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AU Mission to Somalia Faces Deteriorating Situation With Inadequate Troops, Resources

Richard Weitz

On Aug. 7, the government of Burundi again announced that it would delay sending its planned contingent of 2,000 troops to Somalia to bolster the embattled African Union (AU) peacekeeping force there. Burundi officials blamed the failure on delays in the delivery of communications and transport equipment from France and the United States, but the decision underscores the fragility of the AU peace mission there.

In June 2006, war-torn Somalia experienced a new phase in its 15-years-old civil war when militiamen from the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took over the capital, Mogadishu, and other important parts of northern Somalia. By the end of the year, the ICU controlled a major part of Somalia. African and Western governments alike became alarmed that power shifts within the movement were empowering its most radical elements, including some individuals with ties to Islamist terrorist movements. On Dec. 24, 2006, Ethiopia sent its military into the country. Assisted by foreign countries—including the United States, whose armed forces launched supporting air strikes and naval artillery bombardments of suspected al-Qaida fighters—the Ethiopian forces drove the ICU out of Mogadishu and other populated regions of the country.

On Jan. 19, 2007, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) authorized the establishment of an African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and its rapid deployment into the country. The governments charged AMISOM with assisting the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to stabilize the situation in the country and promote further dialogue and reconciliation among the conflict parties; facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance; and contribute to creating conditions for the transition to a United Nations operation that will support the long-term stabilization and post-conflict reconstruction of Somalia.

The AU PSC originally envisaged that AMISOM would deploy nine infantry battalions, with 850 personnel, each supported by maritime and air components. Burundi pledged two infantry battalions, Nigeria offered one infantry battalion, and Ghana promised to provide 350 military personnel. The AU PSC also expected the mission to have a civilian component, including a police training team to help restore local law enforcement. AU governments also initially expected that AMISOM would deploy for only six months and would then be replaced by a U.N.-led and financed force. On Feb. 20, 2007, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution, anticipating such a transfer.

On March 5, AMISCOM’s first elements, two Ugandan battalions, arrived in Somalia. They quickly expanded their original activities from protecting public figures and buildings to conducting street patrols, eliminating unexploded ordinance, and providing humanitarian relief—such as food, water, and medicine—to Somalia’s traumatized civilian population. The soldiers’ actions helped to improve the local security situation, allowing businesses to reopen and other civilian activities to resume in large cities such as Mogadishu.

In subsequent months, however, the security situation in Somalia—especially in Mogadishu—has deteriorated. The Ethiopian forces occupying Somalia now confront a widespread insurgency in which Islamist guerrillas use suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices detonated by cell phones, and other tactics widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clan violence and piracy have surged, while economic recovery has stagnated.

U.N. observers have concluded that the Eritrean government, whose relations with Ethiopia have long been strained, has been supplying sophisticated conventional weapons to the ICU. In a July 2007 report to the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia detected Eritrean transport planes delivering an unknown number of surface-to-air missiles, suicide belts and other conventional explosives to the ICU militia, known as the Shabab (“young men”).

Efforts by the United Nations and others to promote political reconciliation have made little progress. The TFG, headed by President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Mohammed Ghedi, has made halfhearted attempts to engage clan leaders unaffiliated with the ICU in a political dialogue. But the leaders of several influential clans and Islamist groups have refused to negotiate with the TFG until Ethiopia removes its military personnel from Somalia. Shabab fighters denounce Yusuf and Ghedi as Ethiopian puppets and threaten to kill anyone who participates in the national reconciliation process. Ethiopian officials have thus far declined to withdraw their troops until the AU deploys sufficient forces to maintain order in their absence.

The precarious security situation has discouraged other AU countries from fulfilling their peacekeeping commitments. The anti-government forces have denounced the AU intervention and begun attacking AMISOM contingents. Of the 8,000 soldiers originally pledged to AMISOM, only the 1,600 Ugandans have arrived. Efforts to deploy U.N. peacekeepers have stalled in the face of the deteriorating situation.

AMISOM is presently trapped in a hostile environment without adequate resources, logistics, numbers, or the prospects of imminent relief. Although the U.N. and its non-African members have reaffirmed their commitments to assist AU peacekeeping efforts in Somalia, they are now preoccupied with constructing the planned AU-U.N. hybrid peace operation in Darfur.

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