Tag Archives: Ethiopia

International Force Will Deploy to South Sudan

Yesterday, East African heads of state announced their decision to deploy an international force to South Sudan starting April in an attempt to stem the conflict there. Troops will reportedly come from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda, all of whom are frequent particpiants in other African peacekeeping operations. Djibouti, which also participates in peacekeeping operations on the continent, may also contribute forces to this new mission. Ugandan troops, who intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government in January, have said they will withdraw after the new force is deployed.

A map showing internally displaced persons in South Sudan and refugees in neighboring countries, from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs South Sudan Crisis Situation Report No. 26, dated 10 March 2014

A map showing internally displaced persons in South Sudan and refugees in neighboring countries, from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs South Sudan Crisis Situation Report No. 26, dated 10 March 2014

The force will operate under a mandate from the the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African economic bloc, which has been mediating talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to try and bring an end to South Sudan’s crisis. The crisis erupted last December following a reported coup attempt. The government subsequently implicated a number of opposition political figures, most notably Riek Machar, as having been behind the attempted overthrow. Riek Machar announced a formal “resistance movement” in February and the country is effectively in a state of civil war.

The IGAD-sponsored talks did produce a ceasefire agreement in January, but this has been repeatedly violated. A second phase of talks to find a lasting political solution to the crisis has stalled. One of the main rebel demands is the release of individuals detained in connection with the coup. South Sudan is proceeding with their treason charges against eleven individuals, and a court has demanded that four individuals previously released and deported to Kenya return to face the indictments.

South Sudan has also accused the UN mission in the country, UNMISS, of collaborating with rebel forces. Last week, South Sudanese forces seized weapons and ammunition from a UN convoy, which UNMISS said had mistakenly been loaded in with humanitarian supplies. UNMISS also denied that landmines were among the munitions and has called on the South Sudanese government to respect their personnel and existing agreements. UNMISS is providing humanitarian assistance and shelter to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. The UN also estimates that millions in the country are in need of humanitarian assistance.

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Somali, AU Troops Take Towns from Al Shabaab in Renewed Offensive

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.

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.”

South Sudan Talks Resume, Remain in Doubt

The second phase of talks between the government of South Sudan and rebels in that country began today in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.  Ethiopia had hosted the first phase of talks, sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which led to a ceasefire agreement last month.  There have been numerous reports that the ceasefire has been violated since that time and rebels threatened to boycott the second phase of the talks.

Map showing internally displaced persons per state in South Sudan, from the OCHA Humanitarian Snapshot for South Sudan, dated 7 February 2014

Map showing internally displaced persons per state in South Sudan, from the OCHA Humanitarian Snapshot for South Sudan, dated 7 February 2014

Despite the rebels subsequently agreeing to participate, it is very debatable what the talks could hope to achieve under the current circumstances.  Since the ceasefire agreement a number of significant events have occurred.  Firstly, the South Sudanese government released some, but not all, of those detained following a reported coup attempt in December that touched off the current crisis.  This remains a major demand of the opposition and their delegation.  It is a demand supported by some members of IGAD, notably Kenya, where the detainees who were released were promptly deported. Some members of the international community have also supported this demand, including the United States.

Secondly, Uganda has officially confirmed its intervention on behalf of the South Sudanese government.  Uganda, an important IGAD member, has caused division within the bloc.  Ethiopia, the host of the talks, demanded yesterday that Uganda and any other foreign power withdraw from the country.  The US has also called for a withdrawal of foreign forces. It appears that these demands do not reference international peacekeepers deployed to the country as part of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  South Sudan will likely be reluctant to agree to the departure of Ugandan forces without concessions though.  Their intervention can be seen as having stabilized the situation and prevented rebels from overrunning government forces.

Lastly, at the beginning of this month, Riek Machar, the defacto leader of the rebellion, officially announced that he had formed a resistance movement.  Machar has said that the confusingly titled Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Sudan People’s Liberation Army will seek to unify various militias into a common front.  South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has accused Machar of being behind the coup attempt, which Machar has consistently denied.  Machar, however, has embraced his position as head of the opposition.  Late yesterday, President Kiir announced that Machar, as well as some of his political allies, had been formally removed from the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement political party.  Also removed was Taban Deng, who signed the ceasefire agreement in Ethiopia last month on behalf of the rebels.  Both Machar and Deng are currently wanted by the government on charges of treason relating to the coup attempt.

