Fighting in Somalia rages, with battles in Mogadishu claiming some 230 lives in the past two weeks. The escalation of violence – and the continued reverberations of al Shabab’s bombings in Uganda earlier this summer – are leading to increases in the number of African peacekeepers in Somalia. In the past five months, African Union forces have opened nine bases in Mogadishu, and have added more troops. Uganda is talking of sending 10,000 more soldiers to Somalia – if they can get American support.
The AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) currently numbers around 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers, some 2,000 troops short of its intended full strength.
The forces are the only hurdle between the Al Qaeda-linked Shebab and their total takeover of Mogadishu, where they have waged relentless battles with the AU troops to oust the transitional government.
“All those that have pledged assistance to AMISOM, including America, should deliver as soon as possible so that we are able to carry out our mandate,” [Ugandan army spokesman Felix] Kulayigye said.
But the he did not say the size of force the United States is ready to support for deployment.
“We have the capacity to raise a big force including calling up the reservists but the challenge is logistics which we hope America will look into. “Should the assistance come in time, I can assure the world we can raise 10,000 soldiers for deployment in Somalia in a short time,” said Kulayigye.
The UN says things in Somalia are going in the right direction, and seems keen to see more AU peacekeepers head there. The UN is also pushing political change in Somalia, including hints that the Transitional Federal Government should reach out to “dissidents” (does that include al Shabab?).
Despite such optimism from the UN and despite the AU troop increases, some observers remain pessimistic.
U.S.-based Somalia observer Michael Weinstein says the inability of the international community to establish the transitional government as a viable alternative to al-Shabab is a critical point.
“The reason why we have this slow-bleed, this stalemate is that the West, particularly, Washington, is left with no cards in its hand,” said Weinstein. “The situation has gone too far. It has become too fragmented. There is no viable force to replace the TFG.”
Weinstein says what happens next in Somalia is anyone’s guess.
I leave you with two conflict viewpoints on what should come next:
James Gundun, “a political scientist and counterinsurgency analyst based in Washington D.C.”:
Instead of paying [Ugandan forces] to fight Somalia’s war, perhaps America should finally overcome its historical fear and pay its own troops to do the job.
The United States Marine Corp might welcome the challenge of exorcising Black Hawk Down. US forces may also attract the least Somali resistance out of all possible foreign troops so long as they operate under a strict counterinsurgency mandate, though that is easier said than done. Colonel Ahmed Mohammed, a TFG commander trying to hold his poorly-equipped troops together, pleaded for US assistance: “They must forget this pain (Black Hawk Down) and realize that we share a common threat coming from international terrorism.”
Adding a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) to the mix would, among many factors, ensure a reliable supply of funds. US Marines have achieved a long record of policing operations, including 1992’s Unified Task Force (UNITAF) in Mogadishu, and the capital still requires the constant presence Marine brigade provides and the AU lacks. Their role would take on a military-police operation over a conventional, urban assault. Of course the Marines would lead the heavy fighting too, concentrating on driving al-Shabab’s rank and file out of the capital and freeing up the AU and UN for peacekeeping operations. The Marines should function as a one or two-year transition to a more stable and robust AU mission.
Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor:
“There are not many countries lining up to join this mission,” says E.J. Hogendoorn, head of the Horn of Africa mission for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, Kenya. “Everyone is concerned, but no one wants to be the one risking their forces’ lives.
“Now we hear of reinforcements for AMISOM [the African Union Mission to Somalia], but even the Ethiopian contingent numbered 40,000 troops, and they still weren’t able to pacify the place,” he adds. Ethiopia occupied Somalia from 2007 to 2008, when Al Shabab was less formidable.
It’s not that Somalia has been free of foreign intervention. In the two decades since the fall of Somalia’s last government, the country has accepted massive foreign food relief; today, half the population survives on foreign food aid. But foreign troops tend to strengthen the hand of extremist politicians of either the nationalist or religious sort, and the legacy of the US intervention and the Ethiopian invasion has been a network of warlords who are difficult to dislodge.
And when it comes to American troops going into Somalia, let’s not forget the American domestic political landscape. My guess is that public support for armed US intervention in Somalia would run very low.