Britain moved to whip up international support for a new military and political strategy in Somalia to intensify pressure on al-Shabab militants and try to pull the failed Horn of Africa nation back from the grip of pirates and terrorists.
Britain’s United Nations ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant said UN Security Council experts were discussing a new resolution that would pave the way for a bigger African Union force in Somalia, from 12,000 to about 17,700 troops.
Council diplomats said the resolution would hopefully be adopted next week, before Britain hosts a conference in London on February 23 where senior representatives from more than 40 governments and international organisations are expected to adopt a new international approach to Somalia’s myriad problems.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on Somalia at The Brookings Institution in Washington, called the London conference “an important effort”.
“There is a need to co-ordinate fundamentally different visions” and “there could be some international strategy that would be very helpful,” she said.
“The question is whether much will be accomplished, and right now I’m very sceptical.”
Sir Mark said the purpose of the conference was to take advantage of what Britain sees as “a window of opportunity” created by the military pressure on al-Shabab by a combination of the AU force, known as Amisom, and Kenyan forces.
Somalia has had transitional administrations for the past seven years but has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a long-time dictator and turned on each other, plunging the impoverished country into chaos.
The weak transitional government has been fighting against al-Shabab, which began as a movement to oust Ethiopian troops from Somalia some six years ago.
Al-Shabab is currently being hit from three sides in Somalia. Currently, the UN-backed government holds the capital, Mogadishu, with the support of 9,500 Amisom soldiers from Uganda, Djibouti, and Burundi, after largely pushing out al-Shabab fighters.
Kenyan forces who moved into Somalia in October are pressuring al-Shabab from the south along with Ethiopian forces from the west.
Both nations sent in troops amid concerns that Somalia’s instability would leak over their borders.