MOGADISHU, Somalia, March 24 (UPI) -- U.S. contractors airlifted 1,700 Ugandan troops into war-torn Somalia this month as the beleaguered Transitional Federal government prepares for a major offensive against al-Qaida-linked Islamist militias who hold much of the capital and the country.
But despite these and other military preparations, including forging an alliance of convenience with a major clan militia, Ahlu Sunnah Waljamaah, there's no sign that the much-touted -- and much-delayed -- big push is going to start soon.
And the Western-backed TFG, which only controls a few blocks of the capital around the presidential palace and the city's Aden Adde airport, may be losing a big chance to hit the Islamists while they are divided.
On March 20, a senior commander of the al-Shebab militia, the main Islamist force, was assassinated in the southern port of Kismayu, tightly controlled by al-Shebab and a major source of revenue for the group.
Sheik Daud Ali Hasan was shot several times in the head by three masked men as he walked out of a mosque in the town 100 miles southwest of Mogadishu. He had been commanding al-Shebab forces fighting the rival Hizb ul-Islam in the nearby town of Dhobly, which straddles the main highway to Kenya further south.
Al-Shebab and Hizb ul-Islam have fought against the TFG in Mogadishu but the two insurgent groups have been fighting each in southern Somalia for months.
Hizb ul-Islam was widely seen as being responsible for the killing. A few hours after Hasan was killed, the group launched an assault on al-Shebab in Dhobly and claimed they had killed a number of al-Shebab fighters.
Both groups are Islamist but Hizb ul-Islam is far more moderate than the hard-line al-Shebab. It wants to impose Shariah law on a country that has been torn by clan warfare since the dictator Siad Barre was toppled in 1991.
The inter-militia hostilities could weaken their capabilities at a critical time if the TGF and its allies, including troops of the U.N.-funded African Union peacekeeping force, known as Amisom, launch their offensive to exploit the rift.
The March 5-16 airlift of Ugandan troops by the U.S. DynCorp International, working under the NATO banner, rotated the 850-man Ugandan battalion in Mogadishu, but added almost 1,000 more men to Amisom's strength of some 5,000 personnel.
However, 10 days later, there was no sign that the TGF was poised to launch an attack, even though TFG forces have been strengthened by some 2,500 troops trained in Kenya and Djibouti.
TFG Interior Minister Sheik Abdulkadir Ali Omar, announced March 6 that preparations for the offensive were in the "final stage." But nothing has happened.
That stems in large part from the weakness of the dysfunctional government and the inferior quality of its combat forces, who are poorly trained, motivated and equipped.
The government is notoriously corrupt. The United Nations has called for an investigation into the apparent diversion of large amounts of food aid to the Islamist insurgents by corrupt contractors.
Government officials say the TFG only has enough funds to sustain a few days of heavy fighting, rather than the months it is expected to take to get on top of the Islamists.
The extent of corruption has put off foreign donors who have kept the TFG afloat since it was established with U.S. backing -- and Ethiopian military muscle -- in December 2006.
Pro-government clan militias have refused to undergo training to professional military standards unless they are compensated. But the TFG Treasury is empty.
The Jamestown Foundation of Washington, which monitors global security, reported last Friday, "Leadership is also in question." It noted that President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed "rarely emerges from his headquarters in the Villa Somalia presidential palace."
The U.N. Monitoring Group of Somalia observed that the TFG's military command structure is based on clan loyalties, with no central leadership.
Corruption is so rife that soldiers go unpaid and unfed and some commanders sell their weapons to the militants.
"The consequences of these deficiencies include an inability of the security forces of the TFG to take and hold ground," the U.N. report said.
"As a result they have made few durable military gains during the course of the mandate, and the front line has remained, in at least one location, only 500 meters from the presidency."