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Irish troops will train Somali soldiers

Irish troops are to help train Somali soldiers who are battling an extreme Islamic group allied to al-Qaeda in a civil war which has killed 20,000 people in the last two years.

The Defence Forces are to return to involvement in Somalia 16 years after they ended their role in a UN peace enforcing mission in the strife-torn country, which has been without an effective government since 1991 and which has endured famine and civil war.

The Government has given the go-ahead for the Defence Forces to send five Irish soldiers to serve with a proposed EU mission whose aim is to train Somali security forces. Exactly what training Irish soldiers will be doing will be clarified later this week.

But it is likely to range from training headquarters' staff to infantry soldiers, with Somali officers, NCOs and privates benefiting from the Army's experience.

The mission, led by Spain, will involve about 100 soldiers and will be based in Uganda.

The EU sees the move as helping to stabilise Somalia which has a weak African Union force on the ground and is struggling to fight extreme Islamists who have gained control of part of the country.

Ethiopian troops, backed by the United States, helped the interim government to seize control from the Islamists in 2006.

But since then, insurgents, including the Al Shabab group -- which has declared allegiance to al-Qaeda -- has fought back against the government, taking control of the important town of Baidoa, home to Irish troops when they arrived there in 1993.

However, the insurgents have also launched attacks on the capital, Mogadishu, and the government appealed for help from abroad.

The EU mission hopes to train around 2,000 Somali troops in total.

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In the Dail last week, Chief Whip Pat Carey, standing in for Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who is overseeing the Defence portfolio, said the Government decided to dispatch five soldiers to serve with the EU mission, which is expected to be launched in May.

The Irish last served in Somalia as part of UNOSOM II in May 1993. Their job was to ferry supplies for the UN brigade in the Baidoa region.

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