The African Union Still Needs the West’s Help in Somalia
U.S., British and E.U. support critical to AMISOM’s operations
by KEVIN KNODELL
On Sept. 12, 2016, a detachment of American troops landed in Somalia. It was a short visit. They stayed just long enough to drop off supplies for soldiers from the African Union Mission in Somalia — better known as AMISOM.
The Americans delivered generators, tires and spare parts for the armored vehicles the AMISOM troops ride in as they patrol Mogadishu and hunt Al Shabaab insurgents in the Somali countryside.
AMISOM has been hailed as an African solution to an African problem. The force has indeed made strides in recent years. Violence is down in Somalia.
But AMISOM is far from self-sustaining. Yes, African troops do the fighting. But the force couldn’t function without financial and logistical support from Western countries including the United States.
AMISOM’s dependence on Western powers became plainly evident in 2016 when the European Union slashed funding for the mission.
Political violence in Burundi — one of AMISOM’s troop-contributing countries — prompted the European Union to withhold support. The union hoped the move would force Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza to talk to his opponents.
The long-running mission has seen troops from several African countries chase down Al Shabab terrorists while also training Somali security forces, all in an effort to prop up Somalia’s fledgling government. Any softening of Western support for AMISOM could have a knock-on effect on Somalia’s newfound stability.
Despite being a “peacekeeping” mission, AMISOM has fought bloody gun battles with militants and endured frequent bombings and ambushes.
Ugandan soldiers have been involved in some of the most intensive fighting. Uganda was the first country to send troops — in 2007. They took over from Ethiopian troops who had seized part of Mogadishu in an invasion aimed at ousting the ruling Islamic Courts Union. The ICU’s collapse gave rise to Al Shabaab.
Ugandan forces focused their efforts on securing main roads and port facilities in order to allow aid and commerce to resume. Al Shabaab fought them at every turn. Eventually AMISOM drove out the militants, lending Mogadishu a degree of security and prosperity the city had not seen in decades.
But Somalia’s often austere conditions and the lack roads in the countryside — as well as the winding roads of crowded Mogadishu — mean logistics are a challenge for AMISOM. And even as troops drive Al Shabaab out of cities, the militants, now based in rural areas, continue to pose a threat to the Somali government as well as to neighboring countries.
British troops arrived in Somalia under a U.N. banner in the spring of 2016 with the mission of providing AMISOM with engineering, medical, logistical and counter-IED support. Sustained U.S. and British assistance could go a long way toward making up for the European Union’s cutbacks — and could have the effect of stabilizing AMISOM.
On Sept. 20, 2016, Britain’s new prime minister Theresa May pledged to deploy more British troops, some of whom are likely to advise Somali and A.U. forces outside Mogadishu.
“Since 2010, with huge support from across the region, and critically the commitment of Somalis themselves, Al Shabaab has been driven from all the major cities it used to control,” May told the U.N. General Assembly. “It is vital that as an international community we continue to support countries in the region that are contributing thousands of troops, and that we continue to build the capacity of Somali security forces.”
The British troops are set to be advisers and aren’t expected to engage in direct combat. But Western troops have seen combat against Al Shabaab.
American commandos, sometimes working with AMISOM, have tracked down militant leaders and launched raids against insurgents’ rural strongholds. American special operations forces and the CIA have also been quietly training the Somali government’s new counterterror units.
Still, Al Shabaab endures. At the end of August, suicide bombing by militants killed 20 people in Mogadishu. The group has also urged followers to kill members of the new parliament taking part in next month’s elections.
Somalia is getting better. But it still needs AMISOM. And AMISOM still needs its supporters in the West.