News / Africa

    Al-Shabab Attacks Expose AMISOM Weaknesses

    FILE - African Union Mission in Somalia soldiers attempt to extinguish the fire at the site of an airplane crash in Mogadishu, Somalia. (AMISOM)
    FILE - African Union Mission in Somalia soldiers attempt to extinguish the fire at the site of an airplane crash in Mogadishu, Somalia. (AMISOM)

    Since 2011, the African Union force in Somalia, AMISOM, has delivered blow after blow to Islamist militant group Al-Shabab, pushing the group out of nearly every major town and city it controlled.

    On June 26, al-Shabab delivered some payback. In a coordinated attack, al-Shabab units from three regions converged on an AMISOM base in the small town of Leego. Just before 5 a.m., a suicide bomber detonated a car filled with explosives at the gate. Hundreds of al-Shabab fighters then stormed the base, quickly overpowering the AU force of 120 Burundian troops.

    “I would estimate that they were up to 1,500 men,” said Abukar Abdullahi Ishaq, Leego’s district commissioner. Others put the number of attackers at 500 – still too many for the AU soldiers to handle. 

    Ishaq and other regional officials escaped. Others were not so lucky. Ishaq’s deputy was captured by the militants and beheaded. In all, more than 50 Burundian soldiers were killed.

    Analysts say the attack exposed weaknesses in AMISOM as well as Somalia’s national army, which often works with the AU force in operations against al-Shabab. Foremost among the problems are a shortage of helicopters and personnel and a lack of coordination among AMISOM contingents.  

    Paul D. Williams is an associate professor of international affairs at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., currently writing a history of the African Union Mission in Somalia.

    “AMISOM is stretched,” he said. “22,000 troops is not adequate to control the whole of south-central Somalia. But importantly, it is not just a question of numbers; it is often a question of mobility and the ability to project firepower rapidly to specific areas.”  

    He said AMISOM is crucially lacking the military aviation units and rapid reaction forces that are available in other multinational forces.

    Pursuit needed

    It took AU soldiers more than 48 hours to reach Leego after the attack, although that was partly because al-Shabab fighters were believed to be waiting on the roads, ready to ambush any incoming troops.

    A Somali official who did not want to be named noted that Ugandan forces with AMISOM are stationed at an airport just 30 kilometers away from Leego. Ethiopian forces are just 70 kilometers away.

    When Ugandan forces finally reached Leego, al-Shabab fighters just slipped into the forest, saving its men and ammunition to fight another day. That highlights another problem AMISOM faces: lack of resources to chase al-Shabab into the countryside.

    Williams said that when AU and Somali troops were taking over town after town in the past few years, al-Shabab forces mostly escaped with little harm.

    He said AMISOM has found it very difficult to destroy rather than simply displace al-Shabab's key fighting units.

    “In part, because the mission lacks the aviation assets that would enable them to destroy more al-Shabab assets; and in part, because al-Shabab forces have generally chosen to withdraw rather than fight when confronted by offensive AMISOM operations,” he said.

    An AMISOM commander who insisted on anonymity says the failure to reinforce the Burundians was an “embarrassment” to the AU force.

    “Air power is needed for operations and for reinforcing troops like the Burundian unit,” said the commander.

    He added, “You can’t carry your wounded and dead from one town to another; we need air evacuation.”

    Who gives the orders?

    The commander told VOA there also is a sense of "incoordination" among the heads of the six national contingents whose soldiers make up the AMISOM military force.

    “Some commanders are not taking orders directly from AMISOM commanders. Instead they are seeking direction from their countries,” he said. “There is not even a plan to reinforce each other when attacked [in Leego] like this nature.”
    Currently, AMISOM’s military force is made up of soldiers from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia. Each national contingent has its own commander, who in theory is to report to AMISOM’s military chief.

    Williams said the groups often have difficulty working together.

    “At the military and operational level, AMISOM has always been a decentralized mission where force commanders have struggled to control and coordinate actions between the different national contingents,” he said.

    “The [contingents] have often dictated their own preferences within ‘their’ sectors. The experience of the Burundian contingent in Leego should be seen in that context,” he continued.

    The other main challenge is that Somali troops are not ready to take over from AMISOM troops or at least keep hold of areas taken from al-Shabab. The government wants to train and equip up to 28,000 Somali soldiers but they are not all ready.

    “AMISOM troop numbers were initially planned on the assumption that the Somali National Army would quickly develop into an effective fighting force capable of taking the lead in the fight against al-Shabab,” Williams said.

    “This has not happened. This has left AMISOM with too few troops to dominate its large area of operations. Instead, it is stretched thinly across a large area and spends much of its time guarding static positions and protecting mission supply routes. This has taken the pressure off al-Shabab,” he said.

    Even though there is a talk of a possible new round of offensives against al-Shabab, commanders believe that without more air power, such missions would stretch AMISOM and Somali government forces to the breaking point.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora