Military exercises by Amisom and US focus on Somalia exit

Sunday March 26 2017

African Union Mission in Somalia troops patrol in Mogadishu on December 3, 2014. PHOTO | AFP

African Union Mission in Somalia troops patrol in Mogadishu on December 3, 2014. PHOTO | AFP 

By KEVIN J. KELLEY
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NEW YORK

A US-sponsored military exercise last week focused on Somalia’s troubled transition from reliance on African Union troops to a leadership role for local forces.

Dubbed “Justified Accord ‘17,” the March 20-24 series of classroom sessions in Addis Ababa addressed “complexities associated with an eventual transition,” US Army/Africa Brig Gen Jon Jensen told the Nation.

The exercise involving 100 participants from African and European militaries took place amidst concerns over the Somali national army’s readiness to take primary responsibility for the country’s security.

Another Pentagon general — Thomas Waldhauser, the head of US Africa Command — recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the African Union Mission in Somalia had become fatigued after leading the fight against Al-Shabaab for a decade.

Amisom has suffered hundreds of casualties in its campaign to roll back Al-Shabaab’s control over Somali territory.

The number of lives lost by Kenyan, Ugandan, Ethiopian and Burundian components of Amisom is kept secret by the AU and troop-contributing countries.

Amisom has announced it will begin pulling its 22,000 soldiers out of Somalia next year. The withdrawal is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.

However, Somali forces are still viewed as incapable of taking over from Amisom despite years of training by US and European experts.

Washington has also invested tens of millions of dollars in equipping and professionalising Somalia’s army and police.

“If we are frank, we must recognise that at times our efforts to train and equip Somalia’s national army have not translated directly into sustainable gains,” US deputy UN ambassador Michele Sison told the Security Council on Thursday.

The UN has cited high-level and widespread corruption on the part of Somali politicians and military personnel as a major hurdle to local forces’ competence.

Many weapons imported by the Somali Government are reported to have been sold on the black market, and are likely to have made their way into the hands of Shabaab and other terrorist organisations.

Rather than moving towards a reduced presence in Somalia, Amisom asked the Security Council in January to approve a surge of 4,500 additional soldiers for six months.

Amisom chief ambassador Francisco Caetano Madeira gave voice earlier this month to frustrations privately shared by many key figures seeking to facilitate handover of responsibilities to Somali forces.

“Those who should be fighting expect us to protect them,” Madeira said.

He noted in a report circulated by Amisom that AU troops were fighting Al-Shabaab and protecting the federal government at the same time.

Brig Gen Jensen did not respond to the Nation questions regarding corruption in Somali Government and army. He also did not identify the main impediments to the long-planned transition from Amisom to Somali national forces.

“We acknowledge the complexities associated with an eventual transition and we recognise that four days of training cannot by itself set the conditions for the eventual transition,” he said in an emailed response to Nation queries.

“What we can do is identify and examine issues, enhance information sharing and cooperation and strengthen multilateral relationships.”

The general explained that Justified Accord was an annual exercise that would alternate every year between activities in the field and classroom.

Initiated by the US and Kenya in 1998, the now-multinational exercise has a “focus on bringing together US, African and other international organisations to promote collaboration for peacekeeping operations in East Africa,” Brig Gen Jensen wrote.

The exercise in the Ethiopian capital last week included participants from the host country, Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Uganda, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.