Logistical problems and military deficiencies are handicapping the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) in its decade-long fight against al-Shabaab, an AU official acknowledged in a wide-ranging and generally pessimistic assessment published Thursday.
The Somalia National Army’s longstanding lack of capacity could “even lead to the mission’s defeat,” warned Mr Simon Mulongo, a Mogadishu-based representative of the African Union.
“Shabaab has much better access to intelligence than Amisom, given its links to the population under its control, its immersion in the local culture and language, and its knowledge of the terrain,” Mr Mulongo acknowledged.
“Al-Shabaab’s formidable intelligence apparatus, the Amniyat, has greatly increased al-Shabaab’s resilience as well as its ability to anticipate and plan.”
His comments were made in an interview with the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, a think tank affiliated with the US Defence Department.
Amisom also lacks the resources needed for its combat mission to succeed, Mr Mulongo said.
“Amisom’s airlift capabilities are minuscule: it has only three utility helicopters to cover its entire area of operation,” he noted.
“Logistics are therefore unreliable and erratic, and our troops are overstretched and unable to secure the expansive territory and protect their supply lines,” Mr Mulongo said.
Some United Nations-member states have offered to supply additional aerial assets, but the UN’s low reimbursement rates discourage potential suppliers from following through, explained the AU Commission’s deputy special representative for Somalia.
The UN’s sizable Amisom support apparatus inside Somalia, known as UNSOA, could be much more helpful than is currently the case, Mr Mulongo said.
“UNSOA’s capabilities are civilian, not military. As such, they are structured to provide logistics in a traditional peacekeeping mission and not for combat environment. Strict restrictions on where UNSOA assets can land, for instance, have made the evacuation of our troops extremely difficult,” Mr Mulongo said.
He further noted that the UN contingent tasked with assisting Amisom is not authorised to transport weapons and reinforcements to fighting forces in the field.
UN deliveries of arms and troops can be made only to designated “battalion hubs”, leaving it to Amisom’s inadequately equipped troop-contributing countries to move materiel and soldiers to the frontlines, Mr Mulongo said.
As an additional obstacle to Amisom’s operations, command authority is vested in each of the five countries — Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti — that have committed a combined total of 22,000 uniformed personnel to the war against Shabaab.
Consequently, Mr Mulongo said, Amisom’s force commanders “do not have leeway to direct their own forces, which can delay or even hamper operations.”
And along with insufficient access to combat aircraft, Amisom lacks the infantry fighting vehicles and heavy artillery that would enable it to fight al-Shabaab more effectively, Mr Mulongo added.
Having incurred substantial but unspecified losses in the past 10 years, Amisom has begun planning for withdrawal.
But, Mr Mulongo pointed out, Somalia’s own army remains unprepared to take effective control of operations against Shabaab.
Somali national forces are splintered among rival clans, and about a third of the army’s 20,000 soldiers have not been supplied with weapons, the AU official said.
“Some soldiers live in the bush,” Mr Mulongo added.
The US, United Kingdom and, more recently, Turkey have been pouring resources into efforts to train Somali soldiers to gradually replace Amisom units.