Somali leader welcomes US military support

Somalia's president yesterday welcomed any US military involvement in a long-awaited offensive in his country aimed at driving Islamist rebels from the capital.

During a visit to London, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said US air support would help his troops to seize areas of Mogadishu as he seeks to enlarge his weak government's tiny power base.

Separately, President Ahmed failed to raise hopes of an early release for a British couple held by Somali pirates. Paul Chandler, 60, and his wife, Rachel, 56, were kidnapped four months ago while sailing through the Indian Ocean.

Gordon Brown, in meetings on Monday, urged Somali officials to redouble efforts to secure their release.

"We are talking to elders in this community, to the intellectuals ... We have made significant progress," the President told reporters.

However, the control of his weak UN-backed government does not even extend to the edge of the capital in the face of continued attacks by extremist groups including the most active, al-Shabaab.

Somali government forces have shared plans with the US about the coming military offensive, according to The New York Times. The US has its own history of humiliating involvement in the country. US forces pulled out when Somali militia killed soldiers on a humanitarian mission in 1993.

"Our forces have prepared well and can do the job of securing the areas," President Ahmed said yesterday. "If the US government provides us with support, air support, it will help the situation," he added.

Al-Shabaab, which seeks to impose a strict version of Muslim law in the country, has vowed to defend itself against any government offensive. The group's spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, said that "America can do nothing to us – it will face something worse" than its 1993 failure.

After years of civil war, even small achievements would be welcome. "If they were able to get a majority of Mogadishu under their control, they would consider that pretty successful," said Roger Middleton of the Chatham House think-tank.

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