UN Deputy chief urges "temporary boost" to African forces in Somalia

Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson (2nd left) chats with medical staff from the Ugandan contingent serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) during a visit on 27 October 2013. Photo: AU/UN IST/ Stuart Price

Without adequate security, the efforts of the Somali Government and people, and those of their partners, could be in vain, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations said today, calling on the Security Council to support a temporary boost to national and international forces aiming to maintain basic security in the Horn of Africa nation.

“Without a sufficient level of security, what we have worked so hard for could be sacrificed,” Jan Eliasson, who just returned from a visit to the capital city of Mogadishu, said in a briefing to the Council.

He said the attack in June on the UN in Mogadishu and the terror attack on a mall in Nairobi in September underline the intent of the Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabaab to force an international retreat from Somalia and to inflict suffering on Somalis in order to erode their confidence in the peace process.

“This is why we must support AMISOM and at the same time invest in Somali national forces as well as in protecting our staff,” Mr. Eliasson stated, referring to the African Union Mission in Somalia by its acronym.

Somalia has been torn asunder by factional fighting since 1991 but has recently made progress towards stability. In 2011, Al-Shabaab insurgents retreated from Mogadishu and last year, new Government institutions emerged, as the country ended a transitional phase toward setting up a permanent, democratically-elected Government.

The UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), set up in June, is working to support the Government and the people of the country in their quest for security and prosperity, while AMISOM, created in 2007, conducts peace support operations to stabilize the situation and to create conditions for the conduct of humanitarian activities.

Mr. Eliasson said that while he came away from his visit heartened by the commitment of the country’s Government and people to peace, development and human rights, “the moment of hope in Somalia is fragile.”

A security mission carried out by the AU and the UN found that, after 18 months of successful operations that uprooted Al-Shabaab from major cities, the campaign by AMISOM and Somali forces has in recent months “ground to a halt.”

The Deputy Secretary-General was informed by the AMISOM Force Commander that neither AMISOM nor the Somali army has the capacity to push beyond areas already recovered. “Their hold of the existing territory would be tenuous if the current status-quo continues,” he said.

“While these forces remain largely static, Al-Shabaab is mobile and is training and recruiting substantial numbers of frustrated, unemployed young men. There has been a surge in deadly attacks,” he noted. “Although weakened, the insurgency is still able to conduct terror operations – not only in its areas of control, but in Mogadishu and Kismayo, and elsewhere – as we saw in last month’s horrific attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.”

Therefore, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the AU have jointly recommended that AMISOM and Somali forces need a “significant temporary boost” to maintain the basic security required for peacebuilding, as well as to respond to the evolving threat from Al-Shabaab.

“The recommended enhancements for AMISOM, including helicopters and other enablers, will allow the force to regain the initiative against the insurgency and to recover strategic locations that are exploited by Al-Shabaab to generate revenue, and to recruit and train combatants,” said Mr. Eliasson.

“The recommendations for non-lethal and logistic support to the Somali National Forces – medical support, transport, tents, food and fuel – are equally critical,” he added. “This would enable the Somalis to operate effectively alongside AMISOM, improving their capacity to hold cleared areas until the Somali National Police can take over, with AMISOM police support.”

Mr. Eliasson urged the Security Council to find ways to adequately provide for this support, pointing out that this would also substantially facilitate the crucially important recovery and development efforts of the UN and other actors on the ground.

“It is hard to ask for additional resources in our present difficult financial environment. But it is my duty to advise this Council that, without increased support, our present – and indeed past – investment in peace, and that of millions of Somalis, may be lost.”

In a related development, the Secretary-General today announced the appointment of Fatiha Serour of Algeria as his Deputy Special Representative for Somalia. Ms. Serour replaces Peter De Clercq of the Netherlands, who served as Deputy Special Representative since the establishment of UNSOM and was recently appointed Deputy Special Representative for the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).