Somalia Would Accept Ethiopian Force Backed by African Union

Somalia would accept the involvement of Ethiopian forces in its battle against al-Qaeda-linked militants as it seeks the expansion of an African Union-led peacekeeping mission, a government spokesman said.

Somalia is unaware of any Ethiopian soldiers crossing its border, Abdirahman Omar Osman, a spokesman for the government, said today by phone from Mogadishu, the capital. The New York Times reported today that hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers with artillery and tanks crossed into Somalia yesterday.

“We don’t know of any Ethiopian troops crossing into our territory,” Osman said. “Illegal troops can’t cross a country’s legal border.”

Kenyan forces entered Somalia last month after accusing al-Shabaab militants of abducting at least four, foreign aid workers and holidaymakers in the country, as well as murdering a British man, between September and October. Al-Shabaab, which is battling the Western-backed government headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is seeking to establish an Islamic state in the Horn of Africa nation.

U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia in 2006 to oust an Islamist government that had captured southern Somalia. They withdrew in January 2009 after becoming bogged down in a guerrilla war with al-Shabaab.

Ethiopian Role Discussed

Ethiopia denied its troops moved into Somalia.

“We have made no commitment to enter Somalia on our own,” Bereket Simon, a government spokesman, said today by phone from the capital, Addis Ababa. “We are waiting for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.”

East African nations will discuss sending Ethiopian troops to Somalia at a meeting of the six-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Addis Ababa on Nov. 25, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry said on Nov. 18.

Any agreement to send more soldiers under the command of the African Union Mission in Somalia, a peacekeeping force operated by the continental body with a mandate from the United Nations, would be welcome, Osman said.

“We welcome anything that could support us getting rid of the extremists on our soil,” he said.

Kenya would “be prepared to work with anyone who is committed to working toward the stabilization of Somalia, Major Emmanuel Chirchir, spokesman for the Kenya Defence Forces, said in a phone interview today.

Kenyan Offensive Slowed

The Kenyan offensive is moving slower than expected and its troops need more military backing, Peter Pham, director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said Nov. 18 in response to e-mailed questions.

‘‘It seems inevitable that Ethiopia will have to re-enter Somalia,’’ said Pham. ‘‘The Kenyans, having foolishly charged in with apparently little thought as to realistic strategic objectives and clearly inadequate forces, are now bogged down and need an additional front opened against al-Shabaab to relieve the pressure on themselves.’’

Somalia, which hasn’t had a functioning government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre’s in 1991, has been the hardest hit by the worst regional drought in six decades, leaving 750,000 at risk of starvation, according to the UN.

Fire from Kenyan military jets, supported by navy ships, destroyed an al-Shabaab training facility yesterday in the Badade district of Lower Juba, Chirchir said.

Islamic militants yesterday ambushed and killed eight Kenyan soldiers in an area near the Somalia-Kenya border, al-Shabaab said in an e-mailed statement today.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE