Al-Shabaab Promises “Ounce for Ounce” Blood Retribution for Ugandan Military Role in Somalia

Andrew McGregor

May 20, 2011

Somalia’s radical Islamist al-Shabaab movement has promised retaliation against Ugandan civilians and Ugandan troops belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has led the African Union’s military effort to preserve Somalia’s ineffective and endangered Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

UPDF PatrolUPDF Patrol in Somalia

In a May 14 statement issued by al-Shabaab’s press office and carried on jihadi websites, the movement declared the Ugandan people’s re-election of Museveni and his party for a fourth term makes the people of Uganda “unanimously complicit in the crimes of their soldiers” in Somalia and was a confirmation of their “commitment to the invasion and oppression of the innocent civilians of Somalia” (, May 14).

Al-Shabaab first issued threats of retaliation against Uganda for its contribution of troops to AMISOM in 2008. In July 2010, al-Shabaab terrorists succeeded in carrying out two bombings in Kampala that killed 74 civilians gathered to watch the World Cup of soccer final.

The new al-Shabaab statement described the troops of the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) as “paid mercenaries fighting an endless battle on behalf of the West” for a meager salary that can barely support them. Accusing the UPDF of shelling heavily populated residential areas, markets and even hospitals, al-Shabaab promised the Ugandan people would have to repay “ounce for ounce” the blood shed by AMISOM attacks on civilians.

Included in the statement was a reproduction of an identity card issued to a dead Ugandan corporal whose body is being held by the movement. Al-Shabaab fighters continue to defile the bodies of Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM soldiers killed in action by dragging them through the streets. In one such incident last week, the body was believed to belong to one of two Ugandan officers killed in a clash with al-Shabaab – Abdufita Mohammed, the commander of AMISOM forces in the Bakara market area of Mogadishu, and his intelligence officer, Abdiwahab Sheikh Dole (Daily Monitor [Kampala], May 16).

Ugandan security forces may have already succeeded in interdicting a new al-Shabaab terrorist effort in Uganda by arresting four young Somali men who had entered the country illegally by crossing through the bush to avoid border control points. Only one of the men possessed a passport, with the other three claiming to have lost theirs (Daily Monitor, May 16; Reuters, May 16).

Brigadier James Mugira, the Ugandan military intelligence chief, stated after the death of Osama bin Laden that Uganda continues to face other terrorist threats from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) led by Jamil Mukulu, a former associate of Bin Laden during his time in Sudan in the 1990s (Daily Monitor, May 3).

This article first appeared in the May 20, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

The Triangle of Death: Central Africa’s New Hub of Regional Instability

Andrew McGregor

December 16, 2010

As peacekeepers pull out of a notorious and remote corner of Africa known as the “Triangle of Death,” bands of gunmen are pouring in to fill the void in security. At the core of this problem is a former French colony that became a nation-state despite a lack of viability and is now rapidly collapsing, offering guerrillas, terrorists and outlaws a relatively risk-free haven to conduct their operations.

Birao 1(BBC)


A land-locked nation of 4.4 million people, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries on earth. As Oubangui-Chari, it was part of the French African Empire from the late 19th century to 1960, when it gained independence as the Central African Republic (CAR). The region’s pre-independence leader, Barthelmy Boganda, did not believe the CAR could become a viable independent state and instead sought to make it part of an envisioned “United States of Latin Africa,” uniting the former Central African colonies of Belgium, France, Portugal and Spain. Boganda and his dream of a united Central Africa died shortly before independence when his plane exploded in 1959. Agriculture dominates the local economy, though there are a number of unexploited resource reserves.  Forestry and diamond mining account for most of the CAR’s slim export revenue. France protects its interests and citizens in Bangui with an infantry company of 200 legionnaires belonging to the 2e Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie.

The CAR is best known in the West for the antics and atrocities of its former ruler, “Emperor” Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a former captain in the French Colonial Army who squandered the nation’s meager wealth in ruling the re-named “Central African Empire” in an imperial style from 1966 to 1979.  In recent years the political violence in the CAR has become closely tied to violence in neighboring Chad and Darfur.

