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On The Front Lines In Somalia

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On The Front Lines In Somalia

Africa

On The Front Lines In Somalia

On The Front Lines In Somalia

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African Union troops have spent more than three years battling Islamist insurgents in Mogadishu, Somalia. The troops, most of them from Uganda, are trying to seize control of Mogadishu.

W: NPR's Frank Langfitt is with the Ugandan troops on the front lines of Mogadishu, and here's what it sounds like.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

: Frank, tell us more about where you are and what, exactly, we're hearing there.

FRANK LANGFITT: It's interesting. The city is full of these. They were once beautiful houses. I'm looking at a shade tree and a big courtyard, but of course it's been shot to pieces. There's rubble all over the courtyard. There's a big hole in the wall and then, still shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade. And if you look around, it's a beautiful, starry night, and there are no lights around because, of course, Somalia has collapsed as a state and has very little electricity.

: The fighting that we heard, what's the nature of this? Are these large armies, commandos? What's going on?

LANGFITT: We even found a place where there was asphalt. And underneath it, there was a four-foot-deep tank trap. And the idea is if a tank went over it, it would fall in. There was a fair bit of mortar fire and bullets going by. The group of soldiers that we were talking to, they lost one person this morning and about eight were injured.

: Two questions for you, Frank: Who are these Islamist fighters? And we noted that this effort is funded, in part, by the American taxpayer. Why is the United States involved in this?

LANGFITT: They haven't gone much beyond the border so far, but they did take credit for attacking Uganda over the summer, and killed 70 people in a couple of bombings. And so the U.S. is concerned about an expanded war in East Africa, and concern that this could become a breeding ground for terrorism.

: Who's winning this war?

LANGFITT: Ugandans are jungle fighters. They're adapting to a really different kind of environment. They have about 8,000 troops now. The U.N. has approved another 4,000, but it's not clear when they'll come here.

: How close to the battle do you actually get, Frank?

LANGFITT: Very close, within about 50 meters. Close enough that earlier, when we were out tonight, you know, we saw bullets hitting the walls above our heads.

: That was NPR's Frank Langfitt with African Union troops on the front line in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. Frank, please say safe.

LANGFITT: Thanks, Michele.

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