Aid Groups Question Timing of Military Offensives in Somalia Amid Famine Risk

Humanitarian agencies operating in Somalia say they are concerned about reports of upcoming military offensives in the country at a time when the risk of famine still persists.

The agencies made the statement Wednesday ahead of an international conference on Somalia to be held in London on Thursday.

The director of the humanitarian NGO umbrella organization, Abdurahman Sharif, told VOA Somali that the “verge of a famine is not a good time to start military offensive.”

“Reports of upcoming military offensives in the country are concerning as past experience shows that military offensives make it harder for people to reach help and create even more displacement,” he said.

“We believe it is imperative that the focus be on humanitarian response and averting famine and that armed conflict is not escalated in the current environment.”

The president of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, recently declared war against al-Shabab and has given himself a deadline of two years to defeat the group.

Deteriorating situation

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump also has declared parts of al-Shabab-controlled territory as a “war zone,” and an escalation of strikes against the militant group is expected.

Aid organizations believe military actions will exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation, which they say is deteriorating, with more than 6 million Somalis in need of assistance.

Sharif said the London Conference on Somalia has an opportunity to “galvanize” international support for Somalia in particular the humanitarian and development needs of the country.

President Farmajo, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and British Prime Minister Theresa May will co-chair the conference. Delegates from 37 international organizations and countries, including U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, are expected to attend the conference to give support to the new Somali government’s plans for security structures and political stability.

Nick Kay, the former U.N. envoy to Somalia and current UK special envoy to the Horn of Africa, says the conference is very important for Somalia.

“First, world attention needs to be captured and kept on Somalia, there are so many competing priorities in the world that a conference like this is valuable for making sure people focus on Somalia and don’t forget it,” he said.

Seeking self-sufficiency

Kay also said the conference is important to set priorities for the next four years and determine how Somalia will achieve them. He says Somalia is at a “turning point, a watershed.”

“After this, in 2017 onwards, Somalia is taking more and more responsibilities for its own affairs. The conference will put on the table for the first time the idea of a transition plan from AMISOM to the Somali national security forces,” Kay said. “It will agree a security pact which is the structure of the future Somali security forces and how the international community will support it.”

Political agreements reached by the federal government and regional administrations recently outlines the structure and the future size of the Somali army, police and regional forces. The structure says Somalia will have at least 18,000 national army, 4,000 Special Forces, 32,000 police forces and additional regional forces. On top of this, the government will work on creating national air forces and coast guards.

Abdirahman Aynte is the former Somali minister of planning and lead organizer for the conference. He says it is formulated to give Somali government a political support for their plans to stabilize the country in the coming years.

“Security, economic development, political stability, and cooperation with international community, these are the main focus of the conference,” he said.

“Come together and help’

Rashid Abdi, the Horn of Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group, says the international community needs to support Somalia on the security front and with current humanitarian crisis.

“Somalia and the international community have a good change to take advantage of this conference, but if it ends up like previous conferences were pledges are not followed up that will create problems for Somalia,” he said.

“I think the president has a good plan to present to the conference on rebuilding the army and its capacity, this has never happened before. The international community should come together and help Somalia have a capable army that takes over security from AMISOM.”

This is the third international conference hosted by the United Kingdom in London in five years. Britain has an embassy in Mogadishu and has also sent an army team of 70 personnel to support Somali security forces and AU mission.

Britain’s Horn of Africa envoy Nick Kay says Somalia is a “top African conflict priority” for his country.

“It’s a top priority because of the threat that an unstable, insecure Somalia poses both to the region and more widely, because of the affiliation of al-Shabab to al-Qaida and now a small ISIS presence in the country,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “It’s also a threat to international economy from piracy and it’s also a dire humanitarian crisis where currently there is alert for famine and very hard drought situation.”

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