Battle for Birao

On November 24, rebels belonging to the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix (Convention of Patriots for Peace and Justice – CPJP), supported by fighters formerly belonging to Chadian rebel movements, took the strategically important town of Birao and captured its military commander after a short battle with troops of the Forces Armées Centrafricaines (Central African Armed Forces – FACA) (AFP, November 24). The rebels had previously attacked Birao in July. The CPJP began operations in 2009 and since then has seized a number of towns and villages in the CAR’s northeast (BBC, November 27, 2009). Rebels claimed the defeated FACA troops belonged to the Presidential Guard, the only CAR military unit of any real worth (AFP, November 25).

Heavy rains prevented CAR forces from returning to the town after it was seized, though most of the country’s best troops were busy in the capital of Bangui preparing for the December 1 military parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of the independence of the CAR. On taking Birao, CPJP head of operations Abdoulaye Issene declared, “We have seized 48 prisoners and recovered a big stock of weapons. Birao is taken, but our target is Bangui” (Reuters, November 24).

Units of Chad’s military based in Abéché crossed the border with the CAR in late November on their way to Birao. A CPJP statement described a Chadian force including tanks and helicopters that began to bomb Birao, forcing the evacuation of the rebels on November 30. Chad’s army chief-of-staff, General Alain Mbaidodenande Djionadji, told reporters, “We affirm that the Chadian Army has exercised its right of pursuit by destroying the remaining mercenaries who have involved themselves with unidentified adventurers who were holed up in Birao” (AFP, November 30; Reuters, December 1). The town’s population of 8,000 was forced to spend a week in the bush without water, food or shelter. Food stocks kept in the town were looted during the fighting, leaving nothing for returnees (IRIN, December 7).

In a belated attempt to assert sovereignty in the area, CAR government spokesmen were quick to claim the retaking of Birao as a victory for the FACA, saying 65 rebels had been killed in the battle. According to CAR spokesman Fidele Ngouandjika, CAR troops had retaken the town without the help of foreign forces, “contrary to the mendacious allegations” broadcast by foreign media sources (AFP, December 2). This declaration ran contrary to statements from both the Chadian military and the CPJP.

The former leader of the CPJP was Charles Massi, the minister of mines and agriculture in the government of President Ange-Félix Patassé, who was supported by Libyan troops and 300 Congolese rebels under Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague. Massi took to the bush after Patassé’s government was overthrown in 2003 by General François Bozizé, the current ruler of the CAR.  After being arrested by Chadian authorities, Massi is believed to have died in January 2010 after extensive torture at the Central African prison of Bossembélé. President Bozizé has close ties with the Chadian regime of Idriss Déby and came to power with Chadian military assistance. Chad supplies many members of the Presidential Guard, the best-equipped element of the CAR armed forces.

The Peacekeepers Depart

A UN peacekeeping mission, the Mission des Nations Unies en République Centrafricaine et au Tchad (MINURCAT), has provided security along the borders of Chad, Darfur and the CAR since 2007. The severely underfunded and undermanned mission has roughly 1,500 uniformed military and police personnel drawn from 35 nations under the military command of Senegal’s Major-General Elhadji Mouhamedou Kandji. The military component of the force was authorized to succeed operations of the European Union’s EUFOR Tchad/RCA, a peacekeeping force of 3,700 troops under the command of Ireland’s Lieutenant General Patrick Nash. The majority of the force came from France, with Ireland and Poland also making major contributions. EUFOR Tchad/RCA ended operations in March 2009. Birao was the site of a small EUFOR Tchad/RCA base during the EU deployment.

The decision to withdraw MINURCAT came in May after Chad said it would assume responsibility for security in its territory after criticizing MINURCAT’s slow deployment and apparent inability to provide security for civilians. Though the peacekeepers had little effect in the northeastern CAR due to small numbers and a limited mandate that prevented them from tackling local bandits, their full withdrawal (scheduled for December 31, though operations ended on October 15) will leave security in the region solely in the hands of the CAR armed forces, which has very little presence in the area. Most of the army, including its best-equipped troops, is kept in the capital of Bangui as protection for the regime against coups, insurrections or civil unrest. President Bozizé is also believed to oppose the presence of international peacekeepers in the CAR, preferring instead to seek financial support for the expansion of the CAR’s armed forces. At the moment, the president cannot count on the complete loyalty of his poorly-equipped army. There are reports of disobedience and refusals by some troops to deploy to dangerous areas of the country, leading to purges of disloyal soldiers (Centrafrique Presse, March 24, March 29; Radio Ndeke Luka [Bangui], March 26).

