> Kenya: Intervening in Somalia - Risky
Business With No End in Sight
17 January 2012
Military intervention in Somalia, whether unilateral, multilateral or under
the auspices of some supranational body, has never achieved its aims nor led
to long term peace let alone political and social harmony.
In fact such interventions have achieved the opposite of their intentions -
leading to civil strife, warlordism and further state collapse.
Current operations conducted by the African Union, Kenya and Ethiopia are
the latest in a line of foreign military actions in Somalia. So far
international partners and the UN have hailed the interventions as
successful. However, long term prospects are far from clear, no exit
strategy exists for current operations and complacency will undo current
History Tells Us No!
In the early nineties UN peacekeeping missions and a US-led task force
entered Somalia after the fall of the dictator Siad Barre. Rebel leaders
manipulating clan dynamics and international humanitarian relief efforts
were given a seat at the negotiating table, which only served to further
encourage their tactics. After 18 US servicemen were killed during 'the
Battle for Mogadishu' international forces pulled out without completing
their mission leaving Mogadishu and Somalia in a state of civil strife.
With almost no formal government and a plethora of non-state armed groups
dominating the political landscape an Islamic organisation, the Islamic
Courts Union (ICU), emerged as a leading force. Although deemed a radical
group by the west and the newly installed Transitional Federal Government
(TFG) the ICU controlled most of Somalia, was broadly popular (in the
challenging context of state decay), and administered its zones with some
authority and legitimacy.
With US support the Ethiopian government authorised an invasion of Somalia
in 2006 to disperse the ICU and consolidate the TFG in power. The ICU split
into moderate and hardline factions, with the latter eventually coalescing
to form Al-Shabaab, the hard line nationalist Islamic group which controls
large parts of Somalia today. The Ethiopians pulled out in 2009 with a trail
of destruction and human suffering in their wake having dislodged a moderate
but conservative Islamic group, allowing a hard line militant force to fill
the power vacuum.
Current Military Initiatives
Current military operations in Somalia seem to be faring better than their
predecessors but it is unclear what plans exist for long-term interaction
with the country. In the meantime, short-term gains must be built upon and
longer term planning is essential.
AMISOM has been in Somalia since 2007 and has done little more than protect
a few TFG installations and the airport in Mogadishu. The mission has only
recently secured the city after several years of operations, and acts of
terror and insurgency still occur in parts of the capital. The rest of the
country is dominated by Al-Shabaab. That's not to say that the AU force is
incompetent or at fault however. Ugandan and Burundian forces have managed
to provide some form of security and civilian protection in their limited
area of control. The mission has taken heavy losses and it is fair to say
that on past experience any western state would have pulled out long ago.
What is at fault though is the political imperative behind the mission.
AMISOM is underfunded and heavily undermanned. Out of an authorized number
of around 17,000 troops only 10,000 are deployed, and only to Mogadishu.
Vast swathes of Somalia have no AMISOM presence. The mandate is geared
towards protecting the TFG, supporting a vague 'stabilisation strategy',
promoting reconciliation and supporting the delivery of humanitarian aid.
However, the mission is politically compromised given the questionable
legitimacy of the TFG, and its tasks are near impossible for a force located
in the capital city with limited resources and legal tools. AMISOM is war
fighting not peacekeeping, and should therefore be resourced as such.
In 2011 and early this year both Kenya and Ethiopia sent military forces
into Somalia in support of AU efforts. The Kenyan intervention has created a
buffer zone in Southern Somalia in the Jubaland area. Kenyan forces have
managed to secure a significant area of territory but lack a clear exit
strategy. Without international support they cannot leave nor progress
further inland. Warnings are emerging of imminent terrorist attacks in Kenya
if the army doesn't pull out of Somalia. The Ethiopians have joined the fray
with a quick intervention as well as supporting local militias in Somalia's
peripheral western region. The Ethiopians are looking to exit fast and are
the only ones with such a strategy (learnt from bitter experience.)
These operations are beginning to provide a more coordinated approach but
serious challenges remain. The strategy seems to be to consolidate AMISOM's
limited gains in Mogadishu through two flanked interventions from the west.
Calls for Kenyan forces to be 're-hatted' as AMISOM, and for AU troops to
take over from the Ethiopians could forge greater coherence in the mission's
planning, command, control and communications. More troops are greatly
needed if a stabilisation plan is to succeed. Longer term an exit strategy
must be catered for.
Current military initiatives have made some small gains in Somalia. These
gains must be consolidated and regional cooperation is a step in the right
direction. Issues remain, such as the lack of troops and resources,
rivalries between regional militaries, the poor status and lack of
legitimacy of the TFG and the fact that even now Al-Shabaab controls most of
Somalia. If terrorist attacks increase in East Africa the will of
neighboring states to intervene may subside if others don't rally support,
both within Africa and from further afield.
In periods of conflict in Somalia external interventions have, in the past,
waded in without examining potential consequences or exit strategies. These
military endeavors have tended to exacerbate a deteriorating situation. If
current initiatives and policy makers are to learn lessons from previous
interventions then understanding what works on the ground from a Somali
perspective must be taken into account as well as planning for a clear exit.
Shock and awe tactics simply don't work.
Marco Jowell is a former Senior Research Analyst at the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the School of
Oriental and African Studies, London.
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Received on Tue Jan 17 2012 - 13:46:14 EST