Somalia: the intervention dilemma

September 8, 2010

Source: Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Date: 31 Aug 2010


On 23 July 2010, the eve of the African Union’s Summit in Kampala, AU Commission chairperson Jean Ping announced that he had asked countries, including South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea, to send troops to Somalia to boost the under-strength African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), currently comprising Ugandan and Burundian forces. This move came against the background of suicide bombing attacks on 11 July 2010 that had killed 79 people in the Ugandan capital. Al-Shabaab, the militant Somali organisation with undefined links to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the bombings, explaining that these were retribution for Ugandan and Burundian violence against the civilian population in Mogadishu. It would appear that the bombings were also aimed at testing the endurance of Uganda as a contributing country, as well as the resolve of other AU member states that may be contemplating contributing towards the required troop surge.

AMISOM was first deployed in 2007 to protect the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and strategic infrastructures (the port and airport) in Mogadishu from the insurgents who had strengthened their position as Ethiopian forces withdrew, and to provide support for humanitarian assistance for the Somali population. The proposed additional deployment to Somalia must be viewed in the context of the chronically unstable situation in Mogadishu and in Somalia as a whole.

In a nutshell, the AU decision to reinforce AMISOM by almost 2 000 troops would increase the size of the force from its current level of around 6 300 (4 Ugandan and 3 Burundian battalions), to the 8 000 mandated in 2007. Some AU member states had even called for the force to be augmented to between 14 000 and 20 000 troops.

This Policy Brief examines the apparent urgency to increase AMISOM force levels. It interrogates the AU’s interventionist strategy in Somalia, including the planned troop surge, analyses the terrorist dimension of the bombings, drawing parallels with the Afghanistan case as a basis for suggestions for a clear and holistic approach to the conflict in Somalia.

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