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The Challenges Confronting AMISOM – Professor Hussein Solomon

August 7, 2017

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The Challenges Confronting AMISOM

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 16 (August 2017)

August has not proven to be a good month for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Al Shabaab militants ambushed a convoy in the Bulamareer district in the Lower Shabelle region, about 140 kilometres southwest of the capital Mogadishu. 39 AMISOM soldiers were killed, including their commander as well as scores more injured.

This incident in August, however, is not something new – it is a deadly trend which began intensifying from January 2016 when Al Shabaab embarked on a dawn raid on the El Adde camp, near the Kenyan border. In this raid more than 100 Kenyan soldiers, who are part of AMISOM, were killed. In another attack near the central town of Halgan, Al Shabaab rammed a suicide car bomb into an AMISOM military base, then stormed inside and proceeded to kill 43 Ethiopian soldiers. Djibouti troops stationed at a nearby base, attempted to stage a counter-attack but were repelled by Al Shabaab fighters. This proved the sophistication and growing confidence of Al Shabaab’s asymmetric warfare.

These attacks are also growing more brazen – striking at the heart of the Somali Federal Government’s power – the presidential palace. A car bomb driven by an Al Shabaab suicide bomber was detonated outside the president’s palace, killing five Somali soldiers and partially destroying two neighbouring hotels. But it is not only the south, southwest and capital being targeted. One of the interesting facets of recent Al Shabaab attacks is their broad geographic scope as well as the ingenuity of the Al Shabaab fighters. The attack on Goofgaduud, 250 kilometres north of Mogadishu was quickly followed by an attack on the northwestern town of Baidoa. The militants detonated a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) to attack a truck carrying weapons and ammunition to the Somali military base at Baidoa – killing 11 soldiers in the process. They then proceeded to make use of the captured weapons to attack Baidoa’s military base, killing five more soldiers in the process. The attack on the truck carrying munitions also suggests that Al Shabaab may have informants inside the Somali security services.

There is a serious need for AMISOM commanders to go back to the drawing board and re-assess their deployment strategies, their perimeter defences, the quality of their intelligence collation and analysis. More broadly given the nature of the African security landscape and the threats confronting African governments and peacekeepers, African militaries need to embrace highly mobile 600 troop battalions as opposed to bigger brigades of 3,000 troops or a corps of 10,000 troops. There also needs to be an urgent discussion on the number of troops deployed. AMISOM was created in January 2007 with 3,500 troops. Its troop strength is currently 22,000. To put matters into perspective, between 1992 and 1993, the United Nations Operation Restore Hope in Somalia numbered 30,000 US and other troops and was infinitely better resourced than the current AMISOM forces. Despite, this, Operation Restore Hope was a dismal failure, unable to halt the spiralling violence following the ousting of strongman Siad Barre. So if 30,000 US and other troops with a budget three times the one allocated for AMISOM could not quell the violence following Siad Barre’s ousting, how could 22,000 under-resourced AMISOM forces be able to crush Al Shabaab?

The Somali Federal Government’s security forces meanwhile consist of 12,000 army personnel and 5,000 police officers. To put matters into perspective – at the height of his power – Siad Barre’s security services were in excess of 100,000 members. Of course, numbers alone do not quell insurgencies; it is also the quality of the troops and the overarching strategic framework in which they are deployed. On the latter point, it needs to be acknowledged that the interface between the different national contingents within AMISOM has not been good, neither has the interface between AMISOM and the Somali National Army been very effective. In a nutshell, command and control has been a problem whilst Al Shabaab’s unified command has clearly given it dividends on the battle space that is Somalia.

Under the circumstances, should the international community not think of a strategy of containment with regards to the Somali imbroglio?

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