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African Union Peacekeepers Say More Troops Needed to Stabilize War-Ravaged Somalia


African Union peacekeepers in Somalia say the year-old mission needs at least 20,000 troops to stabilized the war-ravaged country, 12,000 more than the mission's original mandate. From the Somali capital, Mogadishu, VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu reports officials there believe as many as 10,000 troops may be needed just to secure the capital.

Ugandan army Major Barigye Ba-Hoku, a spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, says he is proud of what the mission has been able to accomplish in Mogadishu since its arrival in Somalia last March.

A vanguard force of about 1500 troops from Uganda has single-handedly secured an area of south Mogadishu that locals now refer to as the Green Zone, a relatively safe area that includes the city's main airport, seaport, and a thriving marketplace.

In December, a contingent of about 600 soldiers from Burundi joined the Ugandans, giving AMISOM a much-needed boost in troop presence in the capital.

But Major Ba-Hoku says the 2200 soldiers currently deployed here will not be able to make any more progress in the capital or assist other parts of the country without troop reinforcement well-beyond the 8,000 level approved by the African Union in January, 2007.

"I am afraid, today, it cannot be 8,000," he said. "We are looking at possibly 20,000. Why? If at that time, all the countries (had) contributed 8,000, then we would have seized the opportunity and gone into these areas and do the patrols and help facilitate people. But we did not. So what has happened? The opposing forces have gone and mobilized. They have equipped themselves. They have done their propaganda and so on. And so, it is now going to be more costly, both in terms of personnel and resources."

Islamist insurgents, opposed to Somalia's Ethiopia-backed interim government and the presence of Ethiopian troops in the country, have waged a violent, 15-month insurgency, especially in Mogadishu. In recent months, they have gained new recruits and have claimed more territory, turning several major districts into insurgent strongholds.

They have also spread out from the capital and established regional bases, using them to launch hit-and-run attacks on Ethiopian and government troops, military posts and government-held towns.

Major Ba-Hoku says the deteriorating security situation requires urgent action by the international community. He insists a stronger backing for the under-funded mission could enable several thousand more AMISOM troops to be sent here quickly.

"The 2,000 (soldiers) have only created a Green Zone in south Mogadishu," he said. "So, what happens in north Mogadishu, east and west Mogadishu? You may need a similar figure for each of those areas. Many countries by now would have been deployed. You know why they have not deployed? Lack of logistics. So, what you can do is support AMISOM. Give the contributing countries support, logistical support, and then, we will do the job."

AMISOM initially carried a six-month mandate to secure Mogadishu and help Somalia's internationally-recognized-but-weak secular government establish control after six months of Islamist rule. Islamist leaders abandoned the capital after an Ethiopia-led offensive routed their fighters in December, 2006.

African Union soldiers from at least half-a-dozen countries were supposed to have been deployed and then replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force when the mandate expired.

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