"The security situation in Somalia is alarming ... piracy is escalating against the background of weakening leadership and insurgents control nearly all the country with the exception of Mogadishu and Baidoa."

"The security situation in Somalia is alarming ... piracy is escalating against the background of weakening leadership and insurgents control nearly all the country"

African Union statement

There are currently some 3,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia supporting the embattled Transitional Federal Government [TFG], which is based in the southern town of Baidoa.

A further 3,400 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi make up the AU mission in the country.

That number is well below the 8,000 troops pledged by the AU two years ago.

But despite the shortfall Ethiopian officials said the pullout of their forces would go ahead.

"The decision to withdraw troops from Somalia was a commitment made by the country's authorities to parliament and will not be changed," said Tekeda Alemu, Ethiopia's minister of state.

About 850 Nigerian troops are expected to join the AU peacekeepers already stationed in the country.

Rift

Abdullahi Yusuf's government is said to be on the brink of collapse [AP]

Adding to the fragility of Somalia's TFG government is a growing rift between Abdullahi Yusuf, the president, and Nur Hassan Hussein, the man he sacked as prime minister.

The AU and the US government have backed Hussein and have so far refused to recognise Mohamud Mohamed Guled, the new Somali prime minister, who was selected by the president.

The TFG is also facing an escalation in attacks from opposition fighters, that threatens to reach Mogadishu, the capital.

Fighters from al-Shabab, a group which split from the armed Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), have control of several town and cities across Somalia.

The opposition controls the south of Somalia and has launched a series of raids on Ethiopian forces which have tried to defend the government.

At least 10,000 civilians have been killed in two years of fighting, while a million people have been forced to flee their homes.