The African Union called on the UN Security Council to increase the upper limit for peacekeepers in Somalia from 12,000 to 17,731 and also for greater financial help for the force which has won key battles against Shabaab militants.
The foreign ministers of South Africa and Kenya and Uganda’s defence minister joined a top African Union (AU) official in putting the case for more resources to the 15-body Security Council.
There are currently about 9,000 troops from Burundi and Uganda and Djibouti in the African force, officially known as AMISOM. Under an AU plan, all three would provide more soldiers while Kenyan troops which have been sent into Somalia to fight Shabaab would come under AMISOM command.
Hundreds of Burundi and Ugandan soldiers have been killed in Somalia since the AMISOM force was set up in 2007.
AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra highlighted territorial gains made in the capital, Mogadishu, since August. The shaky transitional government has won control from Shabaab with help from the peacekeepers.
Lamamra said Shabaab and its allies have also been “weakened” in other parts of the country.
Lamamra added that despite a famine, which has killed tens of thousands over the past year, and the divided transitional government, an “unprecedented window of opportunity” exists to establish peace and security.
He was backed by the UN under secretary general B Lynn Pascoe who said however that Shabaab remains a threat and has stepped up suicide and roadside bomb attacks in the capital.
“A concerted military offensive of AMISOM and regional powers may present a chance of defeating them as a military power but the political and ideological challenge must also be addressed,” Pascoe said.
The weak and bickering transitional government has missed several deadlines in an internationally agreed roadmap to creating a permanent government.
It now has until August to set up a new constitution and parliament, while Britain is to hold an international conference on Somalia in February, aiming to boost efforts to support the government.
When the African Union has made previous demands for more troops and finance, the Security Council has said it wants to see a stronger military strategy for beating Shabaab and greater progress by the government to establish its authority.
At Wednesday’s meeting the Security Council indicated it is ready to give more help however.
In a statement, the council “stressed the importance of predictable, reliable and timely resources” for AMISOM and called on the international community to provide more support for the force.
The council also “noted” the recommendations made by the AU.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is preparing recommendations on Somalia which should be ready in two weeks. Diplomats said a resolution setting out terms for new help could be ready before the London conference on February 23.