Friday, 17 August 2012

The Fight For The Soul Of Somalia?

     There is a fight going on in Somalia, not the one we hear about in the news with guns and soldier and Islamic rebels battling in the streets and countryside. No, there is an equally important and far harder to spot conflict happening right now in the war-torn East African country - the battle for Somalia's soul.
     If the battle for Somalia's body is going reasonably well, even without Ugandan air support after the terrible crash last week, the battle for its political and social soul is on a knife edge. With the transitonal authority ending on August 20th (or there abouts!) everything must go perfectly or else the country may even descend back into the anarchy of the dark times. As Peter Martell of AFP writes 'analysts are gloomy that a United Nations-backed selection process will usher in nothing more than a reshuffle of leaders already fingered for graft, risking an even further fragmentation of power into the hands of local warlords.' The legitimacy of the central government is all that can hold the dispirate groups and individuals who govern the various, and often confused, areas of the country together. As Martell points out if the UN reshuffle simply brings the old faces back to power with no increase in legitimacy or democratic accountability to combat the flagrant corruption it may break the tenuous links between the groups. 
     With autonomous and semi-autonomous regions spread from the more effective governments of Somaliland and Puntland in the North to naesant areas like Jubbaland (Azania) in the South. With these politcal units often in conflict with each other it is only the authority of the central government that keeps Somalia a state at all. Without a successful democratic and accountable government in place the country could splinter in pieces and warlords could rise again.
     Neighbouring nations of Kenya and Ethiopia have both backed several of these regional administrations and military groups in attempts to create workable buffer zones between their borders and the territory controlled by al Shabab. With Kenya promoting Jubbaland and Ethiopia supporting the forces and government of Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a (ASWJ) it is already clear that competing interests are abound in Somalia without even taking in to consideration the corruption and nepotism of the central elites.
     It is important to keep both of these fights in perspective as Somalia attempts to move forward from its troubled past. With the addition of troops from Sierra Leone and the final push on the strategically vital town of Kismayo happening soon, the battle for Somalia's body is going to plan. The battle for her soul on the other hand, hangs in the balence, as transiton turns to neo-transition. If nothing changes and the same corrupt politicians keep control, legitimacy will fail and the country will splinter and implode once more.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Will Uganda's Vanishing Helicopters Affect AMISOMs Ability To Take Kismayo?

     Search and rescue attempts continue in the face of terrible weather conditions for three Ugandan military helicopters that disappeared in Kenya while on their way to Somalia to support the AMISOM mission. Out of the flight of four:

  • One landed safely at the refuelling point at Garissa, Kenya
  • One pilot reported in though it unclear whether his plan crashed or was forced to land
  • Two have disappeared without trace
     These helicopters, reported to be Mil MI-24 helicopter gunships, were on their way to southern Somalia to support AMISOM forces in an assault on the al Shabab-held stronghold of Kismayo, a port city near the border with Kenya. This assault has been reported to be happening in the 'next couple of days' and will be a major turning point in the war against the Islamic extremist group, if it succeeds....
     Uganda forms a major part of the AMISOM contingent with forces from Kenya, Burundi and Djibouti making up the rest. Will the loss of these helicopters have an impact on the assault of the city? The answer is almost definitely. While exact numbers are sketchy Strategic Intelligence News reports 'Uganda had acquired Mil-24 Hinds most of which were unserviceable but later contracted Russian experts to refurbish them at Soroti Flying School.' With no air assets to replace those lost in Kenya, Uganda and its AMISOM allies may have a problem providing close air support to their troops once they enter Kismayo.
     AMISOM has been fighting against al Shabab in Somalia for years and only in recent months has headway been made when troops from Kenya and Ethiopia invaded and Mogadishu was finally taken in its entirety. The Islamist forces are tough, zealous and experienced and have had months to construct their defences in the port city. With no-where left to run it must be supposed that any frontal assault will be met with hard resistance. In contrast AMISOM presents a mixed bag of forces - the soldiers of Uganda, Djibouti and Burundi and experienced in Somalia but lack strong assets such as helicopters; Kenyan forces are inexperienced in any form of fighting but have a greater amount of training and equipment. The success of this alliance in taking Kismayo is by no means a forgone conclusion and could turn into a bloody disaster.
     In an urban environment, clearing a guerrilla enemy out house by house and street by street, close air support is vital. While warplanes are effective at tackling large targets, helicopters (especially with the attack and transport capabilities of the MI-24 Hind) are indispensable in taking on small strong points, covering friendly forces and demoralising the enemy. 
    This accident in Kenya may yet prove to have ramifications beyond the possible loss of life and equipment. The attack on Kismayo, perhaps the hardest single battle of the war, could be in jeopardy and a lot more lives could be lost without the support of those helicopters.