Somalia: More Pressure on al Shabab

Yesterday I wondered whether the Transitional Federal Government was beginning to gain the advantage in the ongoing fighting in Mogadishu against al Shabab. Uganda’s announcement that it could deploy as many as 20,000 peacekeepers to Somalia suggests that the TFG’s advantage could grow even more in the months to come:

In a statement released by his office late Monday, [Ugandan President Yoweri] Museveni said Uganda can provide the force if it can get the required logistics and equipment. He said a few committed African nations with military capacity should take on the job of pacifying Somalia.

Mr. Museveni made the comments earlier in the day to a group of visiting generals from European Union states.

Ugandan troops make up most of the [African Union] peacekeeping force of 7,200 in Somalia.

I had difficulty finding estimates of al Shabab’s troop strength, but one writer puts it at about 5,000 men. I am a skeptic regarding counter-insurgency doctrine and I believe that rebel groups can often outlast more numerous foreign forces when they are fighting on home turf, but in this case I wonder whether an African force numbering as many as 27,000 troops – and outnumbering al Shabab by as much as five to one – could not break the rebels, at least in Mogadishu. The influx Uganda offers could, in other words, change the game in Mogadishu and southern Somalia completely, especially in the short term (in the long term, the TFG’s viability will depend on its ability to build genuine political legitimacy, not just defeat competitors). Of course, al Shabab could have many more fighters than commonly thought, and an influx of Ugandan troops could produce a backlash against the TFG. There are no certainties, especially when you take into account the many “ifs” surrounding the potential Ugandan deployments. Still, it does not appear that al Shabab will receive 20,000 troops in reinforcements any time soon.

2 thoughts on “Somalia: More Pressure on al Shabab

  1. At a stab: I’m with you on the metrics and I don’t think that sending more troops in itself is a means of defeating Al Shabaab. Certainly, a larger force may be able to bring security to some regions and possibly push Al Shabaab to the periphery.

    For the sake of Somalis suffering in this conflict, a force that can bring security to a larger proportion of the country would be a welcome and overdue outcome. But getting a military victory – if that’s possible – does little to address the causes of the conflict. Something more will be needed to capitalise upon the enforced (negative) peace.

    My feeling is that such an enhanced foreign military presence would quieten things for a while and cause a change in tactics, perhaps strategy, by the insurgency. It may then help heal rifts in the insurgency by presenting a common enemy.

    If peacemaking doesn’t move ahead quickly enough during this period of change, the moment for resolution may pass and the war will continue, just in a different form.

    That’s my rapid assessment, anyway.

    • What you say makes sense, especially about short-term versus long-term considerations. That a military victory could turn Pyrrhic is a good point indeed.

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