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US support for Somali government raises questions over military aid

Concern that US military aid and support to the government of Somalia may have breached a number of international laws turns the spotlight on Washington's involvement in a country it was supposed to have left years ago.

Somali militia of Al-Shabab

US involvement is aimed at stopping Islamic extremism

Mogadishu is a city constantly at war with itself. The capital of Somalia is a microcosm of the countless conflicts that have been plaguing the failed East African state for decades, leading to hundreds of thousands of Somalis starving to death and countless others being killed.

The Western-backed transitional government has been teetering on the edge of collapse for years under the weight of continued attacks by the al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab militia and fellow Islamist militant group Hizbul Islam. The two groups control much of central and southern Somalia, leaving only a few small parts of the capital under government rule, protected by the Somali military, its Ahlu Sunna Waljama militia and African Union peacekeepers.

The Islamist insurgent groups battle government troops, pro-government militia and even each other in a never-ending struggle for control of a country which hasn't had an effective government since 1991.

Even in government-controlled areas, the battles rage. Troops loyal to Somalia's government fight within their ranks for scraps of power on the capital's scarred streets. They have even engaged in gun fights with their own police forces as corruption and organized crime eats away at the fragile state security systems in place, playing into the hands of the radical Islamist insurgents who aim to take control of the whole country. Meanwhile, to compound the problems, pirates continue to operate off the Somali coast.

In the midst of all the chaos, the inter-clan fighting and religious battles, the Somali government is accused of deploying child soldiers, some as young as 12, with assault rifles to protect its interests in Mogadishu.

Somali use of child soldiers reveals concerns over US aid

A young member of an Islamic militia group leads the way with other fighters as they patrol in southern Mogadishu

Somalia's use of child soldiers has raised UN concern

A United Nations Security Council report into Somalia's "persistent violations" in the use of child soldiers has not only heightened the international community's deep concern at the continuing practice in African wars and the state of near-constant war in Somalia but has also turned the spotlight on the involvement of the United States in the fight for control.

Washington has been the main source of Western aid for the transitional government since it came to power three years ago and has pumped millions of dollars into the Somali military for weapons and soldiers' salaries. Last year alone, the US government provided Somalia with some 40 tonnes of arms and ammunition.

Somalia is also expected to benefit from the Obama administration's 2011 budget request for security assistance programmes in Africa which includes $38 million (30.9 million euros) for arms sales to African states, $21 million for training African officers and $24 million for anti-terrorism programmes.

There is some concern that by supporting the Somali government, Washington has violated a number of international human rights laws and laws against the use of child soldiers.

While it has yet to be proved that the US has actually contravened these laws, they have been complying with other UN restrictions, albeit with a certain amount of creativity of interpretation, which allow arms sales to Somalia.

"The arms embargo which was put in place in 1992 was amended by the UN in 2006 to allow arms to be sold to the transitional government," David Hartwell, an expert at Jane's Defense, told Deutsche Welle. "The international community has no other choice but to support the Somali government and the Americans have exploited this to sell arms via the Ethiopians and the Ugandan peacekeepers, who have bought weapons on behalf of the US and billed Washington."

Hartwell says that the Americans aren't the only ones providing weapons. "On the other side we have Eritrea which is arming the militants," he added. "The Eritreans have been complaining about double standards because they are seen as breaking the embargo because they're not supplying the Somali government and yet the US and Ethiopia, which is fighting a proxy war against Eritrea in Somalia, are flooding the country with weapons."

Read more about the volatile situation in Somalia

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