Mogadishu - The leaders of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia met Wednesday in the Somali capital to discuss the ongoing fight against al-Shabab militants. The security summit took place amid an offensive by Somalia and its allies against the Islamist militants. Somalia in the past year has won significant victories against the group, which has also increased its counterattacks.
At least four mortar shells landed near the presidential palace in Mogadishu Wednesday, ahead of a meeting of heads of state and governments from the region.
There were no casualties reported in the attack, for which al-Shabab claimed responsibility.
The Frontline States Summit went ahead with Kenyan President William Ruto, Djibouti's president, Omar Guelleh, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and the host, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Earlier, Somalia's information minister, Daud Aweis, told journalists in Mogadishu the leaders would discuss efforts by the Somali army and its clan militia allies to ensure peace in the region.
He said, the discussions here in Mogadishu will focus more on the operations of the Somali National Army in cooperation with the citizens with the aim of achieving lasting peace in the Horn of Africa and ensuring that the state of security in Somalia does not only end in Somalia but also extends to neighboring countries.
Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia contribute troops to the African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia, ATMIS.
However, security analysts say today's gathering explores more enhanced engagement among Somalia's neighbors.
A communique from the meeting noted that the regional countries had agreed to mobilize resources to support the ongoing military operations in Somalia.
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Matt Bryden is the founder of Sahan Research, a security and policy research group focusing on the Horn of Africa.
"The meeting of the frontline states in Mogadishu today, and the heads of state is really an essential step in advancing the fight against al-Shabab independently of wider peace and security issues, such as the role of ATMIS and security cooperation, economic cooperation between these neighboring states," he said.
Bryden said the engagement among the regional states is long overdue, noting the regional bloc IGAD has previously called on member states to deal with al-Shabab as a regional problem.
Bryden said although al-Shabab is centered in Somalia, it has carried out deadly attacks throughout the region, especially Kenya, and has made incursions into Ethiopia and Djibouti.
"So, this is about Somalia and its neighbors not simply cooperating on the conventional or counterinsurgency battle against al-Shabab inside Somalia. It is about investigating, identifying and disrupting al-Shabab's networks of financiers, facilitators and active supporters across the entire region," he said.
Following the conclusion of the summit, the leaders of the four countries said they had agreed to establish a joint coordination mechanism and jointly plan a decisive operational strategy against the Islamist militants.
The U.N. Security Council has set December 2024 as the exit date for African Union forces from Somalia. However, that milestone has been termed overly ambitious in light of inadequate preparation among Somali security forces and the current strength of al-Shabab.