a result, they have made few durable military gains during the course of the mandate, and the front line has remained, in at least one location, only 500 meters (yards) from the presidency."
The offensive, which has been repeatedly delayed over the past few months, is meant to push back insurgents who operate within just a few blocks of the presidential palace and widen the government’s small slice of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
U.S. officials say the United States is not planning the offensive and won’t be coordinating or directing it. Johnnie Carson, America’s assistant secretary of state for Africa, said last week that the U.S. has only "provided limited military support" to Somali government.
The U.S. recognizes the Somali government’s need to defend itself from al-Shabab. However, the U.S. is encouraging the Somali government to think about what it will do after the battles are over, said a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of departmental policy.
Col. Aden Ibrahim Kalmoy, Somalia’s military spokesman, insisted that the government does have a post-offensive security plan but would not reveal any details. He said Somali government forces are "committed to an inevitable war until they eradicate the terrorists from all Somali territory."
Nairobi-based analyst E.J. Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group said the long-term success of the offensive requires a political strategy and that a military solution cannot be imposed on Somalia.
"We’re not aware of any plan that would suggest the government has any strategy into which this offensive fits," he said.
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