In the absence of MINURCAT, a military protocol was signed between Bangui and Khartoum to create a joint border patrol to monitor the movements of Chadian and Sudanese rebels in the region. The Sudanese component includes former Darfur rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) under the command of Minni Minawi, who joined the government in 2006 (SUNA, September 26; Sudan Tribune, September 27).

The “Triangle of Death”

Between 1850 and 1910 most of what is today the northeastern part of the CAR was largely depopulated by immense slave raids carried out by the Sultans of Dar Kuti, Dar Wadai and Dar Baguirmi.  Though it was no longer called slavery, French colonial forces continued the tradition of forced labor in the 20th century. Birao remains highly isolated from the rest of the CAR (which has less than 500 km of paved roads) and has even been used as a place of internal exile. The town changed hands several times in 2006-2007 in fighting between the rebel Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (Union of Democratic Forces for Unity – UFDR) and CAR troops backed by French forces stationed in Bangui. After the negotiation of a peace agreement with the UFDR, Birao was occupied by EUFOR Tchad/RCA troops, succeeded by a MINURCAT detachment, which turned the town over to the FACA on November 15.

Birao 2Forces Armées Centrafricaines Soldier in Birao – note row of amulets worn on his lanyard.

Today, nearly three million displaced people live in the triangle formed by the borders of Sudan, Chad and the CAR. Without government control, civilians of the region have suffered widespread abuses at the hands of roving gangs of gunmen with or without political pretensions who replenish their ranks, labor force and harems by abducting children. Development of the CAR’s northeast has been ignored by successive CAR governments, most of which have concerned themselves solely with enriching members of the regime and their tribal supporters. The government has attempted to farm out security by raising and backing local vigilante groups, but even these have posed a threat to local security. An estimated 30,000 refugees from Sudan and the DRC are present in the CAR, many dwelling in the bush far from humanitarian relief.

The collapse of the Chadian insurgency after its Sudanese sponsors negotiated a peace agreement with N’Djamena left a large number of well-armed fighters looking for new bases in the CAR rather than returning to Chad to take advantage of an amnesty. After most of the leaders of the Darfur-based Chadian insurgent groups were expelled by Khartoum to Doha, these groups quickly deteriorated into undisciplined and leaderless gangs. Among those believed to be heading to the CAR are fighters from the Union des Forces de Résistance (UFR) under the command of Adam Yacoub (Sudan Tribune, September 27).

The Lord’s Resistance Army

An ongoing and seemingly irresolvable security threat in the region is posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a decades-old insurgent group that has gradually morphed into a loosely organized terror-spreading group that has no other ideology other than ensuring its continued existence through rape, murder, kidnapping, looting and torture. The Acholi-based LRA has its roots in the 1986 overthrow of Uganda’s Acholi ruler, General Tito Okello, by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), but has long ceased any pretense of representing the Acholi community.

Since the failure of the U.S. supported Ugandan military operation “Lightning Thunder” in December 2008 (which split the LRA into a number of different groups rather than eliminate it), the movement has continued its depredations in southwest Sudan, the CAR and the northeastern DRC. In the last two years the LRA has killed over 2,000 people in the CAR’s northeast and abducted thousands more. Though LRA leader Joseph Kony no longer has effective control of his scattered fighters, his divided movement continues to carry out atrocities and abductions under various sub-commanders. Units of the LRA attacked Birao in October, looting shops and abducting women (AFP, November 24).

CAR Defense Minister Jean-François Bozizé, nephew of President François Bozizé, has denounced LRA atrocities in the nation, including “incursions, pillage, massacres, rapes, hostage takings and villages that are systematically burned down,” while insisting that “the LRA is now a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda” (AFP, October 14).

The CAR has also joined in forming a joint military brigade with forces from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudan, intended to complete the elimination of the LRA (Daily Monitor [Kampala], October 19). However, with South Sudanese independence looking like the sure result of next month’s independence referendum, Khartoum may choose to continue using the LRA as a regional proxy to threaten the security of those nations choosing to support the separation of South Sudan.

A new U.S. strategy designed to eliminate the threats posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability has four stated objectives:

• Increase protection of civilians.

• Apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his sub-commanders.

• Promote the defection, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the remaining LRA fighters.

• Increase humanitarian access and provide relief to affected communities. [1]


Lying outside of any effective government control, Birao and the rest of the CAR’s northeast region offer insurgent groups, bandits, deserters and renegades an appealing mix of isolation from the CAR state infrastructure and proximity to the borders with Chad and Sudan.

