LONDON — Somalia’s president on Thursday called for an end to the arms embargo on his long-chaotic country, saying that if the military doesn’t have more sophisticated equipment in the fight against the al-Shabab extremist group, “definitely this war will continue for another 10 years.”
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has repeatedly vowed to defeat al-Shabab within two years. He spoke to reporters at the end of a high-level conference to address the Horn of Africa nation’s deepening humanitarian and security crisis.
Mohamed, who was elected in February and holds U.S. citizenship, suggested that the international community develop a road map to achieve lifting the arms embargo within several months or “maybe next year.”
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson responded that “this is not the time to lift the arms embargo” and that the priority should be on helping Somalia’s military work together with regional forces that already exist across the long-fragmented nation.
British Prime Minster Theresa May and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for more support to counter Somalia’s deadly drought, with the U.N. chief requesting another $900 million in aid this year.
“Somalia now hangs in the balance between peril and potential,” Guterres said. “Here in London we can tip the scales from danger to safety.”
He said political stability has improved but the gains are fragile in part because of growing food insecurity. Some 439,000 people are at risk of famine and more than 6 million people, or half the country’s population, are “severely food insecure,” Guterres said.
Somalia is also facing new military interest from the United States, as President Donald Trump has approved expanded operations, including airstrikes, against al-Shabab. Aid agencies have expressed concern that the military moves could endanger the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the drought.
Pressure is growing on Somalia’s military to assume full responsibility for the country’s security as the 22,000-strong African Union multinational force, AMISOM, that has been supporting the fragile central government plans to leave by the end of 2020.
The AU force will begin withdrawing in 2018, and the head of the U.S. Africa Command, Commander General Thomas Waldhauser, has said that if it leaves before Somalia’s security forces are capable, “large portions of Somalia are at risk of returning to al-Shabab control or potentially allowing ISIS to gain a stronger foothold.”
The African Union force “simply cannot be expected to carry the burden of Somalia’s security forever,” the British prime minister said, noting that al-Shabab has tripled its attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.
Somalia also confronts the worst outbreak of cholera in five years, with almost 690 deaths so far this year and cases expected to reach 50,000 by the end of June, the World Health Organization said in a statement Thursday.
WHO added that if the current drought situation continues, “famine could soon be a reality.”
Charities working to stave off famine in Somalia are urging that the country’s debts be canceled. Save the Children chief Keven Watkins called for “decisive action” including increased help from the World Bank.