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US raid highlights AMISOM deficiencies

IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
Jeremy Binnie, London
Friday, October 11, 2013

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The attempt by US special forces to capture a suspected militant commander on 5 October has highlighted the failure of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to secure the coastal town of Baraawe: a situation that UN and African Union (AU) officials are blaming on a lack of resources.

Located 175 km down the coast from Mogadishu, Baraawe has long been a base for the Somali militant Islamist group Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen and its foreign supporters. When Eritrean Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed was indicted on terrorism charges in the United States, it was revealed that he had received explosive training at an Al-Shabab training camp in Baraawe in April 2009. Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan suspected of planning Al-Qaeda attacks, was killed in a US operation near the town in September 2009.

Al-Shabaab announced on 5 October that it had repelled another US raid and published photographs of equipment purportedly left behind by the attackers, including a GPS and magazines for a 5.56 mm weapon and a Heckler & Koch MP7.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) subsequently confirmed that US military personnel had attempted but failed to capture Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir (alias: Ikrima): a Kenyan of Somali origin who is suspected of being a senior Al-Shabaab commander.

Baraawe's importance to Al-Shabaab has grown since the group's withdrawal from Mogadishu in August 2011 and from the southern city of Kismaayo in October 2012. While Al-Shabaab lost the revenues it derived from controlling the ports in those cities, it continues to tax charcoal exported from Baraawe.

The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea stated in its July report that between 600,000 and one million sacks of charcoal are exported from Baraawe every month and that Al-Shabaab charges USD2 per sack, generating a monthly revenue of up to USD2 million.

The report also noted that it had received "consistent and credible" reports that Al-Shabaab was using Baraawe to import weapons into southern Somalia.

Despite the Baraawe's importance as an Al-Shabaab stronghold, AMISOM and Somali government forces have made no attempt to capture it. The town is in AMSIOM's Sector 1, which is the responsibility of its Ugandan and Burundian contingents, but their advance down the Somali coast has run out of steam since the capture of Marka 100 km to the northeast in August 2012.

"Due to both operational and resource limitations, there have been no major advances to recover more territory from Al-Shabaab," an AU report noted in June.

"AMISOM are under-resourced," UN Special Representative for Somalia Nicolas Kay said on 24 September. "For example, they have not a single military helicopter for a campaign in a country that is the size of Afghanistan."

This deficiency is largely due to three of the four helicopters Uganda sent to Somalia in August 2012 crashing en route in Kenya.

A joint UN-AU team is currently making recommendations to the Security Council that are expected to include approving an increase in AMISOM's authorised strength of 17,700 and the provision of key enablers, including helicopters, an official at the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia told IHS Jane's .


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