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Kenyan troops make slow progress in Somalia
by Staff Writers
Tabda, Somalia (AFP) Feb 22, 2012

Angolan opposition remembers Savimbi a decade on
Luanda (AFP) Feb 22, 2012 - Angolan opposition party Unita commemorated the 10th anniversary Wednesday of the death of its founder, Jonas Savimbi, defending his much-maligned legacy and pledging to carry on his mission.

Savimbi was killed on February 22, 2002 in a firefight with government forces in the eastern province of Moxico, bringing an end to his 27-year civil war with Angola's socialist government.

"All the attempts to denigrate Jonas Savimbi just show the force, the importance and the reach of what he represented for the Angolan people," Alcides Sakala Simoes, spokesman for the rebel group-turned-opposition party, told a meeting in Luanda.

Savimbi's legacy is a complicated one for Unita, which signed a peace treaty with the government six weeks after his death. He left behind a weakened organisation that has never regained its former support.

Unita won just seven percent of the vote in the last elections, in 2008, against 87 percent for its rival the MPLA.

Reading a message from party leader Isaias Samakuva, who was out of the country for medical treatment, Sakala urged party members to use Savimbi's fighting spirit to win elections expected around September this year.

"The man who was killed 10 years ago is still alive, and he's asking us to bring about change now, in 2012," he said. "We're going to make that change peacefully, but with the courage and determination of Jonas Savimbi."

Unita has struggled to escape the stigma cast over Savimbi's memory by the brutality of the war he waged and his rejection of the party's loss in a UN-organised election in 1992, which helped sentence Angola to another decade of terror.

But the MPLA's image has also suffered as President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has clung to power for 32 years and the government has largely failed to spread the wealth of Africa's second-largest oil exporter to the bulk of its people.

Sakala said the country was ready for new leadership, accusing the MPLA of vote-stealing.

"Like in Tunisia, Egypt and Ivory Coast, the time of electoral fraud is finished in Angola," he said.

Draped in belts of bullets and carrying a machine gun, Kenyan soldier Philip Namanda peers out into the shimmering heat of the yellow scrubland of southern Somalia, waiting for guerrilla attacks.

"It's tough work, but we are tough soldiers," Namanda says, an infantry soldier based in the sun-blasted outpost of Tabda, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) inside war-torn southern Somalia, where Kenya invaded in October.

Nairobi sent tanks and troops into Somalia four months ago to crush Al-Qaeda allied Shebab insurgents in retaliation, it said, for attacks on Kenya.

But despite initial progress, movement since has been slow -- invasion orders were given in the rainy season when vehicles were bogged down in mud, while now the land is bone dry, soldiers are harried by Shebab guerrilla attacks.

Kenya's forward base lies some 40 kilometres (25 miles) east at Beles Qoqani, but troops here at Tabda still appear nervous in their sandbagged trenches.

A gruesome Shebab propaganda video released last week -- but filmed a month before Kenya's invasion -- shows fierce firefights as Shebab gunmen on pickups mounted with heavy machine guns mow down Kenyan-backed Somali militiamen.

But air strikes and ground assaults have now forced the Shebab to break into small groups launching "probing attacks and ambushes," said Brigadier Johnson Ondieki, a senior commander. Yet the assault still appears to have stalled.

Officers insist that morale is high. Soldiers have scrawled slogans across their helmets, apparently inspired by Hollywood films of US troops in Vietnam. "Permitted to Kill," one reads. "Warrior" reads another.

Yet there is no swift or easy victory in sight. Namanda lifts his heavy helmet -- revealing a polka-dot bandana -- to show his message written in marker pen, the names of his three children and his wife.

"I'm a family man and I miss them," the 32-year old said, assigned to guard journalists on a military organised trip.

But Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Nyagah, commander of this battle sector, dismisses criticism of slow progress, saying that his soldiers could swiftly take major rebel-held towns, but the army was winning "hearts and minds."

"We could move forward and capture towns and territory off Al-Shebab tomorrow, but what would happen?," Nyagah told reporters.

"Al-Shebab would mingle with the people and attack, so we are doing a pacification operation to ensure they don't disrupt the gains we have made."

Kenya also appears hesitant to follow the example of Ethiopia's 2006-2009 US-backed invasion, when some 30,000 men poured into the anarchic country at civil war for over 20 years, only to retreat from a bloody insurgency.

Funding the costly military operations is a problem too, and combat soldiers grumble their salaries are delayed.

