December 23, 2010

Somali Forces Arraying for Campaign

Yesterday the United Nations Security Council unanimously increased the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) from 8,000 to 12,000 troops. Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda's U.N. Ambassador, told the council that his country is prepared to fill the order - just as soon as Kampala receives “the requisite resources.” Though harboring doubts in the AU’s capacity, paying its way is America and Europe’s price for avoiding their own air and ground deployments.

However Uganda isn't waiting around either. President Yoweri Museveni, whose desire for 20,000 total troops won’t be quenched until exhausted, has already launched Uganda Battle Group (UGABAG) Seven, composed of 1,800 troops. They’ll raise AMISOM’s force level to 9,800, now a two-to-one advantage over al-Shabab and Hizbul-Islam.

“I need to salute our soldiers who are participating in AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia),” declared Museveni, who sees Somalia as a means to boost his regional influence and ingratiate himself with the West. “They have earned a good name for Uganda in the whole of Africa and the whole world.”

Mogadishu lies in the path of a gathering storm, and UGABAG 7 will be thrown into the cauldron unless the AU deviates from its plan. AU commanders have tagged the Bakaara arms market for their next major offensive and the battle may hit here first. 900 EU-trained Somalis in Uganda sit on deck with new battalions to be cycled in over the year, although TFG soldiers are inherently less reliable than AU soldiers due to lack of pay.

Regardless, Mogadishu and Somalia in general will witness an increase in fighting throughout 2011. New Prime Minister Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed just penned an article in Foreign Policy highlighting Somalia’s latest improvements, part of the TFG's latest effort to win the West's trust. “Our Time is Now” blares the headline,” while Mohammed insists, “Things are changing in Somalia. If we seize it, this moment could be a turning point in our country's conflict.”

Meanwhile Abdishakur Sheikh Hassan Farah, Somalia's minister of interior and national security, announced that Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), in conjunction with the AU, will “eradicate” al-Shabab and Hizbul-Islam in “100 days.” True or not, the fight is coming al-Shabab’s way.

"About the security, Mogadishu city would be divided into eight parts,” Farah envisions. “500 soldiers would be brought to each part to fight with and uproot militants who refused to give a chance to peace.”

Farah said that the AU will clear Mogadishu first and the country second. With each phase of reinforcements, AMISOM’s force will attempt to deploy inside the country’s main urban centers: Dhuusamarreeb, Beledweyne, and Kismayo. Such a strategy has been outlined by the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, which theorized 3,000 AU troops to both Dhuusamarreeb and Kismayo, although prior to reinforcements. This strategy fits the long-term rather than the immediate, and AU commanders must establish total control over Mogadishu before dividing their forces.

TFG and AU commanders have mused on a nation-wide assault against al-Shabab, and it’s tempting to believe that al-Shabab could be routed by denying its major population centers. But done hastily and AMISOM’s mission could sink into al-Shabab territory, without supplies and unable to coordinate offensively or defensively as a body.

20,000 troops may be sufficient to hold Mogadishu and Dhuusamarreeb, Ahlu Sunna’s stronghold. However Somalia’s minor cities and the rural battleground in between could remain al-Shabab’s, and protract into a mobile insurgency. At that point al-Shabab’s fate may be sealed, yet 12,000 troops are far from enough to finish the job. U.S. air-strikes are a possibility - and always a threat to go wrong too.

100 days won’t be enough to defeat al-Shabab, and the eight months until the TFG’s mandate expires probably won’t be either.

But 2011 will exceed 2010’s carnage. TFG officials are competing for a job in the next government. Uganda has gone all in. More AU troops will land in the months ahead. 12,000 may become 16,000, eventually 20,000. Uganda claims that al-Shabab has increased its own foreign reinforcements. Whether 2011 proves a tipping point in Somalia depends on the quantity and quality of Somali troops and al-Shabab’s countermeasures. The group might abandon Mogadishu in the face of numerical superiority, retreating to its strongholds while encircling the capital’s fringe to tie down the bulk of AU forces.

A decisive 2011 ultimately depends on how many AU troops the West is willing to pay - and the TFG and AU are coming for as many as they can get.

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