Presidential elections, which have been postponed four times this year, are now set to take place on January 23, 2011, only weeks after neighboring South Sudan’s independence referendum, an event with profound implications for regional security. With the two leading candidates being Bozizé and his ousted predecessor Patassé, there appears to be little chance for substantial change in the CAR. A third possible candidate, former prime minister Martin Ziguele, has been accused by government spokesmen of being a terrorist and the “new de facto president of the CPJP,” though no evidence was produced to support this charge (AFP, September 24).


1.  “Letter from the President on the Strategy to Support the Disarmament of the Lord’s Resistance Army,” November 24, 2010,


This article first appeared in the December 16, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Yoweri Museveni Accuses International Forces of “Enjoying Themselves in the Ocean” as Ugandan Troops Battle al-Shabaab

Andrew McGregor

December 2, 2010

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni became the first foreign head of state to visit Somalia in over 20 years when he made a three hour visit to Mogadishu on November 28. Though the president’s visit was a carefully concealed secret until his arrival, it served as confirmation of Museveni’s continuing commitment to the political stabilization of Somalia and the elimination of radical Islamist groups such as al-Shabaab and Hizb al-Islam. Ugandan troops form the majority of the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Somalia, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Though many other nations have pledged military support to the mission, only Burundi has actually sent troops to support the Ugandans.

uganda amisomUgandan Patrol in Somalia

After landing, Museveni travelled to the AMISOM Halane base camp and met with AMISOM commanders, including Ugandan force commander Major General Nathan Mugisha, Burundian deputy commander Major General Cyprian Hakiiza, Ugandan contingent commander Colonel Michael Ondonga and AMISOM’s Ugandan chief-of-staff Colonel Innocent Oula (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 29). The president also met with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) president Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmed and the new Prime Minister, Muhammad Abdullahi Muhammad.

With Uganda and Burundi engaged in frontline combat to preserve the imperiled TFG, Museveni was critical to the point of sarcasm in commenting on what he described as a lack of seriousness regarding Somali security issues on the part of the international community, which maintains an expensive deployment of warships off the Somali coast that has had little impact on piracy and virtually no impact on the internal struggle for Somalia:

“We want more troops from Uganda or from anywhere in Africa. Uganda is a country of 33 million people, so we could mobilize three million people. But who will pay for it? International support is not enough. [The international community] don’t take the Somali problem seriously. They are busy enjoying themselves in the ocean, having a nice time in the ocean. Do you know how much money they spend in the ocean? The pirates who go to the ocean to steal from ships come from land. Have you heard that Somalis have become aquatic?”  (Daily Monitor, November 29; New Vision [Kampala], November 29).

AMISOM troops have assumed the burden of defending the TFG from Islamist assaults. A continuing effort to train the TFG’s own military force has been largely unsuccessful with a lack of discipline and resources cited as the main problems. Somali information minister Abdirahman Omar Osman recently admitted that the TFG’s failure to make regular payments to its troops and the appeal of al-Shabaab’s Islamic propaganda have led to defections from TFG forces (Daily Monitor, November 7). The TFG mandate expires in August 2011, leaving an uncertain future for Somalia.

Though the Islamists continue to control most of southern Somalia, Ugandan Colonel Michael Ondoga says progress has been made in recent months in Mogadishu, where AMISOM troops have expanded the area under the control of the TFG to roughly 50% of the city, the largest area secured by the peacekeeping force since its deployment three years ago. The next step is to take Mogadishu’s Bakara Market (currently in the hands of al-Shabaab), but further offensives are hampered by insufficient forces to consolidate and hold positions already taken (New Vision, November 29). The market was the scene of several days of heavy fighting and shelling that coincided with Museveni’s visit (Garowe Online, November 30).

Ugandan diplomats have argued with the UN Security Council (whose chairmanship Uganda will relinquish next month) that an enhanced AMISOM force of 20,000 men would be cheaper and more effective in dealing with piracy than a varied naval presence that lacks a unified leadership (New Vision, November 14). Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has also called for reinforcements and a more aggressive mandate for AMISOM (Garowe Online, November 19). Burundi has just sent an additional battalion to AMISOM, bringing the peacekeeping force up to the original projected strength of 8,000 men for the first time (Daily Monitor, November 26).

