Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is battling al Shabab, a Muslim rebel movement, for control of the southern part of the country. Assisting the TFG in this campaign is the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM), which has around 9,000 soldiers drawn primarily from Uganda and Burundi. In August, al Shabab completed a “tactical withdrawal” from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, allowing the TFG to extend its control over much of the city. Conquering the rest of southern Somalia, however, will prove very difficult.
AMISOM commanders have long asked for greater international support and for reinforcements. In July, Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, the head of AMISOM, wrote in Foreign Policy,
Virtually everything we do at AMISOM revolves around donor support. If that support were to stall now, amid our biggest gains to date, the results for Somalia would be disastrous. The extremists, now on the brink of defeat, would regroup and renew their campaign of terror — not just in Somalia, but as they have shown, across the region and potentially the globe.
The support AMISOM most wants is more men. Now AMISOM is slated to get some of the reinforcements it wants. The BBC reports that some 3,000 troops will join the force over the next six months, coming primarily from Sierra Leone and Djibouti. But the reinforcements will not necessarily solve AMISOM’s problems, nor is their deployment an indication that international doubts regarding the TFG and AMISOM have been allayed. The subtle skepticism toward AMISOM’s claims evident in the BBC’s language is interesting to see, and likely reflects broader skepticism regarding the force:
AU commanders have long complained they have do not have sufficient numbers.
Their current force deployment is too small to hold the whole of the city, they argue, even though the Islamist insurgents of al-Shabab have pulled back from some areas they held until early August.
Now they are promised the reinforcements they say they need.
One reason for skepticism toward the AMISOM (and I suspect there are many in Washington, London, and elsewhere feeling skeptical) is the math. If AMISOM needs 3,000 more soldiers just to hold Mogadishu, how many will it need to take territory beyond Mogadishu? (20,000, at least?) And what are the chances that those forces are available? And how long, given problems within AMISOM such as soldiers’ complaints about unpaid salaries, will existing troop commitments last? Taking Mogadishu was a major accomplishment for AMISOM, and the TFG almost certainly could not survive without AMISOM, but the barriers to future success are huge, even with the scheduled reinforcements.