The Ahmad Umar-led Somali, al-shabab, has taken full control over Janale, a town previously controlled by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The Islamist group has reclaimed four towns in Southern and Central Somalia. Dismissing the ‘victories’ of al-shabab, the Somali government says the reoccupied towns are not of strategic value. They also claim peacekeeping forces have control over major strategic locations.
Al-shabab has a history of violence against Somalis. The reoccupation of Janale, Buqda, El Saliindi and Kuntuwarey may not be priority to the Somali government but what about the people who are at the mercy of al-shabab? Ahmed Nur, a senior Somali military officer, promised the return of AMISOM, underscoring they only left the territories to engage al-shabab elsewhere and will return. Aside from this supposed strategy, there are other reasons which suggest why AMISOM has been unable to hold territories in vulnerable areas of Somalia.
Locals are wary of AMISOM soldiers
According to Reuters, the locals in these reconquered towns are wary of the “peacekeepers”. They reportedly engage in activities that are peculiar to terrorist groups. The locals express their fear of both AMISOM and al-shabab, asserting that both groups have treated them poorly. Some even celebrate the return of the al-shabab because to them, there is really no difference between the treatment they get from both sides. After all, according to local Buqda elder Nur Ibrahim; “Government troops rape, rob and kill us”.
Lack of military training
The African Union is the empowering organization for AMISOM, and since AMISOM is not a standing military, al-shabab is perhaps un-intimidated. Even with the mission, the AU sometimes needs the backing of the United Nations and other organizations to operate effectively.
Lack of resources within AMISOM
In fighting any terrorist group, there must be a plethora of arms and equipment for the defending side to use against terror fighters. The African Union has suffered a lot of criticism for being unable to provide the necessary equipment to AMISOM to fight terrorists. AMISOM is stretched- and 22,000 troops is not adequate to control the entire region 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, says Paul D. Williams, associate professor of international affairs at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The prey cannot be protector
As suggested, if the locals have experienced terror at the hands of AMISOM, how can they trust them? The local’s distrust towards AMISOM in these towns make them easy prey for al-shabab.
The African Union needs to implement policies that will reflect sensitivity towards the people. AMISOM soldiers that mistreat the people entrusted to them must be prosecuted to deter further human rights violations.