Ugandan offer for Somalia aid unmet

Peacekeeping troops unfunded

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KAMPALA, Uganda | Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last month pledged to send as many as 20,000 troops to help rid Somalia of an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group and augment the 6,000 African peacekeepers already stationed there, if a richer nation would provide funding for logistics and equipment.

The offer won him plaudits in the international community, not least of all from the Obama administration, which had been struggling to find partners to help stabilize the war-ravaged hotbed of Somalia and combat al-Shabab, the Islamist militant group responsible for killing more than 70 people in two suicide bombings in Kampala in July.

But in the time since, neither the U.S. nor any of its allies has agreed to foot the bill, allowing al-Shabab to continue to wreak terror in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and strengthen its grip in the south and central parts of the country while plotting fresh attacks abroad.

The 7,200 peacekeepers of the African Mission in Somalia (Amisom) — most of whom are Ugandan and Burundian — have had some success in Mogadishu since their main governing body, the African Union, allowed them to strike pre-emptively rather than just defensively. Amisom has since wrested control of strategic points in the capital and controls about 40 percent of Mogadishu, up from 30 percent since March.

But that’s hardly the kind of presence necessary to fulfill the aim of stabilizing the capital and transferring peacekeeping responsibility to U.N. blue helmets.

Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni addresses the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 24. He wants peacekeeping in Somalia to become peace enforcement. (Associated Press)

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Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni addresses the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 24. ... more >

Protracted fighting continues around the capital, with no side displaying a clear upper hand, while Amisom lacks the capacity to take control of key buildings and vie for territory beyond what it is currently under its control, says Amisom spokesman Maj. Barigye Ba-hoku.

That incapacity caught up with Amisom and Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces during al-Shabab’s recent Ramadan offensive, when the fragmented rebel movement reportedly nearly cut off the government’s access to Mogadishu’s airport and seaport.

The 4,000-strong rebel group has failed to make major inroads since, hobbled in part by clan divisions and a shortage of funding. But al-Shabab’s asymmetrical approach to warfare, using suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — mirroring insurgent tactics in Afghanistan and Pakistan — has undermined the TFG’s ability to form a stable government.

Seventy-six Amisom fighters have been killed since 2007, says Felix Kulayigye, spokesman for the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). Civilian casualties reached 1,600 between March and July, according to the World Health Organization, amid al-Shabab’s increased use of improvised explosive devices and willingness to hide behind noncombatants.

“Absolutely, yes, we’re worse off without greater troop deployment,” says Maj. Ba-hoku.

The U.S. has committed $229 million in aid to Amisom since its first mandate in 2007. And it repeatedly has called for greater troop deployment. But in September, Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the U.S. would not take sole responsibility for funding additional troops: “The problem in Somalia is both a regional and a global problem and, in fact, should be shared globally.”

Multilateral funding may help prevent the perception abroad that the U.S. is fighting another war against Islam and the view domestically that Washington is entering another war it can hardly afford.

Nonetheless, about 2,000 foreigners — some of them Somali-Americans — have entered the country to aid al-Shabab against the “occupiers.” Several analysts suspect that greater troop deployment, whether funded by the U.S. or other nations, could draw in more nonstate players, though it is unclear whether outside intervention has contributed to the rise of Islamic militants in Somalia and advanced al-Shabab’s aim of overthrowing the Western-backed TFG.

Whitney Schneidman, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, has warned of consequences if Mr. Museveni’s call for a massive troop buildup is not met, but added that the crisis also has been exacerbated by the neglect and complacency of the international community.

“If there is to be stability in Somalia, it will be the result of the United States and its partners pursuing a strategy of ‘constructive re-engagement,’ predicated on political reconciliation, more effective governance and the development of a viable security force,” he wrote in September.

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