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New Somalia government offensive against Al Shabab

The weak, transitional Somalia government may finally bring President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed some badly needed legitimacy if newly trained forces can push back the militant Islamist group, Al Shabab.

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Armed militants from Somalia's Hizbul Islam rebel group walk in a formation as they patrol southern Mogadishu, Thursday.

Feisal Omar / Reuters

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A long-awaited offensive by the weak, transitional Somali government may finally bring President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed some badly needed legitimacy, but it is almost certainly going to increase the hardship of tens of thousands of civilians who are being forced from their homes.

The conflict has the potential to spread outside of Somalia. The offensive is targeting the militant Islamist Al-Shabab rebel group who have threatened to launch a jihad, or holy struggle, against Kenya for its reported military support for President Sharif’s government.

The most recent bout of fighting began in January as thousands of Somali troops, newly trained in Djibouti, Burundi, and reportedly in Kenya, began to return to Somalia and take up positions on the front lines. Fighting in Belet Wayne, Dhuusamareeb, and the capital of Mogadishu has killed 258 in the past month, displaced some 82,000 others, and increased the number of Somali civilians who must rely on external food aid to survive, according to the United Nations.

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