Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said Wednesday he would welcome European air strikes against Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents in Somalia, as long as they did not hurt civilians.
As his government announced a strategic victory against the rebels, Ali told reporters on the eve of a major conference on the future of the war-ravaged nation that the Shebab were a “global enemy, not only a Somali enemy.”
The Islamist group already faces the threat of U.S. drone attacks, but Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday that Britain and other EU countries were considering military air strikes on Shebab training camps.
“I have had no discussions of that with the European governments. But targeted Al-Shebab airstrikes are a welcome opportunity,” Ali said ahead of the conference on Thursday.
“But we have to make sure that the safety and the property and the lives of the Somali people are protected. This is the utmost priority for us.”
A British government spokesman pointed out on Wednesday that UK forces were already involved in various military operations in the region, but stressed a permanent solution would not be secured by military means alone.
The spokesman praised African Union troops for forcing Shebab out of the capital Mogadishu, and urged them to push on into the insurgents' heartlands.
Britain led on a U.N. Security Council resolution to increase the African Union force in Somalia from 12,000 to 17,731 troops, which was agreed on Wednesday.
Ali announced on Wednesday that Somali and Ethiopian forces had seized back the southwestern city of Baidoa, which had been one of the Shebab’s main bases, leaving the group’s fighters in central Somalia increasingly isolated.
He is seeking a huge package of international help for Somalia at the conference, which will be attended by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
He wants aid and mentioned the U.S. aid program that helped rebuild Europe after World War II, to construct roads, schools and hospitals, saying: “The expectations for us is there's going to be a huge Marshall Plan for Somalia.”
But he admitted he had received few concrete pledges of funds ahead of the meeting, adding: “I really have no clue of what they will say tomorrow.”
One of the issues on the agenda will be piracy off the coast of Somalia, which has been plagued by lawlessness and famine since the collapse of the last strong government in Mogadishu two decades ago.
The prime minister welcomed international maritime efforts to tackle piracy, but said the problem must also be tackled at its root ̶ namely the lack of any real law enforcement, and the widespread poverty in Somalia.
For the pirates, he said, “the opportunity cost of going to the high seas is not very high. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Ali, a Harvard tax law graduate who was appointed in June at the head of a transitional government, expressed confidence however that Somalia was finally on course to resolve its problems.
“Now people are ready to put that behind them and to move forward,” he said.