Confirming reports that had emerged earlier in the week, al-Shabaab and Hizbul-e Islam held a joint news conference in the city of Mogadishu today, announcing formally that the two largest insurgent factions in Somalia had indeed merged.
Hizbul-e Islam leaders said the merger was about fighting the 8,000 African Union troops attempting to prop up the self-proclaimed government along the coast in the city, and neither appears to make serious mention of their recent attacks on one another, which al-Shabaab appeared to be getting the better of.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamed Rage insisted that the merged group would retail the al-Shabaab name, and said that not only would they target the AU troops, but also Uganda and Burundi, the nations which committed the troops.
The Somali “government” has downplayed the reports, saying it would make the fighting easier since they would only have to focus on one insurgency instead of two. The reality, however, is that the two insurgent groups spent much more time fighting one another over meaningful territory than they did contesting the “government’s” control over an airport and a presidential palace. The United Nations yesterday urged the African Union to add another 4,000 troops to their occupation force, but so far those forces have been so ineffective in fighting the insurgents and killed so many civilians along the way that it seems their hopes of stabilizing the situation through escalation are slim.
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