Thursday, February 23, 2012
LONDON (Reuters) - Somalia's prime minister said on Wednesday he would welcome targeted air strikes against Islamist fighters in his country and predicted the militants could be defeated within a month.
Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told Reuters Insider television in an interview That he had not discussed possible air strikes with the United States or Britain, which hosts an international conference on Somalia on Thursday that he is taking part in.
"Targeted air strikes on al Qaeda is a welcome opportunity. But we have to make sure that we protect the life and the safety and property of the Somali people," he said.
Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday that mounting concern over the threat posed by pirates and al Shabaab Islamist militants in Somalia had led Britain and other European Union countries to consider the feasibility of air strikes against their logistical hubs and training camps.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron would not confirm the report, saying: "We have been very focused on pursuing a different strategy to a military strategy."
Ali said he did not want planes inadvertently hitting children going to school. "That would be unforgivable if they do so, but on the other hand we welcome the opportunity for them to strike terrorist camps and al Qaeda in Somalia," he told reporters.
Al Qaeda announced this month that al Shabaab was joining its ranks.
Ali said al Shabaab was in the process of being defeated.
"They lost the hearts and the minds of the Somali people. So therefore they are losing ground and hopefully within the next month or so, hopefully there will be no more Shabaab," he said.
Ethiopian and Somali troops seized the strategic city of Baidoa from al Shabaab on Wednesday.
The militants are battling Kenyan troops to hold on to territory in southern Somalia and against African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) around the capital.
The U.N. Security Council voted on Wednesday to expand AMISOM by almost half to nearly 18,000 soldiers. (Additional reporting by Axel Threlfall, Matt Falloon)