Sierra Leone, Djibouti sending peacekeepers to Somalia
Djiboutithis month will send 850 peacekeepers to support an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia while Sierra Leone will send the same number from the middle of next year.
A spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) announced Djibouti’s commitment last Wednesday while Sierra Leone’s United Nations military attaché, Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie Harleston, announced Sierra Leone’s intentions a day later.
There are currently 9 000 AMISOM troops in Somalia, including a police element – all of them from Uganda and Burundi. Peacekeepers would like to add another 3 000 soldiers to bring the peacekeeping force to its authorized maximum strength of 12 000. The New York Times reports that Uganda is sending another 2 000 soldiers to join the peacekeeping force in Mogadishu.
“Our forces have been very adaptive, adapting to the terrain, fighting in built-up areas,” said Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the AU peacekeeping force. “But it’s been difficult.”
Last week Augustine Mahiga, the United Nations envoy for Somalia, stressed the need to bring the strength of the African Union peacekeeping force in the Horn of Africa country to the 12 000 troops mandated by the Security Council, adding that the force also needs the capacity to deal with unconventional tactics of war.
Mahiga said that Al Shabaab insurgents, who are opposed to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), were increasingly resorting to unconventional warfare, especially the use of bombs and other explosives to carry out acts of terrorism against civilians.
“In this last effort to clear Al Shabaab in north-eastern corner of the city [Mogadishu], we are witnessing a combination” of conventional warfare methods and terrorist attacks, said Mahiga.
“It is, of course, quite a challenge and in a sense an important reminder to the troop-contributing countries and to the international community that we must expedite the deployment of the remaining 3 000 troops which have been authorized by the Security Council.
“There is the need for reorientation of the fighting forces of AMISOM to deal with these unconventional methods of warfare,” he said.
Mahiga said the decision to deploy Kenyan forces in Somalia was a bilateral one between the two countries and was in no way related to the deployment of AMISOM, which has a Security Council mandate.
Kenya sent its troops across the border into Somalia three weeks ago to crush the al Shabaab militants it blames for a wave of kidnappings in Kenya and frequent cross-border attacks. Since then Kenya has been plagued by a string of attacks along its northeastern border area, as well as in the capital.
Nairobi has threatened to carry out air strikes on a number of rebel bases across southern and central Somalia in response to what it said were reports Eritrea had flown consignments of weapons into the militant enclave of Baidoa.
One of al Shabaab’s top commanders told worshippers yesterday that the insurgents would not surrender their key strongholds, even if subjected to aerial bombardments.
Kenya has long been alarmed by its lawless neighbour, awash with weapons and mired in conflict for two decades.
To keep peace on the frontier, it has quietly supported the birth of a semi-autonomous Somali province dubbed ‘Jubaland’, comprising three Somali regions bordering Kenya. The status of Jubaland, also sometimes called Azania, is not clear: Somalia’s government says it does not support the Jubaland initiative.
Somalia has been mired in anarchy since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Foreign troops have deployed to Somalia since 1992, with little success. 37,000 troops under the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) led by the United States were sent to Somalia in 1992/1993 and in 1993 a second UN force, UNOSOM II, took over from the US troops. The UN mission was dealt a fatal blow when 18 US rangers sent to hunt down warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed were killed in Mogadishu. Remaining US forces withdrew and UNOSOM II was withdrawn in March 1995, leaving the local warlords to fight on. Some 150 UN personnel were killed during the mission.
In June 2006, Islamist militia loyal to the Somalia Islamic Courts Council seized Mogadishu after defeating US-backed warlords. With tacit US approval, Somalia’s neighbour Ethiopia sent troops to defend the interim government in December 2006. The Ethiopian force advanced rapidly, taking Mogadishu and driving the Islamists to Somalia’s southern tip.
Since Ethiopian troops withdrew in January 2009, the biggest threat has come from al Shabaab which controls much of southern and central Somalia.
Kenya says it will end its military campaign against the al Shabaab rebels in Somalia when it is satisfied it has stripped the group of its capacity to attack across the border.
Although the African Union has a mandate for 12 000 peacekeepers, officials say 20 000 troops are needed to pacify the whole of Somalia, which has not had a functioning central government for twenty years.
Six years ago, Sierra Leone was a failing state receiving assistance from 10 000 United Nations troops. Now, with the republic’s growing stability and the assistance of foreign military mentors, its armed forces are ready to take part in peacekeeping operations. For nearly ten years the International Military Assistance Training Team (IMATT) has been mentoring the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF).
The RSLAF, with its 10 500 personnel, aimed to support peace support operations for ECOWAS, the AU and the UN in 2007, but this slipped to late 2009, when a Sierra Leonean reconnaissance company was deployed to Darfur as part of UNAMID. International donors and the Government of Sierra Leone provided the US$6.5 million required to equip the unit and build the base camp in-theatre.
Meanwhile Djibouti is seeking to play a stabilising role in the frequently tense regional politics of the Horn of Africa. Djibouti hosted UN-sponsored Somali reconciliation talks in 2008-2009 (the “Djibouti Process”), and provided military training for Somali Transitional Federal Government troops in late 2009. According to the 2010 IISS The Military Balance, Djibouti’s armed forces number 10 450 personnel.
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