JULY 19, 2010: Why Withdrawal of Troops From Somalia Is Reasonable for Now

Why Withdrawal of Troops From Somalia Is Reasonable for Now

SOURCE: The Independent

By Brian Bwesigye

July 11, 2010 will go down in the history books as the day Uganda was thrown into a somber mood mixed with shock, bitterness and panic.

The twin bomb attacks did not only turn an otherwise merry night into a dark night of death and suffering but also raised concerns of the state of the nation's security. The Al Shabaab, an armed extremist organization soon after claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks thus centering the debate on this shocking tragedy on Uganda's role as a contributing state to AMISOM and the implications for its citizens.

Al Shabaab has warned Uganda and Burundi that there will be reprisals in Kampala and Bujumbura if the two states do not withdraw their troops from AMISOM. AMISOM is an African Union Mission in Somalia with a United Nations (UN) mandate to protect the Somalia Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the shaky peace process in Somalia. Al shabaab, an extremist military organization with links to Al Qaeda controls a larger part of Somalia and perceives AMISOM as a belligerent thus has launched attacks against it and has warned that it will continue to attack the citizens of the contributing states to AMISOM. The AMISOM soldiers that are currently in Somalia are under-manned, under-equipped as the AU is incapable of logistically and financially managing the Mission which relies on funds from the United States of America (USA), the UN and the European Union (EU), among others.

The hostile environment in which AMISOM is placed creates insecurity on the part of the troops who face the challenge of how to man a peacekeeping operation when there is no peace to keep. Al Shabaab has killed over 100 AMISOM soldiers and injured a larger number. AMISOM's personnel face significant restrictions on their ability to operate as the UN-authorized mandate given to AMISOM does not provide sufficient protection to the troops, yet the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon insists that AMISOM remains without legitimate authority to use military force unless fired upon. Thus AMISOM troops only open fire when its soldiers can visually identify their attackers, and will only use weapons that allow for discriminate fire. Al shabaab fighters dress as civilians and use weapons that produce large numbers of casualties at once.

AMISOM is thus a crippled mission that cannot defeat Al Shabaab as their mandate does not even allow them to fight Al Shabaab unless in self defense. Thus, as Al shabaab attacks Uganda for its deployment in Somalia through AMISOM, Uganda's forces in Somalia to date have no mandate to fight Al Shabaab. This calls for a re-thinking of Uganda's security and foreign policy on Somalia in a holistic manner. From the outpouring of emotion and reaction from the Ugandan public, two important opinions on what citizens want the country to do filter through. One, that Uganda should hunt down Al Shabaab so as to disable them and save the world from terrorist attacks. Another that I subscribe to, that Uganda should withdraw from AMISOM and beef up its national security.

I take the latter view for two reasons; if we have no peace and security in Uganda, the citizens of the country have a right and duty to ask their state to withdraw its forces and maximize security efforts inside Uganda. We can contemplate a mission to hunt down Al Shabaab when we are assured of our own security.

Further, AMISOM as it stands today has a limited mandate and is limited in resources, thus cannot achieve the aim we want our forces to achieve - hunt down Al shabaab. AMISOM as an AU-UN mandated peace-keeping force under chapter six of the UN charter has a limited mandate to protecting the Presidential palace, the Mogadishu airport and the small parts of Mogadishu under the TFG control. The UPDF presence within the AMISOM framework does not answer the needs of the Ugandan populace. When the population talks of wiping Al Shabaab from Somalia, they mean militarily defeating the outfit and ensuring that it is not capable of launching attacks anywhere, let alone Uganda.

Thus, for Ugandan forces to remain in AMISOM does not help achieve the aims of the Ugandan public, thus the only viable option is withdrawal of the UPDF from AMISOM and then Uganda intensifies its national security in the short run. We can then later, in the long run as a member state of the UN, ask the UN Security Council for a mandate to use force and invade Somalia to hunt down Al Shabaab and bring peace and security not only to Somalia but to the whole region. This UN Charter chapter seven peace enforcement mission in Somalia that I am proposing would allow Uganda to launch offensives against Al Shabaab. That is what can serve Uganda's ultimate interests of national security for citizens internally and lead to international peace and security. Otherwise, Uganda must withdraw troops in the short-run and consider a "legal" invasion in the long run.

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