Somali government troops and peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have reportedly taken control of a number of towns from the militant group Al Shabaab. This includes the town of Burdhubo in the southern part of the country, which is described a a major stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked group. These advances are part of a renewed AMISOM offensive against Al Shabaab, the planning for which had been alluded to last December.
Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.
A number of changes have been made to AMISOM this year already to help in the fight against Al Shabaab. Most notable was the decision to formally integrate Ethiopian forces into AMISOM. Ethiopian forces had already been engaged in operations along the border with Somalia, which sometimes resulted in them crossing over. Now, over four thousand Ethiopian troops are operating with AMISOM in the country. When the decision was announced in January, AMISOM said that they hoped the influx of Ethiopian troops would free up other peacekeepers to fight militants in the country’s south.
In February, Kenya also announced that it was planning on reducing its presence in the southern port town of Kismayo. The move had been made after the Somali authorities complained Kenyan forces were an impediment to exercise central government control in the region. Kenya has supported nominally pro-government warlords in southern Somalia for some time. In 2011, some of these groups declared a semi-autonomous region, called Jubaland. Somalia’s many semi-autonomous actors are a major roadblock to establishing a functional state.
International partners are also looking to step up their involvement in the country. In January, it was reported that the US military would be sending military personnel to the country, the first official military presence there in decades. In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), Army General David M. Rodriguez said the military coordination cell in the capital Moghadishu numbered three people, who were working to “coordinate with UN and other partnered forces to disrupt and contain al-Shabaab forces and expand areas under the control of the nominal government.” General Rodriguez also acknowledged that “Precise partnered and unilateral operations [conducted by special operations forces] continue to play limited but important roles in weakening al-Shabaab.” European nations, such as Germany, are also sending additional military personnel to help train and advise Somali government forces.
Al Shabaab remains a significant threat however. The group carried out a bombing in Moghadishu at the end of February that killed twelve people and wounded numerous others near the headquarters of the country’s intelligence service. The fluidity of Somalia’s clan-based political scene is also a significant issue. The UN recently decided to maintain a partial arms embargo against the country after reports that arms shipments were being diverted to Al Shabaab linked groups. It was not clear, however, whether or not the government was simply trying to sway local warlords to their side.
A recent work published by Special Operations Command’s Joint Special Operations University on Somalia and the Al Shabaab insurgency noted that “Somalis are highly pragmatic people, prepared to switch allegiances if it gains them an advantage.” The authors suggest that “Trying to play politics within this unbelievably complex world..will only lead to outsiders being badly manipulated and inadvertently making enemies.”
It was reported today that Kenya plans to reduce its presence in the Somali port city of Kismayo in the country’s south. About two hundred Kenyan personnel will remain, but the bulk of the peacekeeping duties there will be taken over by forces from Burundi and Sierra Leon. All three countries are providers of forces to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that Kismayo and other areas in the country’s south are only described as “pro-government.”
The decision to withdraw the troops comes in response to complaints from Somali authorities that they were hindering attempts to assert central government control. The ability of the central government to effectively assert its authority continues to be a serious issue. Currently the top third of the country consists of semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somliland, which have had a complicated relationship with central government authority. In 2011, warlords in the south declared another semi-autonomous region, Jubaland, with its Kismayo as its defacto capital. The nominally supportive of the central government, the warlords in control of Jubaland are backed by Kenya and there has been the suggestion that Jubaland is effectively a buffer state against the spillover of violence from the AMISOM campaign against the Al Shabaab militant group.
Semi-autonomous regions are not the only problems the United Nations-backed Somali government has been having with regards to asserting their authority. Today, the UN’s top envoy in Somalia voiced concern about rising tensions at a federal state-building conference in the city of Baidoa. The conference is intended to help the process of simply establishing a federal state in the area. Much of Somalia remains under the control of loosely aligned warlords with backing from various regional actors like Kenya and Ethiopia, and international entities, like the US Central Intelligence Agency. The US recently deployed military advisors to work on training the central government’s actual security forces. The US has also worked on training forces for deployment in support of AMISOM and has also launched targeted strikes against Al Shabaab leadership figures, including one just this week. Given all this, the UN has been pushing recently for a new and cohesive strategy to support Somali peace and security and the development of its institutions.
Already well noted elsewhere, African nations are becoming increasingly more willing and able to engage in military interventions to respond to crises on the continent. This is especially true when talking about neighboring countries, who may fear spillover of refugees, violence, and other negative effects. In keeping this trend, the African Union announced today that Ethiopian forces will formally become a part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The four thousand Ethiopian troops will be responsible for the regions of Gedo, Bay, and Bakool in the southwestern portion of the country and will help AMISOM reach its new mandated size of twenty-two thousand personnel.
Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.
Ethiopia has a long history of military confrontation with Somalia, notably the war over the status of the Ogaden region. Fearing spillover from a rise in violence in the early 2000s, Ethiopia intervened in 2006 on behalf of the UN-backed Somali government to curb the rise of the Supreme Islamic Courts Union. Ethiopian forces, along with warlords nominally supporting the UN-backed Somali government, dispersed the ICU. This in turn led to the rise of the Al-Shabaab militant group, who began a concerted campaign against Ethiopian forces, eventually leading to their withdrawal and replacement with AMISOM.
