The head of the African Union mission in Somalia is seeking a surge in troops to help the country’s military control areas won back from extremist group al-Shabab, saying the Somali National Army has been unable to take charge as expected.
Francisco Caetano Madeira’s request for an unspecified number of extra AU troops comes amid widespread concern that Somalia’s military won’t be ready to take over the country’s security as the 22,000-strong AU force prepares to withdraw by the end of 2020.
“It’s time we made it known that AMISOM is not going to stay forever,” Madeira told a high-level AU meeting Thursday.
Al-Shabab continues to carry out deadly attacks in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and elsewhere. Its deadly attacks on military bases in the past two years have slowed joint AU-Somali offensives against the group.
Madeira’s comments came the same day the head of the U.S. Africa Command made a similar warning to the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington.
The AU force known as AMISOM will begin withdrawing in 2018, “and if this departure begins prior to Somalia having capable security forces, large portions of Somalia are at risk of returning to al-Shabab control or potentially allowing ISIS to gain a stronger foothold in the country,” Commander General Thomas Waldhauser said.
After a decade in Somalia, the regional countries contributing troops to the AU force are “fatigued,” Waldhauser said.
Fighters pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group are the latest terror threat in this Horn of Africa nation after breaking away from al-Shabab in 2015.
The U.S. military is said to be seeking a larger role in Somalia for counterterror operations, but that would consist of more airstrikes, including drone strikes, and expanded special forces assistance to local troops.
Somalia’s new president, the Somali-American Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, took power last month as the fragile central government tries to expand its authority into more parts of the country.
During a visit to Somalia this week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged more support for the “underequipped” AU force after its top donor, the European Union, last year said it was cutting funding by 20 percent.
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