Museveni’s visit was not well received by Hizb al-Islam, whose spokesman Shaykh Muhammad Osman Arus claimed AMISOM was committing genocide in Mogadishu: “[Museveni] came here to witness how the Muslim people are being harmed. He must have felt pleased by the atrocities committed.” The shaykh pledged new attacks on AMISOM to demonstrate the Islamists’ displeasure (Africa Review [Nairobi], November 30).

This article first appeared in the December 2, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

African Union Peacekeepers Warn of al-Qaeda Presence in Somalia

Andrew McGregor

December 15, 2009

The hard-pressed Ugandan and Burundian troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are the last line of defense for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which now controls only a few neighborhoods of Mogadishu. With the recent defeat of rival Islamist militia Hizb al-Islam, the radical al-Shabaab movement has emerged as the main challenger to the TFG.

AMISOMAMISOM Armor in Somalia

The African Union’s special representative for Somalia, former Kenyan MP Wafula Athanas Wamunyinyi, has issued dire warnings of an al-Qaeda takeover of Somalia, “considering the grip they have on the country” (New Vision [Kampala], December 3). Wamunyinyi says al-Shabaab has recruited 1,200 fighters in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and the United States. “With the involvement of foreign fighters, we need to adopt a new approach towards the conflict in Somalia, away from the perception that these are clans fighting.” Kenyans are reported to represent half this force, being recruited from the same ethnic-Somali community in northeast Kenya that the TFG is also drawing on for recruits (New Vision, December 4).

Wamunyinyi claims that al-Qaeda is operating training camps in Somalia, and named several foreigners who now hold leading positions in al-Shabaab:

• Saudi Arabian Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id is the group’s financier and “manager.”

• Abu Musa Mombasa is a Pakistani who has replaced the late Saleh Ali Nahbhan as the head of security and training operations for al-Shabaab.

• The American Abu Mansur al-Amriki heads the finance and payroll department of the foreign mujahideen.

• Sudanese national Mohamoud Mujajir is in charge of suicide bombing operations (New Vision, December 3).

A Ugandan AMISOM officer, Major Bahoku Barigye, reported that he had personally spoken to three al-Shabaab members from Uganda, who said they knew where he lived in Kampala and threatened his family. One of the militants told Major Barigye he was a member of the Alliance of Democratic Forces, an Islamist militant group that has operated along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 1996 (see Terrorism Monitor, December 5, 2007).

AMISOM commander, Major General Nathan Mugisha (Uganda), is less emphatic regarding al-Qaeda’s physical presence in Somalia. “I think there’s a relationship between activities here and al-Qaeda… There’s mutual support and I think the way they behave is similar” (AFP, November 28).

The question is whether reports of a substantial al-Qaeda presence are intelligence-driven or politically inspired as a means of obtaining greater military and financial support for a mission that is badly undermanned and underfunded. Still 3,000 troops short of its mandated force of 8,000, AMISOM will soon receive reinforcements from Djibouti; but Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi and Sierra Leone have yet to send the units they promised.

This article first appeared in the December 15, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Somalia’s al-Shabaab Launches Suicide Strikes after al-Qaeda Calls for Attacks on AU Peacekeepers

Andrew McGregor

February 25, 2009

Eleven Burundian peacekeepers were killed in a two-man suicide assault on an African Union peacekeeping base in Mogadishu on February 22, 2009. Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur,” the spokesman for Somalia’s radical Islamist al-Shabaab movement, claimed responsibility for the attacks shortly afterwards (Radio Garowe, February 22). Al-Shabaab has made extensive use of suicide attacks since 2006, a tactical innovation in Somalia.

Abu Yahya al-Libi

Abu Yahya al-Libi

The bombings followed a communiqué issued earlier this month by leading al-Qaeda strategist Abu Yahya al-Libi that called for renewed attacks on AU peacekeepers in Somalia (As-Sahab Media Productions, February 13). Abu Yahya frequently provides advice or direction to al-Shabaab, urging them to reject all efforts at reconciliation, even with fellow Islamists deemed to lack sufficient enthusiasm for a relentless jihad against secularists, nationalists, and foreign troops (, June 23, 2008). In turn, Abu Yahya has been praised by al-Shabaab leader Shaykh Ahmad Abi Godane and greeted in the martyrdom videos of Somali suicide bombers.

