US looking into joining EU training program for Somali govt forces

By Slobodan Lekic, AP
Thursday, March 4, 2010

US looking into helping train Somali forces

BRUSSELS — The U.S. is considering joining a European Union effort to train a new army for Somalia, whose government is engaged in a war against al-Qaida-linked Islamic militants, a senior military official said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Richard J. Sherlock, head of plans for the U.S. Africa Command said there is considerable scope for cooperation with the EU training program.

Washington has so far not participated in the effort to support the nascent Somali army, which is seen as crucial to bringing stability to a country that has been without a functional government for nearly two decades.

The EU mission is part of a wider international effort to help stabilize Somalia’s transitional government. Under the EU plan, about 200 European military instructors will start training in May a unit of up to 2,000 Somali troops at a military base in Uganda.

“We will look to contribute to the international effort to support Somalia’s transitional government,” Sherlock said.

Sherlock and Ambassador Anthony Holmes, in charge of the command’s civil-military affairs office, said they were in Brussels to meet with senior EU officials and explore ways the U.S. military could contribute to the training and equipping of Somali forces.

“We’re now looking into how to align our cooperation,” Sherlock said. He noted that the U.S. had strong expertise it could contribute, particularly in training a professional core of noncommissioned officers, which form the backbone of any army.

Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and turned on each other. Piracy has flourished off the Somali coast, making the Gulf of Aden one of the most dangerous waterways in the world.

The recent surge in fighting has heightened fears that al-Qaida is turning the country into a staging ground for operations in the Horn of Africa.

The Al-Shabab militia, which Washington says has links to al-Qaida, now controls much of Somalia and operates openly in the capital, Mogadishu, confining the forces of the weak, UN-recognized government and African Union peacekeepers to a few blocks within the city.

Somali officials have signaled that government fighters, backed by the African Union forces, will soon attempt to wrest back control of insurgent-held areas of the capital from the militants.

The European Union and the United States jointly conduct maritime anti-piracy mission off Somalia’s 1,900-mile-long (3,100-kilometer) coast, where pirates have hijacked dozens of ships in the past two years for multi million-dollar ransoms.

The two flotillas — along with NATO, Indian, Chinese, Russian and other warships — escort merchant marines vessels through the Gulf of Aden and along the Somali coast. They also provide security for ships carrying food for 1.5 million people in Somalia every day.

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