Igad to send 2,000 troops to Somalia as EA talks tough

East Africa is adopting a hardline stance towards the Somalia-based Al Shabaab militia which claimed responsibility for the twin-bomb attacks that killed at least 74 people in Kampala on July 11.

President Museveni at the Ethiopian Village restaurant and bar in Kabalagala, where one of the bombs killed 16 people. Photo/JOSEPH KIGGUNDU 

BY JEFF OTIENO

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East Africa is adopting a hardline stance towards the Somalia-based Al Shabaab militia which claimed responsibility for the twin-bomb attacks that killed at least 74 people in Kampala on July 11.

In response to the attacks, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development member states will immediately send an extra 2,000 soldiers to Somalia to strengthen the 6,100 African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) troops on the ground.

“This act of terrorism against innocent Ugandans has only strengthened member states’ resolve to deal with the Somalia problem by increasing the number of troops,” said Igad Executive Secretary Mahboub Maalim.

The additional troops will increase the number of soldiers serving under Amisom to 8,100, by the end of August.

Top security chiefs from Igad member states will meet in Addis Ababa on July 19-21 to decide which countries will be contributing the troops.

Apart from increasing troop numbers, the African Union Commission, in charge of Amisom, has been under pressure to change its mandate from peacekeeping to peace enforcement, a move that would allow full-scale engagement.

However, to change the mandate, the AU Commission must seek the permission of the UN Security Council, since the AU mission is under the UN.

In the recent past, Amisom troops have come under intensified attack from Al Shaabab militants, leading to the deaths of soldiers from Uganda and Burundi, who comprise the bulk of the peacekeeping mission.

But in a recent interview with The EastAfrican, Amisom Force Commander Maj-Gen Nathan Mugisha maintained that Amisom has succeeded in securing key installations such as the airport and the seaport, which are now operating normally, and that the force’s main mission is not to engage in combat.

“Our job is to create an environment for negotiations and reconciliation. The solution to the Somali problem must be political and not military,” he said.

However, following the attacks in Kampala, pressure to change Amisom’s mandate will intensify in the recent future.

A meeting of East African Defence chiefs in Nairobi last month recommended that a UN ban on Somalia’s neighbours sending peacekeeping troops to the country be lifted.

UN resolution 1725 does not allow neighbours like Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti to contribute forces to beef up the mission.

Though, for example, Djibouti wanted to send 450 soldiers in January, it was barred from doing so.

In 2006, however, Ethiopia, with US support, sent troops to back Somalia’s interim government and drive hardline Islamists from power.

It is this intervention that sparked the insurgency that gave birth to Al Shaabab after the Ethiopians pulled out in 2009.

Igad, which comprises Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, is also planning to push for an increase of troops in Somalia to 20,000, by lobbying African Union members to provide the troops and foreign donors the necessary funds.

The regional body argues it is the only way to stabilise Somalia.

Some non-Igad countries have offered to provide troops to Amisom, the only problem being availability of funds to sustain the extra troops in Somalia.

“At the moment, our plan is to get additional troops comprising ethnic Somalis trained by neighbouring countries, Igad member states and East Africa Community member states,” said Mr Maalim.

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