What Somalia’s military chiefs can learn from Ben Stiller films

"Al Shabaab won't be expecting this."

In Ben Stiller’s award-winning Night at the Museum 2 General Custer gathers his forces (which includes a six-inch tall Roman emperor and a monkey) and suggests a cunning plan of attack against the enemy (Al Capone, Napolean and Egyptian pharaoh, Kahmunrah).

“I’ll yell ‘attack’ and then we’ll attack,” says Custer. Sacagawea suggests it’s not a very good idea. Won’t they know we’re about to attack, she points out.

I’m not sure if Night at the Museum 2 has made it to Mogadishu yet. If it has, Somalia’s military chiefs should probably watch it. They appear to be following the Custer plan and, so far, there is no Sacagawea prepared to point out it’s not a very good idea.

Most of Mogadishu is currently controlled by Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, militant Islamist groups that are trying to oust the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government. The TFG presides over just a few streets in Mogadishu and only the presence of 5,000 African Union soldiers is preventing them being over-run.

TFG officials have been talking about an “imminent offensive” against Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam for months. In recent weeks the threats have become louder.

“Our soldiers have made their final preparations to deal with the security and will soon take action,” Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, Somalia’s state defense minister, told AP in early Feburary.

Last Friday, Jean Ping, the head of the African Union commission said the TFG was “gearing towards a major offensive.”

Security Minister, Abdullahi Mohamed Ali, today told the Wall Street Journal that his troops are “trained and equipped now, so they are ready to clear the rebels out of the country.”

So while the TFG and Amisom forces have been talking up the imminent attack, their opponents have been making preparations of their own.

“We have information on the planned offensive by the apostate government against the positions we control here in Mogadishu and other regions as well, and we are fully prepared to counter-attack them,” Mohamed Osman Arus, a spokesman for Hizbul Islam said.

As ever in Somalia, it is the civilians who will bear the brunt of the fighting. At least the warnings have given them time to leave – not that many residents of Mogadishu still live there.

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