OE Watch Commentary: Is it really time for the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to begin withdrawing from the war-torn Horn of Africa nation? As the accompanying article from the newspaper The East African relates, the UN and the Western countries that fund AMISOM are saying yes to the idea of a systematic withdrawal, citing progress made in rebuilding and training the Somali National Army (SNA), which now numbers 12,000 soldiers. Opposing the withdrawal are the governments of Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, who supply the 22,000 soldiers constituting AMISOM. The reason given for their recalcitrance in removing the soldiers is the perception that the SNA is still not ready to accept full responsibility for defending the country, and that gains made in securing territory would be at risk if AMISOM troop numbers and/or funding were reduced. Interestingly two pieces of information were left out of the article. First, many of the governments supplying soldiers, as often happens in foreign-funded peacekeeping operations, find it profitable to do so. Second, there is no mention as to the possibility that the desire among these countries to continue in AMISOM may not be equal. As an example, it is unknown if Uganda, which does not border Somalia, or Ethiopia, which does and also has a long and often antagonistic relationship with that country, both have the same degree of commitment towards continuing the mission.
Until recently, the SNA supported keeping AMISOM in Somalia for an extended period of time; however, that changed after the Ugandan army killed three SNA soldiers in a friendly fire incident. Blame was traded by both sides. Uganda claimed Somali soldiers opened fire on the convoy of their AMISOM contingent head, Brigadier Paul Lokec, as it was heading to its base and that they returned fire in self-defense. Somalia on the other hand, claimed the convoy tried to forcibly pass a security checkpoint, leading to the exchange of gunfire. Whatever the cause, the end result has been anger towards AMISOM and a change of heart by some Somalia authorities regarding their intent to having these foreign soldiers on their soil for much longer. However, there are those both within and outside Somalia who question the SNA’s ability to fully carry the burden of defending against al-Shabaab, a terrorist group whose recent large-scale bombings have shown that while it has been hurt by AMISOM and SNA operations, it is far from defeated.
Soon after the AMISOM-SNA shootout, the commanders of each of the contributing nations’ forces stated that the number of soldiers in AMISOM should not be reduced, a position echoed by their respective ministers of defense and foreign affairs. However, that stand may be ignored, as last year the UN Security Council (AMISOM is operated by the African Union with UN approval) adopted a resolution to reduce AMISOM troop levels and transition security responsibilities to the SNA. Thus, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, appealed for increased aid to assist with the transition. He noted the recent political gains made by the country as one of the factors important in helping to fulfill AMISOM’s exit strategy. He also pointed out (as have many other regional analysts) that further progress on the security front cannot be made without further progress on the political front. Indeed, progress on both fronts has been arduous, and depending on who is arguing, having AMISOM withdraw will either lead to further stability or a reversal of gains. End OE Watch Commentary (Feldman)
Tough choices as troop contributing countries seek to increase boots on the ground, but funders push for a reduction…The change of heart by the Somali authorities on the withdrawal of Amisom gained momentum last week after the Ugandan army shot dead three SNA soldiers in a friendly fire incident, prompting a flurry of accusations and counteraccusations between Ugandan and the SNA over who started the shooting…Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa added the mission was also in need of force enablers and multipliers, which are crucial in carrying out effective operations.
“Going forward, it is essential therefore that the international community look at the bigger picture in Somalia, so that the gains made in recent years through enormous efforts and great sacrifice of Amisom and the SNA are not in vain,” Mr Kutesa said.