Securing Somalia, AMISOM and the Al Shabaab Threat

What is AMISOM’s mission in Somalia, and how is it carrying it out at time of increased Al Shabaab attacks?

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Children watch as members of the Kenya Defence Forces attend prayers to pay respects to the Kenyan soldiers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), who were killed in El Adde during an attack, January 27, 2016.

The Kenyan soldiers were serving as part of the African Union Mission to Somalia - or AMISOM – when they were killed in an Al Shabaab attack in Somalia’s southern Gedo region on the 15th of January.

We will probably never know how many of them died because AMISOM has a policy of not releasing casualty numbers. A source with strong ties to the Kenyan military establishment told us that when Al Shabaab hit, it attacked in waves. First, the explosion came, then a group of Al Shabaab militants started shooting at the base. A second group of Al Shabaab backup followed by at least one more round of fighters. AMISOM soldiers didn’t have a chance to mobilise and fight back, and that’s how Al Shabaab managed to overwhelm them and storm their forward operating base. It was the third Al Shabaab attack on an AMISOM base in Somalia in less than a year.

Mandated by the United Nations and funded by the UN, EU, and the US, AMISOM’s Somalia mission is the African Union’s largest support operation. Its soldiers come from Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda, and Burundi. It trains Somalia’s nascent security forces and has been credited with pushing Al Shabaab out of chunks of territory.

In the last year, Al Shabaab appears to be focusing its attacks much more on the countries that make up the African Forces. They’ve hit three AMISOM forward operating bases in less than a year, and have struck inside Kenya many times. In their last annual report, the UN’s Somalia experts said Al Shabaab is now a transnational group that targets AMISOM contributing countries. The experts expressed deep concern about this trend, “particularly given the cuts to the AMISOM. (…) Budget cuts mean a lack of support staff and weaponry.”

With the rise of DAESH, the attention and funding of international powers may have shifted away from the Horn of Africa and the AMISOM mission there. It is true that Al Shabaab has been forced out of large chunks of Somalia. But Al Shabaab’s retreat is not irreversible, especially at a time when there is still no evidence that the Somalian army is able to defend itself and its territory on its own.

Author: Zeina Awad