More troops are promised to fight the Shabab Islamist militia

Published: July 29, 2010

Somalia and the African Union

Be beefier

THE African Union (AU) agreed this week to strengthen its peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Two thousand troops from Guinea and Djibouti are to be made “immediately” available, bolstering the 6,000 or so from Uganda and Burundi already defending Somalia’s battered capital, Mogadishu. Their job is supposed to change too, from merely providing protection for Somalia’s weak transitional government to becoming a fighting force in the war against terrorism.
This escalation follows the bombings in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, perpetrated by suicide-bombers sent by Somalia’s Islamist rebels of the Shabab group, which has links to al-Qaeda. More than 80 Ugandans and foreigners watching the World Cup football final on July 11th were killed.
If the Shabab’s strategy is to provoke Uganda and others into sending more soldiers so as to provide a bigger array of juicy targets for the Islamists, then Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, is obliging them. He wants to go after the Shabab with all guns blazing. If Uganda had a border with Somalia, he says he would already have invaded. Indeed, he is calling for a still larger African force of 30,000. As well as arguing for more troops, he has also persuaded the AU to let its force react more robustly; troops may now fire first if they think they face imminent attack.
The United States approves of Mr Museveni’s pugnacity and will cover the extra cost of the AU mission. The Shabab, says Johnnie Carson, America’s top diplomat for Africa, is “a threat to all of Somalia’s regional neighbours”. But Western intelligence sources say the risk of Shabab now carrying out bombings in Kenya and Ethiopia is higher than ever. And many veteran Somali-watchers are sceptical of Mr Museveni’s America-backed approach.
A bigger foreign presence means shoring up a Somali government widely derided for corruption and infighting. The Americans lament that they have given guns and training to thousands of troops under command of the transitional government yet they have failed to project power beyond a few heavily fortified streets in Mogadishu. Moreover, the Shabab has calculated, probably correctly, that ordinary Somalis’ mistrust of foreigners, especially armed ones, is likely to make them view the new AU arrivals as occupiers rather than liberators.
Middle East & Africa

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