A top United States official has pledged continued support for African peacekeeping efforts in war-torn Somalia, as Uganda’s president urged African leaders to unite against terrorism just weeks after Somali militants set off deadly twin bombings in Uganda.
President Yoweri Museveni told 35 heads of state who convened in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, for an African Union summit on Sunday that the continent needed to step up its efforts against terror.
“Let us work in concert to sweep [terrorists] out of Africa,” he said.
The July 11 bombings in Kampala were claimed by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group in Somalia. The group, al-Shabaab, said the attacks were in retaliation for civilian deaths caused by AU peacekeepers in Somalia. Al-Shabaab has also called on Somalis to fight AU peacekeepers.
US Attorney General Eric Holder, the top US representative at the summit, said the U. will continue to support AU peacekeeping efforts in Somalia.
The AU mission in Somalia has about 6 000 troops from Uganda and Burundi, but the force is expected to rise after Guinea and Djibouti pledged additional forces.
“The United States applauds the heroic contributions that are being made on a daily basis by Uganda and Burundian troops,” Holder said. “We pledge to maintain our support for the AU and the AU mission in Somalia.”
Holder condemned the bombings in Uganda and said a forensic team from the FBI is helping Ugandan authorities with the investigation.
“Make no mistake, these attacks were nothing more than reprehensible acts of cowardice inspired by a radical and corrupt ideology,” Holder said.
Museveni also told leaders his government had arrested suspected organisers of the bombings and that interrogations were yielding “good information”.
First attack outside Somalia
The bombings were al-Shabaab’s first attack outside Somalia, where last year they claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack, among others, on a base of AU troops protecting the weak UN-backed Somali government.
Both men spoke at a summit that planned to focus on health issues, peace and security, infrastructure, energy and food security. But the twin bombings two weeks ago and the conflict in Somalia are likely to dominate many discussions at the three-day summit.
Somalia has not had a functioning government for 20 years. The current administration holds a few blocks of the capital and has been hampered by squabbling and corruption.
The president recently reshuffled the Cabinet but many of the same officials remain and it is unclear how the new administration intends to provide services or security.
The US and the European Union have spent millions of dollars to train 2 000 Somali government soldiers at bases in Uganda, but the programme’s success was questioned after a group of Somali soldiers trained in Djibouti deserted because they were not paid.
Holder also announced on Sunday that his office is forming a new initiative to combat large-scale foreign official corruption.
African countries are frequently criticised for corruption, and Somalia has been named the world’s most corrupt country by Transparency International.
Somalia’s weak government is fighting an Islamist insurgency that is itself riven by divisions. Al-Shabaab, the strongest insurgent group, has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and the US State Department says some of its leaders have links to al-Qaeda.
Intelligence sources say hundreds of extremist foreign fighters are operating in the failed state. Many of them are Somalis with dual nationalities and diplomats fear they may one day launch an attack on the West.
Many of the fighters have experience in the battlefields of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, international officials say. — Sapa-AP