Wed, Oct 02, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Fight against al-Shabaab tests resolve of the African Union

Even as events in Keyna were unfolding, the African Union military is fighting a brutal and deadly war hundreds of miles to the north in Somalia

By Mark Doyle  /  The Observer

AMISOM has made headway in recent years — taking Mogadishu from al-Shabaab in 2011 and Kismayo last year. However, the number of red blobs on Brigadier Ngere’s map is still large and does not seem to be shrinking. He said that with better equipment AMISOM could move forward. When the UN-backed African intervention was first planned it was envisaged it would have 12 helicopters — the kind that can fire heavy weapons from the sky as well as ferry troops to the battlefields. To date, it has been supplied with none.

Some Kenyan and western politicians have described the mass killings in the Westgate shopping mall as “an act of desperation” by a marginal movement that is “on the run.” It has always been a fatal error to underestimate Somali uprisings or revolts. Remember Black Hawk Down? In the early 1990s, thousands of American troops withdrew from Somalia in disarray after a badly planned anti-famine intervention went sour. The marines had misunderstood the “skinnies,” as they dismissively described Somalian militiamen.

AMISOM has already lost at least a hundred times more soldiers in its campaign in Somalia than the 18 dead US marines who made Hollywood history. Some estimates say Uganda alone has lost 3,000 men. And Somalia’s wars, conducted in shopping malls or in the frontlines around Kismayo, appear to be far from over.

Mark Doyle is the BBC’s international development correspondent

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