Somalia: What has AMISOM achieved in 10 years?

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This month marks ten years since the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) first marched into Somalia, but it’s not the kind of anniversary that inspires celebration. Instead, with the mission set to withdraw by 2020 and Islamist group Al-Shabaab still creating chaos in the country, it’s more appropriate to question what AMISOM has actually achieved in the last ten years.

Not long ago, it looked like the combination of African Union troops, Somalia’s national army and contributions from the international community was enough to oust Al-Shabaab from Somalia, but the group was quick to reestablish itself and the government is struggling once again to deal with the threat.

Now, rumour has it, the US plans to step up its military involvement in Somalia, as fears grow that Al-Shabaab and the growing threat of ISIS are too much for the country to handle.

So, with AMISOM on its way out of Somalia, and more US troops on their way in, what progress has actually been made during ten years of military action in the Horn of Africa nation?

 

10 years of AMISOM

It’s easy to think of Al-Shabaab’s resurgence as an indication that Somalia’s security crisis has returned to its worst. However, it’s worth remembering that the Islamist group was almost in complete control of the country’s capital before AMISOM troops moved in.

The campaign’s best years were between 2011 and 2014, when AMISOM-led forces drove Al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu and other major cities. The offensive was strong enough that the terrorist group was all but defeated and AMISOM looked like a resounding success.

Progress didn’t come without casualties, either. Aside from the troops lost in fierce battles against Al-Shabaab, Kenya’s involvement was greeted by a wave of attacks on its own soil between 2011 and 2014, killing hundreds of citizens.

Kenya continues to struggle with attacks crossing from over the border. This week the country lost another soldier at the hands of an Al-Shabaab attack and Kenyans live with the knowledge that the terrorist group has reestablished itself as a threat in Somalia.

 

Al-Shabaab’s defiant return

Despite being almost entirely forced out of Somalia by AMISOM-led forces, Al-Shabaab has managed to reestablish its presence in Somalia – and with deadly effect. Attacks in the capital are as regular as they are fatal. Government officials, foreign diplomats and civilians are targeted by the group’s new strategy of carrying out regular, small-scale attacks.

More now than ever, it’s difficult to predict where and when attacks will take place in Somalia. The capital, Mogadishu, is haunted by the constant sound of explosions as hotels, markets and other public areas are targeted.

Two policemen and one soldier have been killed by suspected Al-Shabaab gunmen in the last 24 hours alone. The group has promised to step up its efforts against Somalia’s new administration, led by the recently elected Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, who was prime minister during AMISOM’s best moments against Al-Shabaab.

Mogadishu was on lockdown for his inauguration, which was held in a highly secured airport zone. All commercial flights were cancelled and roads shut for the swearing in period, following Al-Shabaab’s promise of a “vicious war” against the new government.

 

Is AMISOM to blame for Al-Shabaab’s return?

By 2014, it looked as if AMISOM has managed the hard part by pushing Al-Shabaab almost entirely out of the country. Somalia could once again call the capital its own and there was optimism that peace could soon be a luxury Somali people could enjoy.

However, Al-Shabaab wasn’t finished and neither was AMISOM’s work in Somalia. While many believed the group was on its last legs, an organised and more sophisticated Al-Shabaab was waiting in the shadows, ready to strike. And, when it did, it came with a new-found ferocity that AMISOM had never experienced before.

This was an Al-Shabaab capable of building a bomb into a laptop and smuggling it aboard an international airliner. A group that managed to kill 57 Kenyan troops in a single attack on a military base in Somalia. Al-Shabaab didn’t merely crawl out from under some rock in the Somali wilderness, it rode back into Mogadishu with intent.

So what has AMISOM been doing al this time? Well, aside from facing a more coordinated threat in Al-Shabaab, it’s also had dwindling funds to deal with. It’s more than a year now since the EU cut its contributions to AMISOM by 20 percent, which resulted in many soldiers almost having their wages slashed in half – or, in some cases, not getting paid at all.

In many ways this was inevitable. AMISOM’s workload was too much to begin with and now the international community’s attention has been drawn by other crises around the world. Expecting AMISOM to lead counterinsurgency operations, stabilise the country and help rebuild its institutions goes beyond your typical peacekeeping operation.

AMISOM has received a lot of criticism in recent years – some of it justified – but you have to sympathise with an organisation whose troops face a threat like the Al-Shabaab after being told they won’t be getting paid this month. Aside from funding cuts, the mission never really received the resources authorised by the United Nations. Budget concerns have been compounded by lacking helicopters, special units, engineers and medical experts.

 

Can Somalia cope without AMISOM?

There’s little doubt that Somalia wouldn’t be in the position it is now without AMISOM over the last ten years. This only goes to show how desperate the situation was before the mission began but there’s no time for complacency now. With AMISOM set to withdraw, Somalia’s own military needs to undergo a drastic transformation if it will be able to stand on its own.

AMISOM’s best years against the Al-Shabaab revealed how lacking Somalia’s own security forces were – and continue to be. Plans to build an army of equal sixe to AMISOM’s 22,000 troops have failed to materialise with Somalia’s Defense Minister blaming the country’s dysfunctional government and a habit of dependency on other nations.

There are hopes Farmajo’s new administration can bring the strength to Somalia’s government, that’s so sorely needed. The president has already outlined national security as one of his priorities and his reputation boosts optimism. But the progress Somalia needs to make in a short few years is outstanding in the worst sense of the word.

At this stage, no matter how critical you may have been about AMISOM in the past, imagining a Somalia without it is a worrying concept. One that will soon be reality.

 

Featured image: By US Army Africa from Vicenza, Italy – Sierra Leone troops complete AMISOM deployment trainingUploaded by Elitre, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22463467

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.