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Can the Somali security agencies take over from Amisom forces five months to the deadline?

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Red Crescent officials carry an injured civilian to the ambulance on Saturday on December, 28th in Mogadishu shortly after car bomb went off at a busy intersection. (sonna)

MOGADISHU—Saturday’s car bomb outside a tax collection centre in Somalia, where more than at 77 people were killed according to officials, raise questions over whether Somali forces are ready and able to replace an African Union force that has been responsible for boosting security. Amisom forces are set to leave Somalia by May 2020.

The blast struck a checkpoint during the morning rush hour at the start of the working week in the capital Mogadishu. Majority of the casualties are soldiers and  university students. Is Somalia security agencies ready to take over from African Union forces?

“Somalia is not ready as things stand now,” Abdihakim Ainte, an analyst with Heritage Institute, the independent think-tank and former advisor to the Somali government, noted during interview with VOA Somali.

Abdihakim Ainte

Ainte said the Federal Government has the tendency of politicizing security by periodically making unverified claim on gains made on the sector without presenting the same for the public to probe.

“It’s impossible to do away with insecurity in Somalia without a comprehensive and strategic security plan,” Ainte added.

On May 2019, the UN Security Council extended the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mandate in Somalia for one year ahead of national elections in 2020. The Security Council decided to maintain deployment and reduce uniformed personnel by 1,000 in line with the existing plan to gradually transfer such responsibilities to Somali security forces.

Unanimously adopting the resolution, the 15‑member Council authorized reductions that would set a maximum level of 19,626 uniformed AMISOM personnel by 28 February 2020. 

“Terror groups in Somalia usually strike the hardest during crisis periods and when they know security has been relaxed,” Ainte, a  fellow at the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation, said.

He challenged the public to hold the government to account on its security strategy, saying it was time “the massacre stopped” by laying workable security plan.

MORNING CAR BLAST

Somali government spokesman Ismael Mukhtar said the attacker(s) “were probably targeting a taxation office located nearby. The area is heavily populated with civilians and security forces.

Two Turkish nationals are also among the dead, Mukhatar added. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed the death of the two in the 8 am attack.

“May Allah’s mercy be upon our 2 citizens and innocent Somali brothers&sisters who lost their lives in the heinous terrorist attack,” Çavuşoğlu wrote on his Twitter account. He added Turkey would continue to stand with Somalia in the fight against terror.

Mohamed Warsame, 62, was among the first respondent. He narrated to Kulan Post the harrowing site at the scene of the blast. He said it looked like a “river of blood.”

“Books belonging to the university students was strewn all over with blood stains turning the plain pages into red,” he said, adding that he helped collect dislodged bodies from all over the area.

“I saw lots of blasts, but this was my worst,” Mohamed noted, tears welling his eyes.

The Banadir University lost 22 students in the blast. The institution has since set up a committee to take stock of the attack and console with the bereaved families.

The lead doctor at the Madina Hospital, Mohamed Yussuf said the facility received 52 injured victims and more than 76 bodies since morning as more trickle in even as the government project death toll could rise.

Mogadishu’s mayor, Omar Mohamud Mohamed, said at a news conference earlier that there had been “many deaths and injuries,” but that the precise death toll was unknown. He said that many of the wounded were students.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ordered the government to pull its resources toward supporting the wounded and families of the dead.

“The terrorists massacred the people because of the enmity they have for the country’s development,” he said in a statement.

The Prime Minister Hassan Khayre, said in a statement that “he had appointed a national crisis committee that would help respond to the victims and evacuate those who might need medical care abroad.”

The attack, one of several this year in Mogadishu, fueled concerns about the abilities of the Somali government to respond to the rise of mass-casualty attacks coming when the Amisom troops are planning to move out of the country by May next year.

Abdihakim Ainte of the Heritage Institute said the “politicization of security and lack of comprehensive security plan” is to blame for the continued attacks on the civilian population.

“This attacks serve as litmus test for Shabab on whether the local security forces can stop the massacre,” Ainte told VOA Somali.

This year alone it has targeted a shopping mall, the city mayor’s office and high-end hotels. Saturday’s bomb came two weeks after a hours-long hotel siege in which five people were killed.

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