Friday, August 6, 2010

Why did the UN block assault on Al-Shabaab?

A fortnight ago, a development in the post-7/11 situation was reported in the media and appears to have escaped many an eye.

In the wake of the alleged bomb attacks on the Ugandan capital Kampala by the Somali militants, Al-Shabaab, there was expectation that an all-out onslaught would be launched by, or at least encouraged by, the African peacekeeping contingent in Somalia. The AU force there at present is made up entirely of Ugandan and Burundian troops.

The assumption by many analysts was that the number of peacekeeping soldiers would be dramatically stepped up, with more equipment being sent in, and the original mission that required a neutral or defensive peacekeeping military posture would be changed to a more assertive and forward-strike position. In other words, there was to be an all-out, internationally approved assault on Al-Shabaab to punish it for attacking Uganda. However, that has not happened.

The Daily Monitor newspaper reported on July 28, 2010: "The African Union summit yesterday bowed to pressure from the United Nations and turned down a request that it support a change in the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in war-torn Somalia…The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Somalia Augustine Mahiga had on Monday delivered the message to a meeting attended by the presidents of Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Tanzania, prime minister of Ethiopia and other foreign ministers that there is no need to change the current mandate."

This is strange. Why, with all the international condemnation of Al-Shabaab within hours of the bomb blasts, and the already deeply negative image the militants have in much of the West, would this aggressive new search-and-destroy proposal not be pursued? Al-Shabaab, after all, have claimed responsibility for the bomb blasts, something that ordinarily would have made the case even more compelling for the African troops to move into battle against them.

In the wake of the Sept. 2001 terror attacks on the United States, all forces and much western opinion moved to and eventually endorsed an immediate regime-changing attack on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. If it can be argued that the United States and other western nations were reluctant to commit their troops to Mogadishu, it is Ugandan, Burundian and those from another African country that would have borne the brunt of the fighting, with no western soldier at risk. And it is not as if the UN Security Council's western nations—United States, Britain and France—wished to support a combat posture but were frustrated by a veto from Russia or China.

If the United Nations—the main sponsor of the Somali peacekeeping mission AMISOM—found "no need to change the current mandate", does this suggest that the United Nations does not regard Al-Shabaab's threat as increasing, even after its self-professed role in the Kampala attacks?

Or might the teams of foreign investigators that descended on Uganda in the days following the attacks have found no evidence that Al-Shabaab carried out the attacks, as has been speculated by some analysts?

What else can explain this?

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