The European Union on Thursday extended its mission to build up security forces in Somalia, which faces drought and famine, as well as fresh violence.
The EU Training Mission (EUTM), launched in April 2010, aims to prop up the government of the failed state by training 2,000 Somali soldiers to fight insurgents. Over the next year, the military mission will also focus on developing trainers who can then take over from the Europeans.
The mission, now being headed by Irish Colonel Michael Beary, uses 150 soldiers from 14 EU states. Most of the training takes place in Uganda.
Violence flares over emergency supply routes
The extension came as Somali government forces and African Union troops battled insurgents in the capital Mogadishu in efforts to secure aid routes for drought and famine victims, a day after UN forces delivered an initial 10 tons of emergency food aid.
Machine-gun exchange was reported in the capital as AU soldiers pushed into several Shabab territories. At least 27 civilians were injured, medics said.
"Our troops have dealt with specific security threats in a short tactical offensive operation," said the sspokesman for the AU force in Somalia, Paddy Ankunda, in a statement.
Three positions in the city were taken in a "limited and pinpoint offensive," Ankunda said.
"The government would like to use the hunger crisis to push back the Shabab and get international support for that," German daily TAZ's Africa editor Dominic Johnson told Deutsche Welle.
"AU officials are trying to capture … Mugadishu's biggest market," he said, adding, "That could disrupt supply lines and the way the people of Mugadishu get food."
Thousands seeking supplies
Medical efforts continue in Somalia, where a drought affecting the Horn of Africa region has already killed tens of thousands according to a United Nations estimate.
Some 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced, including 100,000 people who have migrated to Mogadishu in the last two months. A further 800,000 have fled to camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Thursday it expected to see no drop in the number of cases of severe malnutrition among Somali refugee children until the onset of rains expected in November.
As 1,300 people a day flee from Somalia to Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, poor sanitary conditions and overcrowding there pose new threats.
The Kenyan government opened Dadaab camp, designed for 90,000 refugees, in 1991 as a temporary solution for those displaced by Somalia's civil war. Two decades later, it now hosts 440,000 refugees.
The UN aimed on Thursday to transfer around 3,000 refugees from Dadaab into an extension camp.
Some 65,000 refugees have also been forced to "self-settle" in cardboard and plastic shelters on the camp's outskirts.
Meanwhile, Kenyan government officials are voicing concerns that refugees will settle in Dadaab permanently. They have called for increased emergency aid to Somalia to stem the migration.
Author: David Levitz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Mark Rossman