However, border skirmishing continued and Ethiopia has conducted cross border operations with the tacit support of the Somali government. Ethiopia has also reportedly provided a base for US unmanned aerial vehicle operations over Somalia. The integration of Ethiopian forces into AMISOM in many ways represents a formalization of the existing situation and gives them a mandate for increased operations. This, it is hoped, will allow other AMISOM peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi, the opportunity to refocus their operations against Al Shabaab. Concerns exist, however, about whether traditional enmity between Ethiopians and Somalis may lead the formal intervention to be used as a recruitment tool for anti-government militants.
Whatever the case, Ethiopia’s new large scale intervention in Somalia is just the most recent in a series of moves by African powers to intervene in regional crises in recent weeks. Yesterday, the US military reported that it continues to assist in the deployment of Rwandan peacekeepers to support the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA). Last week, Uganda also admitted that its forces had intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government and were conducting operations against rebel forces. Uganda has also been a key component of US operations to airlift peacekeepers into CAR and has reportedly established a rapid response center within its Army to better respond itself to regional crises. African Nations are also picking and choosing their interventions, with Kenya, for instance, saying it would not contribute forces to the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). Kenya, a major contributor to AMISOM, said it would push for a diplomatic solution in the world’s youngest country.
The Washington Post reported today that this past October, the US military deployed advisory personnel to Somalia to assist in the development of the national security forces and coordinate with African peacekeepers currently in the country. This represents a logical expansion of the US effort with regards to Somalia. The United States already provides significant assistance to African forces deploying in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as part of the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program and others. ACOTA is managed by the US Department of State with help from the Department of Defense.
However, the deployment is notable given the stand-off approach the US has favored following participation in UN peacekeeping operations in the country in the early 1990s. The US experience in Somalia was decidedly negative, even beyond the relatively well known “Black Hawk Down” incident in October 1993. Since then, the US has preferred to use airstrikes, including strikes by AC-130 gunships and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as raids by special operations forces. In the last decade or so, unmanned aerial vehicles operating over Somalia have said to have been based in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. This past October saw both a special operations raid, which was aborted, and a drone strike, both directed at the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. In addition, it has been reported that the US Central Intelligence Agency has been funding nominally pro-government warlords and pursuing other activities to help in this effort.
Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.
The two successive UN missions provided results that were themselves inconclusive at best and did not dramatically improve the landscape for the Somali people. Many of the same issues that complicated those missions in the 1990s remain factors for operations today as Ethiopian and Kenyan forces have learned in the last decade. While Ethiopian troops have long since withdrawn from the country, Kenya remains one of the primary contributors to AMISOM. There have also been reports of Kenyan support for warlords in a semi-autonomous region in the south of the country, called Jubaland.
Though Somali government and international forces had significant success against Al-Shabaab between 2012 and 2013, the group experienced a certain resurgence in the past year. As a result violence and international attention have again shifted to the country. In November, the UN authorized a significant expansion of the AMISOM force, which operates under a UN mandate. AMISOM also began planning a new offensive against Al-Shabaab and just today Kenya announced that it had conducted an airstrike against militants near the tri-border area between Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. It is likely that any new effort against Al-Shabaab in Somalia is benefiting at least in some part from US supplied intelligence, which is likely one of the main reasons for establishing a formal US military presence on the ground in the country.
The United Nations Security Council today authorized a boost for the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Somalia, the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), of over 4,000 troops, from 17,731 to a maximum of 22,126 uniformed personnel. The resolution, adopted unanimously, also expanded the force’s logistical package and extended its mandate until October 31st, 2014.
Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. One can see the decline in areas reported to be under Al-Shabaab control.
The UN Security Council made clear that the increase was temporary, in order to give AMISOM the capability to maintain basic security and respond to the evolving threat from Al-Shabaab insurgents. This was said to be part of a larger exit strategy for the international force and after eighteen to twenty-four months it was hoped that a drawdown of the force could begin. The UN Security Council also called for increased cooperation between the UN, AU, and the Federal Government of Somalia. To this end, the UN established its own Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) in June. In addition to bolstering the AMISOM force, recently Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the intention to deploy a static guard unit to protect UNSOM facilities.
Operations against Al-Shabaab conducted both by AMISOM, as well as other countries like the US, have steadily increased and the influence of the group has declined. The US launched a raid against the group during the night of 5-6 October and there was a reported drone strike against a senior leadership figure on October 28th. However, a significant amount of southern Somalia remains disputed and central government control is often exercised through largely independent political actors. The northern regions of the country remain largely in the hands of the autonomous governments in the Somaliland and Puntland regions. In May, nominally pro-government warlords reportedly funded by Kenya claimed to have established a new state, Jubaland, centered around the port city of Kismayo, and promptly began fighting with each other for control of it. It remains to be seen whether the Somalia authorities will be able to effectively govern in the absence of international forces.
An official with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) told Voice of America’s Somali Service yesterday that the AU force had launched an attack on training camp used by the Al Qaeda-linked militant organization Al-Shabaab Somalia’s Dinsoor region in the south of the country.
The Kenyan Defense Ministry said that its contingent specifically was responsible for the attack, which it said consisted of an airstrike that “completely destroyed” the camp. It was estimated that over three hundred recruits were in the camp at the time of the attack and that many of them had been killed.
The Kenyan Defense Ministry indicated that militants responsible for the attack on the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi in September had been directly linked to the camp. The attack followed a strike in the town of Jilib on Monday, believed to have been a US strike involving an unmanned aerial vehicle. This strike was reported to have killed Ibrahim Ali Abdi, said to be the mastermind behind Al-Shabaab’s suicide missions. The US also provides considerable training and material support for AU forces deploying to Somalia as part of AMISOM through the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program, which is led and funded by the US Department of State.