, MOGADISHU, May 18 – A special UN military force to protect aid workers deployed for the first time in the war-ravaged Somali capital Sunday, amid a wave of attacks blamed on Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents.
The 400-strong “defensive” guard force of Ugandan troops, based at the heavily fortified Mogadishu airport, is “mandated to protect UN staff and installations” in the capital.
Despite the government’s insistence that it has improved security, the Shabaab continue to carry out bombings – including targeting aid workers – in their bid to overthrow Somalia’s internationally backed but fragile leadership.
Shabaab suicide commandos last June blasted their way into a fortified UN base in central Mogadishu, killing 16 people.
“The deployment of the UN Guard Unit is an important step as we continue to expand our operations in support of the Somali people,” UN envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay said at a ceremony Sunday to mark the start of operations.
Ugandan troops are already in Somalia as a key part of the UN-mandated African Union force AMISOM, which is fighting the Shabaab.
The insurgents have been driven out of fixed positions in Somalia’s major towns by 22,000- strong force of AMISOM troops, but still regularly launch guerrilla raids.
Warplanes on Sunday pounded Shabaab bases in their stronghold of Jilib in southern Somalia’s Middle Juba region, some 320 kilometres (200 miles) southwest of Mogadishu. READ: Warplanes strike Somali Islamist stronghold.
Senior Shabaab commander Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Hamze said warplanes had struck the town, but denied any casualties.
“The enemy tried to terrorise the children and women by dropping bombs in the suburbs of the city, but thanks to God, there were no casualties at all,” Abu Hamze told AFP by telephone.
“The mujahedeen fighters have managed to repel the enemy with anti-aircraft weaponry. They have fled.”
It was not immediately clear where the jets were from, but Kenya is part of the AU force and has used its air planes to strike Shabaab bases before.