The goal of the second phase of the peace talks is to come to an agreement on a political solution to the crisis.  Given all of these factors, it seems unlikely that a clear mutually agreeable political solution will make itself obvious to the negotiators.  While many of the opposition demands are supported by the international community, the situation in South Sudan has largely stabilized in favor of the government, though the situation remains fragile.  The UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous said today that South Sudan faced a “very long, complex process.”  Almost nine-hundred thousand people have been displaced in the crisis.  A lack of access has made determining the number of fatalities difficult.  The UN estimates that more than three million people in the country are threatened by food insecurity.

US Forces Train for Search and Rescue in East Africa

On January 12th, elements of the US Army’s East Africa Response Force (EARF) and US Air Force expeditionary rescue squadrons conducted a joint training exercise at the Grand Bara Range in Djibouti.  The soldiers for 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, the current force provider for the EARF teamed up aircrews and pararescuemen from the 81st and 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons (ERQS) respectively.  All of these units are based at Camp Lemonnier, also in Djibouti.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, assigned to the East Africa Response Force, provide security as pararescuemen of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS) return to an HC-130 of the 81st ERQS during a training exercise on January 12th, 2014.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, assigned to the East Africa Response Force, provide security as pararescuemen of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS) return to an HC-130 of the 81st ERQS during a training exercise on January 12th, 2014.

The exercise was designed to help Air Force personnel “maintain proficiency in advanced parachuting, rapid vehicle movement, infiltration and exfiltration” and give Army forces a chance to “[enhance] their skills in aircraft security measures.”  During the exercise, HC-130 aircraft from the 81st ERQS landed in the Grand Bara Range and deployed pararescuemen and EARF soldiers, the latter of which secured the landing zone.  Such a method could potentially be employed to rescue personnel should a US aircraft go down somewhere in the region.

A pararescuman of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron jumps from an HH-60G of the 303d ERQS during Neptune's Falcon, a joint training exercise with the US Navy's Coastal Riverine Squadron One-Forward off the coast of Djibouti on December 20th, 2013.

A pararescueman of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron jumps from an HH-60G of the 303d ERQS during Neptune’s Falcon, a joint training exercise with the US Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron One-Forward off the coast of Djibouti on December 20th, 2013.

This search and rescue focused joint exercise follows another one held in Djibouti this past December.  During that exercise, called Neptune’s Falcon, personnel from the Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron One – Forward teamed up with pararescuemen from the 82d ERQS and HH-60G helicopters from the 303d ERQS to train off the coast of Djibouti.  The 303d ERQS is also stationed at Camp Lemonnier, and together with the 81st and 82d ERQS make up the 449th Air Expeditionary Group.

These missions are more than just common scenarios as well.  In an attempt to rescue US and other foreign nationals from the South Sudanese town of Bor last year, CV-22s from the Air Force Special Operations Command took damage and were forced to abort the mission.  While the three aircraft made it safely to Entebbe in Uganda, there was of course the possibility the aircraft might not have made it and been forced down in a hostile area. Another example is that of the crash near Camp Lemonnier of an Air Force Special Operations Command U-28A in February 2012.  The aircraft had been returning from an intelligence gathering mission.

Nor are US operations limited to Camp Lemonnier or Entebbe.  US forces routinely operate from various locations in east Africa to conduct counterterrrorism operations and intelligence overflights, as well as training exercises.  On January 23rd, the Defense Logistics Agency announced a solicitation for a contract to provide “Petroleum Fuel Support For Various DoD Activities In Africa.”  This three year contract includes requirements to supply jet fuel to Camp Lemonnier and Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti, Arba Minch Airport in Ethiopia, and Manda Bay in Kenya.  DoD has requirements for the supply of other fuel types like regular gasoline and diesel fuels to other locations in Central African Republic, Niger, South Sudan, and the Island of Sao Tome (where the requirement is said to be in support of the operation a Voice of American radio relay station).

With this increased US engagement in Africa comes increased potential for both hostile activity and accidents, which would in turn require search and rescue operations.  It is likely that these sort of exercises will continue, especially in the near future with the current emphasis on rapidly deploying elements to and around the continent by air.

African Nations Increasingly Involved in Interventions on the Continent

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.  One can see the decline in areas reported to be under Al-Shabaab control.

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.

US Sends Military Advisors to Somalia

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.  One can see the decline in areas reported to be under Al-Shabaab control.

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.