Drumming up support for Kenyan troops to join the African Union force -- and thereby easing funding issues -- is a key aim of Nairobi at an international conference in London on Thursday hoping to tackle Somalia's multiple crises.

The force's 10,000 men from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti are battling the Shebab in the Somali capital, while Ethiopian troops and tanks are separately attacking the extremists from the south and west.

Kenya also realises that defeating Shebab fighters militarily is only part of the battle towards ensuring stability for southern Somalia, with which it shares a 680-kilometre (420-mile) porous border.

"In the liberated areas... there are inadequate food supplies and medical facilities, a lack of clean water," said Ondieki, appealing for aid agencies to move in behind the Kenyans.

So far locals in Tabda say that while security has improved, the benefits are few, while aid agencies are fearful of the fierce battles still raging.

Locals seem wary but largely supportive of the Kenyans, who have allied themselves with an anti-Shebab Somali militia force here.

"The security is better, but medicine and food supplies have been blocked by the fighting," said Mohamed Mahmud, an elder, as Kenyan troops milled around.

As night falls on Liboi, the last Kenyan outpost before the Somali border, soldiers bed down in canvas tents.

Kenya's "inexperienced boys have become so petrified of the daily assaults by the mujahideen, that even mere rustle of leaves curdles their blood," one Shebab message earlier this month taunted on the insurgent's Twitter site read.

Soldiers in the camp scoff at Shebab threats with bravado, but as sentries strap on their body armour and man their weapons for the long night ahead, a real threat remains.

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Kenya's military to receive U.S. aid
Nairobi, Kenya (UPI) Feb 22, 2012 - The United States is to provide Kenya financial aid to assist military operations supporting the African Union Mission in Somalia.

U.S. State Department Special Representative to Somalia James Swan said that Washington since 2007 has provided $340 million in voluntary assistance to African countries contributing troops to Amisom operations.

"The cost of an expanded Amisom, augmented troop levels and associated logistics included, will significantly increase the assessed costs for all U.N. member states," Swan said during a teleconference at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

"Furthermore, with the proposed troop increase, the donor community will be faced with tens of millions in additional bilateral costs to train and equip the new forces."

The United States has strongly supported Amisom's efforts to counteract al-Shabaab's rising influence in Somalia, as the militant Islamic organization battles the government for control of the capital Mogadishu.

Swan urged support for Amisom's recent progress in taking control of Mogadishu districts from al-Shabaab.

"The United States believes a key priority that straddles security, politics and recovery is how to govern and assist in areas recaptured from al-Shabaab," he said. "It is urgent to avoid security and governance vacuum in these locations and to provide a rapid recovery where al-Shabaab has left."

Since 2006, al-Shabaab has come increasingly to control increasing swathes of central and southern Somalia since emerging as a strong political and fighting force. Ethiopia has sent troops to Somalia to oust the Islamist Union of Islamic courts movement, with which al-Shabaab was affiliated.

Al-Shabaab is attempting to topple the Western-backed Somali government in Mogadishu, which is currently protected by roughly 10,000 Amisom soldiers drawn from Burundi, Djibouti and Uganda.

Hopes are high in Somalia for the outcome of Thursday's London Conference on Somalia to help lead to peace and stability for beleaguered nation, which has spiraled into chaos since 1991.

"I have hopes and fears for the outcome of the London conference," said Somalia's National Disaster Management Agency head Abdullahi Shirwa.

"My hope is that there will be a coordinated intervention plan from the international community and we will not have the current haphazard intervention.

"Secondly, I hope whatever is decided (ensures) that the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity will be safeguarded and respected."

Shirwa added that he would like to see a "clear commitment" from the international community to Somalia. And that commitment should cover humanitarian, political and economic aspects.

"I would also like to see that help inside Somalia," he said. "It does not matter what city or region. You cannot help Somalia from Nairobi, Geneva or New York. It has to be inside (Somalia) to have any tangible effect.

"My fear is of an outcome that legitimizes a parallel intervention whereby the African Union is doing its own thing, the U.N. something else."


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Jonas Savimbi's charisma, brutality still haunt 10 years on
Johannesburg (AFP) Feb 21, 2012
Jonas Savimbi, the vicious, charismatic rebel who fought Angola's socialist government in a 27-year civil war, died 10 years ago Wednesday, leaving behind a haunting legacy of violence. Savimbi was killed in a firefight with government forces on February 22, 2002, the denouement of a brutal conflict that grew out of Angola's messy independence from Portugal in 1975 and lasted until the signi ... read more

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