At the AU Summit, leader after leader railed at the unconventional rag tag army, al-Shabaab, which has been labelled terrorist. The leaders’ indignation springs from the suicide bombs detonated in Kampala on the final action day of the FIFA World Cup and a week to the AU Summit. The Kampala blasts were ostensibly al-Shabaab’s message to Uganda to remove its forces from Somalia as well as a warning to other African countries.
It was therefore quite in order for the leaders to condole Ugandans, condemn the at tacks and more importantly, promise action against al-Shabaab.
From 6,300 AMISOM peacekeeping at the commencement of the Summit, the peacekeeping force was set to grow to well over 20,000 as countries rushed to pledge not only more battalions, but also military hardware.
It is clear that the AMISOM mandate in Somalia is about to change from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. Justifications for the revision are plenty. Kenya’s Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula, argued that there was “...no peace to keep in Somalia, rather there is need to enforce peace”.
The peacekeepers mission has this far been limited to protecting President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh’s presidential palace, the airport and the port. Peace enforcement on the other hand will give the AU forces power to pursue al-Shabaab into its strongholds.
Rather than the Kampala blasts beating Uganda into submission, it appears they have emboldened this troop contributing country. In the words of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, “the cowardly act of attacking our merry-making non-combatants will make their situation worse. In the past, we were only guarding...three installations as per the AU force mandate. These reactionary groups have now committed aggression against our country. We have a right to self-defence. We shall go for them.”
Indeed, sources indicate that Museveni, who is eyeing the chairmanship of AU after Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika exist, has been lobbying and advocating for decisive action to obliterate al-Shabaab and what he calls “mindless Middle-Eastern terrorism”. Thus, the al-Shabaab insurgency has now been framed as a war between terrorists and Africa.
But over and above the collective Pan-African affront, al-Shabaab could very well reckon with Uganda as Museveni, himself a combatant of the rank of general with a guerrilla war experience.
Due to its unconventional tactics the defeat of al-Shabaab calls for deployment of quite a big force on the ground. According to Mr Abubakar Abdi Osman, TFG’s Defence minister, the estimation is that as many as 50,000 troops are needed.
“It’s not in our (Somali) culture to kill oneself in the name of suicide bombing. These are alien warfare practices that al-Shabaab has brought to our country. They are using the Islamic religion in the wrong way. For this reason we need up to 50,000 troops to finish them once and for all”, he told DEA.
While 50,000 may be way above the mustering of AU, indications are that the AU force will be 20,000 strong in short order. Already Guinea has lined up 2,000 soldiers set to hit the ground by end of August. The Inter Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) comprising Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Sudan, is putting together another 2,000 soldiers under the auspices of the East Africa Brigade (ESBRIG).
According to an AU source, the other countries that will be sending in troops include Malawi, Namibia and Angola. In the emerging unity of purpose, Algeria has offered transportation logistics for the Guinean troops.
With allegations that al-Shabaab has remained strong because of support from terrorist cells from the Middle East, it was a major scoop for the League of Arab Nations, represented at the Summit by no less than Secretary General Mr Amr Moussa, to equally pledge material support for the war against al-Shabaab.
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