Kenya Foreign Minister: Militants from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan joining Somali militants

By Jason Staziuso, AP
Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kenya: Iraq, Afghan, Pakistan fighters in Somalia

NAIROBI, Kenya — Veteran insurgents from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have relocated to the chaotic country of Somalia in large enough numbers to spark worry inside the international community, Kenya’s foreign minister said Thursday.

Calling the situation in Somalia “very, very dire,” Moses M. Wetangula said the militants have relocated to Kenya’s northern neighbor because of the safehaven offered by a country with no functioning government.

“There have been Afghans, there have been Pakistanis, there have been certain Middle Eastern nationalities, quite a number. Intelligence reports indicate that there’s quite a cocktail of them,” Wetangula told The Associated Press.

“We can’t quite quantify them. It’s simply not possible in a situation such as that, but there are sufficient numbers to worry us and worry the international community,” he said.

Somali government spokesman Abdulkadir Walayo did not immediately answer calls seeking comment. But officials in the past said hundreds of foreign fighters are ballooning the ranks of Somalia’s most feared militant group, al-Shabab.

Wetangula said Somalia’s most immediate neighbors, including Kenya, face potential attacks from the militants. Some al-Shabab members have pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, which is blamed for twin bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, attacks that killed 225 people.

Military officials at U.S. Africa Command, the Germany-based headquarters of U.S. military activities in Africa, have told the AP previously there is evidence that fighters from the Afghanistan-Pakistan conflict have relocated to Somalia, but that it was less clear whether militants from Iraq had moved into the Horn of Africa nation.

Al-Shabab also has recruited Somali nationals living in the United States, Britain and other European countries, Wetangula noted.

Wetangula said he does not believe the United States is doing enough to help the Somali situation, and that greater American involvement could reduce the flow of arms into the country, reduce pirate attacks and increase regional stability.

“The levels of engagement of the United States, the levels of commitment, have been below our expectations. America, remember, enjoys the status currently of the only superpower, expected to have the capacity to do some of the things countries with limited capacity like ourselves cannot do, including enforcing Security Council resolutions,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution blocking Somalia’s main southern port in Kismayo, a city controlled by al-Shabab, a blockade meant to paralyze insurgent supplies, Wetangula said. But he said the U.S. has been reluctant to enforce it.

“We have been appealing to them to help the government of the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) with equipment, logistics,” the foreign minister said. “They may be helping but I don’t think they are helping enough to make a difference.”

A U.S. official said he couldn’t immediately comment on Wetangula’s views but that the State Department would soon release a statement. Since 2007, the U.S. has spent $2 million to pay Somali soldiers and purchase supplies and equipment, according to the State Department. Another $12 million went toward transport, uniforms and equipment.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation into chaos.

The country has always suffered from a lack of coordination, a lack of a unified security command and a lack of resources, Kenya’s foreign minister said. But he said the country has dropped off the international community’s radar and may need a high profile personality to spearhead the issue, he said.

The East African bloc of nations known as IGAD are considering former Ghana President John Kufuor, former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa, or former Botswana President Festus Mogae to take on the role, Wetangula said.

Wetangula also said the Somali government must move past its recent bouts of infighting and focus on the Somali people. Internal conflict has paralyzed the government the last several months.

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