AMISOM’S BAT­TLE...

DAVID BAXTER

The East African - - OPINION -

Cost of peace­keep­ing in the world’s most dan­ger­ous coun­try.

One of the worst at­tacks on the United Na­tions peace­keep­ers in re­cent his­tory took place in De­cem­ber in the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo (DRC). An op­er­at­ing base of the UN Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Mis­sion in the DRC (Monusco) was at­tacked by sus­pected mem­bers of the Al­lied Demo­cratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group la­belled a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion by the Ugan­dan govern­ment. Fif­teen UN peace­keep­ers were killed. This tragedy de­serves all the me­dia at­ten­tion and anger it sparked, but far more se­ri­ous at­tacks have hap­pened to the African Union Mis­sion to So­ma­lia (Amisom).

On March 5, 2007, the first Amisom troops, de­ployed by the AU with the ap­proval of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, ar­rived in So­ma­lia on a peace­sup­port op­er­a­tion. Their man­date was mul­ti­fac­eted, fo­cus­ing mainly on re­duc­ing the threat posed by Al Shabaab mil­i­tants and aid­ing the coun­try in cre­at­ing and main­tain­ing struc­tures of good gov­er­nance and se­cu­rity. In the ini­tial phases of the mis­sion, 1,500 sol­diers in Mo­gadishu con­trolled the air­port and a nar­row coastal strip, in­clud­ing the pres­i­den­tial palace, which was un­der con­tin­u­ous at­tack by Al Shabaab.

Amisom’s lo­cal al­lies, the So­mali army, were noth­ing more than a rab­ble, with of­fi­cers ac­cused of sell­ing am­mu­ni­tion to the mil­i­tants and steal­ing the wages of their own troops.

The ini­tial Ugan­dan and later Bu­run­dian forces were ill-equipped for the task at hand — with no tanks, he­li­copters or ar­tillery and very lit­tle of the heavy equip­ment re­quired to break the Shabaab siege.daily ca­su­al­ties were in­curred from snipers and ground as­saults, with the ma­jor­ity of deaths caused by im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices.

Amisom was vul­ner­a­ble, as it did not have any sig­nif­i­cant med­i­cal or com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment, nor ac­com­mo­da­tion and mine de­tec­tors. Not all troops had their own body ar­mour. Some died of mal­nu­tri­tion. De­spite be­ing un­der-re­sourced and iso­lated, these sol­diers stood their ground to de­fend the city, nei­ther yield­ing con­trol of the air­port nor the pres­i­den­tial palace.

Amisom peace­keep­ers are from African coun­tries: Bu­rundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Dji­bouti. While the AU has not re­leased Amisom’s ac­tual ca­su­alty fig­ures for do­mes­tic, po­lit­i­cal and na­tional se­cu­rity rea­sons in the troop-con­tribut­ing coun­tries, the death toll to date is es­ti­mated at well over 4,000 — a shock­ing fig­ure. De­spite the valu­able job the mis­sion is do­ing, in­creased UN sup­port has not been forth­com­ing.

Ar­riv­ing in Mo­gadishu in 2007 to visit Amisom, I was re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing the UN mine clear­ance op­er­a­tion in So­ma­lia. The AU mis­sion was funded bi­lat­er­ally by US and Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, but no UN funds were avail­able. De­spite the mis­sion’s UN man­date, we were not per­mit­ted to pro­vide for­mal sup­port to the AU staff. De­spite this and the re­sis­tance from the UN hi­er­ar­chy, we trained the staff in IED de­fen­sive mea­sures, and pro­vided them with mine de­tec­tors and other equip­ment, as well as med­i­cal train­ing.

The num­ber of ca­su­al­ties from IEDS de­creased there­after and more so in 2009, when for­mal sup­port was per­mit­ted for Amisom per­son­nel. Two ar­moured front-end load­ers to dig front­line trenches were sup­plied. This early sup­port, with ever-in­creas­ing lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port from the UN Sup­port Of­fice to the Amisom (UNSOA) helped the peace­keep­ers to ex­pand their area of op­er­a­tions and even­tu­ally drive Al Shabaab out of the cap­i­tal in 2011.

Ef­fi­ciency and ef­fi­cacy in­creased and even­tu­ally all the ma­jor towns in So­ma­lia were cap­tured. The au­da­cious am­phibi­ous land­ing by the Kenyans on the coast­line of Kis­mayu led to the cap­ture of this im­por­tant south­ern coastal town. How­ever, de­spite Amisom’s in­creased ef­fec­tive­ness, most of the coun­try­side re­mains un­der Al Shabaab con­trol. The shift of UNSOA to more po­lit­i­cal con­cerns in So­ma­lia un­der­mined the part­ner­ship be­tween ther two. Amisom was also neg­a­tively af­fected by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s fail­ure to sup­ply the lo­gis­tics, fund­ing and equip­ment nec­es­sary to se­cure the whole coun­try.

From the ini­tial un­der-re­sourced phase, the mis­sion grew to more than 20,000 peace­keep­ers. By May 2013, UN re­ports in­di­cated more than 3,000 deaths, many of which re­sulted from the lib­er­a­tion bat­tle of Mo­gadishu. At least 80 Bu­run­di­ans were killed in lower Shabeele in Septem­ber 2015; at least 140 Kenyans were killed at an AU mil­i­tary base out­side el-ade in Jan­uary 2016; and the 50 or more Ugan­dan sol­diers were feared killed at the AU base near Janale. These num­bers are not en­tirely re­li­able or ver­i­fi­able, given Amisom’s re­fusal to pub­lish the of­fi­cial death toll.

These il­lus­trate just how dan­ger­ous the AU peace­keep­ing mis­sion is. And the re­cent at­tack in DRC should be ac­knowl­edged and in­ves­ti­gated as part of a broader is­sue: The high ca­su­alty rate of African peace­keep­ers. The UN has nei­ther the ca­pac­ity nor the po­lit­i­cal will for peace en­force­ment mis­sions such as that in So­ma­lia. There­fore, Amisom needs more sup­port if the thou­sands of lives given to its cause so far are not to be in vain.

The fi­nan­cial sup­port re­ceived by the AU from the UN is a frac­tion of what it be­ing spent on other much less vi­o­lent mis­sions: Given that Al Shabaab still con­trols pock­ets of ru­ral south­ern So­ma­lia and is far from de­feated, the with­drawal of troops from con­tribut­ing coun­tries for lack of sup­port would negate Amisom’s gains.

The with­drawal of troops for lack of sup­port would negate Amisom’s gains.” The au­da­cious am­phibi­ous land­ing by the Kenyans on the coast­line of Kis­mayu led to the cap­ture of this im­por­tant south­ern coastal town

David Bax is the di­rec­tor of Re­silience Africa, a South African non-profit fo­cus­ing on forced mi­gra­tion and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism.

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