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Somalia Deploys Forces in Captured Former al-Qaeda Bastion

Somalia deployed government soldiers in the center of the port city of Kismayo, three days after African Union forces captured the stronghold of al-Qaeda-backed Islamist militants, an eyewitness said.

“Armed government forces together with armored vehicles have been seen in the city,” Ibrahim Abdi Sheikh, a businessman in Kismayo, said in a phone interview today. General Ismail Sahardiid, the general commander of Somali forces in the southern Juba region, didn’t answer his mobile phone when called for comment today.

African forces seized Kismayo on Sept. 28 in what Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said marked a turning point in the war against Islamist militants who have been seeking the ouster of Somalia’s United Nations-backed government since at least 2006. Kenyan forces entered Somalia last year following attacks on tourists and aid workers in Kenya and are now fighting under an African Union mandate.

Kismayo was a strategic target because it’s been a key supply route for al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, and a source of taxes the group collects, according to the UN. Income from Somali ports has generated as much as $50 million a year for al-Shabaab from illegal trading, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia said in a report last year.

The U.S. plans to direct any additional resources to building a new Somali national military and it doesn’t back any further expansion of Amisom, as the mission is known, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said.

“The focus should be on creating a national Somali army that will take over from Amisom and will assume the responsibility of providing national security and defense for the nation,” Carson told reporters today on a teleconference.

Carson said Sierra Leone is deploying troops to Somalia over today and tomorrow to join the AU mission, which already comprises soldiers from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Djibouti.

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