South Africa poised to boost AU troops in Somalia

South African cabinet meet to discuss the possibility of sending peacekeeping troops to Somalia. North Korea expresses further anger as Seoul and Washington carry out further military drills. Secular Palestinian groups join Hamas, saying that a return to direct talks with Israel would be ‘dangerous’. US Defence Secretary gives concrete dates for the beginning of US withdrawal from Afghanistan. All this and more in today's security briefing.
Jamie Munn
16 August 2010

The African Union’s (AU) mission in Somalia could soon receive a boost, with reports suggesting South Africa may send troops to the troubled country. Themba Maseko, a spokesperson for the South African cabinet said that ministers would be meeting on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of troops from the South African Defence Force joining the mission in Somalia, to supplement the 5,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi that are currently in Mogadishu giving support to the fragile interim government there.

“It appears President Zuma will definitely give a nod to the AU's request for South African military support. The South African government will definitely seize the opportunity to show the continent that they are the big brothers,” said a government source quoted by the Guardian.

African Union troops are trying to aid the government in reigning in an Islamist insurgency that has taken control of vast swathes of the country since the collapse of the government in 1991. Al-Shabaab is the most prominent armed group to emerge from Somalia, and has started to carry out attacks outside of the country. Uganda was targeted earlier this year, when over seventy people were killed in bombings set to coincide with the World Cup final. Al-Shabaab controls much of southern and central Somalia.

At the time, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said that he would do all he could to “eliminate” the group and pledged to send 20,000 troops to Somalia to do so. He also called on other countries to send help. The United Nations has said that it would take over the peacekeeping role, but has declined to give concrete dates as to when that would happen.  many countries are wary of sending troops to the country, for fear of increasing support for armed Islamist groups and the high casualties likely to be sustained.

South Korea and US carry out further military drills

South Korea and the United States have carried out a second set of military exercises, in the seas bordering North and South Korea following drills earlier this month in the Sea of Japan. The drills around the disputed maritime border have been described by Pyongyang as a "dangerous act to light the fuse of a new war” and have warned of a “ dangerous counterblow”. The region, the ‘Northern Line Limit’, was the site of several deadly clashes during the 1950-53 Korean War, as well as the torpedoing of a South Korean ship earlier this year, which killed 46 sailors. Seoul blames Pyongyang for the sinking, but the North has denied any responsibility.

A total of 86,000 troops were used in the tests (56,000 South Korean and 30,000 Americans), with the aim of “improving coordination”. North Korea said they were a rehearsal for invasion. Washington says that the drills are to demonstrate to Pyongyang that its aggressive behaviour must stop.

The drills come a week after North Korea fired artillery shells into the sea following military tests by Seoul. It is very unlikely that Pyongyang would launch sustained attacks on the South or US military forces, fearing the combined forces of South Korea and the United States would overpower the North and topple an otherwise seemingly secure regime.

At the same time, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has called for moves to be made towards reunification with the North, in a speech celebrating 65 years of independence from Japanese rule. He said that peace, followed by economic cooperation would lead to the two countries joining together once again. 

In North Korea, meanwhile, Pyongyang is preparing for the succession of power from Kim Jong-il to his youngest son.

Palestinian groups say that direct talks with Israel should not resume

Two secular Palestinian groups have reiterated a call by Hamas for President Mahmoud Abbas not to resume talks with Israel, it was reported on Sunday. They described the US’s call to resume talks as dangerous. “A return to direct talks serves the US and Zionist aim to liquidate the national rights of the Palestinian people”, their statement said

The statement was signed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP); organisations belonging to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, dominated by Fatah, and rivals to the Islamist Hamas – the ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’.

The DFLP has advocated and participated in negotiations with Israel as a means to end the conflict. They said, however, that talks cannot resume until the siege on Gaza has come to an end – overseen by international observers.

US to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in spring 2011

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, that the US will definitely begin the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan from July 2011. The commander of NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan, David Petraeus, advises the president to delay the exit and said on NBC that he reserved the right to tell President Obama if he thought it was too early. But Gates is quoted as saying: “There is no question in anybody's mind that we are going to begin drawing down troops in July of 2011.” 

He added that the increasing number of Afghans in the security forces bodes well for a steady decline in the number of American troops needed in the region. The death toll for coalition forces continues to rise in Afghanistan – it is reported that the number of foreign troops to have died since the 2001 invasion has passed 2000. Meanwhile, support for the war is waning, and the Netherlands has already pulled out their troops, with Canada poised to withdraw from Kandahar province next year.

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