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If we cant defeat Al-Shabaab we leave their country

By Brian Bwesigye

On July 11th will go down in the history books as the day Uganda was thrown into a somber mood of shock, bitterness and panic. The twin bomb attacks in Kampala did not only turn an otherwise merry night into a tragic night of death and suffering but also raised concerns of the state of the countrys security. The Al-Shabaab, an Islamic extremist organisation soon after claimed responsibility for the attacks that left 76 people dead and dozens of others seriously injured.

The attacks reignited the debate on Uganda’s deployment of its troops for the African Union peace mission (AMISOM) in Somalia 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 Mogadishu. AMISOM is an African Union Mission in Somalia with UN mandate to protect the Somalia Transitional Federal Government and the shaky peace process in Somalia. Al-Shabaab, an extremist military organisation linked to Al-Qaeda, the worlds most deadly terror group, controls a larger part of Somalia and perceives the AMISOM forces as enemies. It has thus  attacked AMISOM troops and warned it will continue to attack the citizens of the contributing states.

The AMISOM forces that are currently in Somalia are under-strength and under-equipped because the African Union is incapable of logistically and financially managing the peace mission which relies on funds from the United States of America (USA), the UN and European Union (EU), among others. The hostile environment in which AMISOM forces operate creates insecurity for the troops who face the challenge of how to execute a peacekeeping operation when there is no peace to keep. Al-Shabaab has killed dozens of  AMISOM soldiers and injured many others. Yet the AMISOM troops face significant constraints on their ability to operate as the UN-authorised mandate given to them does not provide for them to attack the enemy. They are required only to fight in self defence if they have been attacked. This strategy puts the AMISOM troops in a delicate and vulnerable situation.

Thus AMISOM troops only open fire when they can visually identify their attackers and only use weapons that allow for discriminate shooting. Al-Shabaab fighters dress like civilians and use weapons that inflict mass casualties at once. AMISOM is thus a crippled mission that cannot defeat Al-Shabaab. Thus, as A-Shabaab attacks Uganda for deploying troops in Somalia, Ugandan soldiers in Mogadishu have no mandate to fight the armed militia. Therefore this calls for a rethink of Uganda’s security and foreign policy on Somalia.

From the outpouring emotion and reaction among the Ugandan public, two important opinions on what citizens want the country to do come up. One, that Uganda should hunt down Al-Shabaab so as to disable them and save the world from terror attacks. Another is that Uganda should withdraw from Somalia and beef up its national security. I subscribe to the latter view for two reasons; if we have no peace and security in Uganda, the citizens have a right and duty to ask their state to withdraw its forces and maximise security here. 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 resources, thus cannot realise the objective which we want our forces to achieve  hunt down Al- Shabaab. AMISOM as an AU-UN mandated peace-keeping force has a limited capacity to protect the Presidential Palace, Mogadishu airport and the small parts of the capital Mogadishu under the Transitional Government. The UPDF presence within the AMISOM framework does not answer the needs of the Ugandan populace. When the population talks of wiping out Al-Shabaab from Somalia, they mean militarily defeating the outfit and ensuring that it is not capable of launching attacks anywhere. Since the UPDF cannot achieve that goal, the only viable option is to withdraw from Somalia.

We can then, in the long run as a member state of the United Nations, ask the UN Security Council for a mandate to use force and invade Somalia to hunt down Al- Shabaab and bring peace not only to Somalia but to the whole region. This strategy would allow Uganda to launch offensives against the Al-Shabaab.

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Bwesigye works with Advocates for Public International Law Uganda

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