Leaders at this week's African Union summit in Uganda pledged to strengthen the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia. But fresh fighting there underscored the difficulties involved in any attempt to stabilize the war-wracked nation.
Two weeks after suspected suicide blasts killed 76 people watching the World Cup final in Uganda's capital, Kampala, 35 African heads of state agreed to bolster the AU’s mission to Somali (AMISOM) by 2,000 to its full mandated strength of 8,000 troops.
The twin blasts were claimed by the Al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group, Al Shabab, as revenge for the allegedly indiscriminate shelling of civilians by Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. They prompted calls from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for Africa to unite and “sweep” those responsible out of the continent.
Despite hopes that other countries would come on board – and the announcement from AU chairman Jean Ping that Guinea and Djibouti would be sending troops to Somalia – the 2,000 troops will come from the only two nations already contributing to the force: Uganda and Burundi.
Delegates backed down from Ugandan demands to strengthen the mandate from peacekeeping to peace enforcement – which would have allowed the AU troops to actively pursue Al Shabab militants – but did agree to push for new rules of engagement for the mission that could see the force allowed to respond more forcefully to Al Shabab aggression.
New pledges from donors
"We came away even more united and committed to work together to strengthen the TFG, to help strengthen AMISOM, to help strengthen the forces for stability in Somalia, and to help do as much as we can to help beat Al Shabab," said Johnnie Carson, US assistant secretary of state for Africa.
Mr. Carson reiterated that the US has no intention to further Americanize the conflict in Somalia but said that a strategy had been defined with regional and international players to increase troop contributions, equipment, and money.
“The bombings in Kampala were a wake-up call not only for the region but for Africa as a whole,” Carson said.
A little support goes a long way
For the representatives of the embattled Somali Transitional Federal Government, words of support were appreciated – even if the international community has little option but to continue supporting the TFG.
“The alternative is bad. If you don’t support the TFG, then Al Shabab will come,” said Somali foreign minister Yusuf Hassan Ibrahim after the meeting. “Who will be happy with Shabab?”
But back in Somalia, news of fresh fighting between government forces and Al Shabab in Mogadishu and in the autonomous region of Puntland – a usually peaceful part of the country – offered a stark reminder of the reality on the ground.
Thirteen Al Shabab fighters were killed when Al Shabab attacked Puntland forces, President of Puntland Abdirahman Mohamed Farole told journalists in Puntland’s capital, Hageisa, Reuters reported Monday. On the same day, dozens of soldiers from the federal government’s fledgling army and Islamist militants died in fighting in Mogadishu, agencies said.