Abu Yahya’s message opened with congratulations to the “brave, well-born tribes” of Somalia and its “courageous heroes of jihad” for their “splendid victory” over the Ethiopian military after it withdrew from its occupation of Somalia in January. The senior al-Qaeda leader points out that the withdrawal was not achieved as a result of diplomatic efforts, but through a jihad carried out by patient and serious men: “It was impossible for those [Somali] men to flee the heat of the battle while seeing the forces of the Abyssinians [Ethiopians] raiding their homeland, raping their women, tyrannizing their elderly people, massacring their youth, and boasting on their land.”

Describing the peacekeeping mission as a kind of concealed occupation, Abu Yahya urges al-Shabaab to attack the AU peacekeepers with all the determination they applied to attacks on Ethiopian forces:

[Concealed occupation] has been adapted by the West as a new method to control Muslim countries by flashing slogans like “Peacekeeping Forces” and others that belong to either the UN, the African Union, or other regional or international organizations. Therefore, you should continue to carry out your attacks on the Ugandan [and Burundian] forces that occupy your territory, so you would inflict them with what you have done to the crusader Ethiopian forces. Kill them everywhere you find them without distinction. Take them on, close in on them, and disable them through ambushes.

Abu Yahya also urges al-Shabaab to do everything it can to avoid internal disputes (a constant problem in the radical organization) and avoid needlessly antagonizing the Somali people (another problem stemming from al-Shabaab’s crude application of a version of Shari’a law). Somalia’s new Islamist president, Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, is denounced as “one of the Karzais [Quislings] of modern times” that have begun to proliferate in Muslim countries. According to Abu Yahya, the “enemies of Islam” seek to bring Somalia “within their orbit and control it as they please, forcing you to believe its legitimacy and adhering to the decisions of their organizations, while wasting your efforts, burying your sacrifices in its graveyards and looting the wealth of your country.”


This article first appeared in the February 25, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Somali Islamists Threaten Kenya’s Peacekeeping Deployment

Andrew McGregor

November 26, 2008

In an effort to prop up Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Kenya has decided to send a battalion of troops to join the undermanned African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which has only 3,000 of its authorized strength of 8,000 troops (Afrique en Ligne, November 18). Kenya has so far tried to avoid becoming embroiled militarily in the Somali conflict, though it has provided military training for TFG troops.

kdf somaliaKenyan Troops in South-Western Somalia

With a mandate calling for support of the unpopular Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Somalia’s insurgents regard the AU peacekeepers as being little better than the Ethiopian occupation force. There have been frequent and sometimes fatal attacks on Ugandan and Burundian troops, the only countries so far to actually send soldiers to Somalia as part of their commitment to the AMISOM peacekeeping force. TFG forces appear unlikely to be able to pick up the slack once Ethiopian troops have fully withdrawn – they are sporadically paid, have little commitment to the TFG and devote much of their effort to looting merchant warehouses in Mogadishu. Under pressure, most of these forces can be counted on to go home or defect to Islamist formations.

Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of the Eritrean-based faction of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), warned last week that efforts to replace Ethiopian occupation troops with Kenyan peacekeepers would “meet with nothing but failure… We will fight them like we fought the Ethiopians” (Radio Shabelle, November 20). Aweys has spoken in the past of forming a “greater Somalia,” incorporating the Somali minorities living in eastern Ethiopia and northeastern Kenya. As Islamic Courts Union (ICU) chairman, Aweys once declared, “We will leave no stone unturned to integrate our Somali brothers in Kenya and Ethiopia and restore their freedom to live with their ancestors in Somalia” (AP, November 19, 2006).

Responding to reports that Kenyan troops would attempt to occupy south Somalia as far north as the port of Kismayo (currently occupied by Somali Islamist forces), the Shaykh said, “I’m specifically warning Kenya. I was told that Kenya said that it will send troops [to Somalia]… I warn Kenya that it should not pay any interest to this matter, because Ethiopia has already failed. I understand that Kenya is planning to deploy up to Kismayo town. Kenya should not burn the thatched house that it is living in” (Radio Shabelle, November 20).

Rejecting the position taken by rival Djibouti-based ARS leader Shaykh Sharif Ahmad, who has entered into an agreement with the TFG, Shaykh Aweys asserted that his faction would continue the campaign against foreign occupation: “We still stick to our position, we stick to fighting, we stick to holy war, we stick to liberation” (Radio Shabelle, November 20).

A spokesman from the Shabaab administration of Kismayo, Abdigani Shaykh Muhammad, announced, “If Kenya sends soldiers into Somalia, then we will recognize Kenya as an invader like Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi” (Radio Garowe, November 20). Al-Shabaab is the most radical of the Islamist factions fighting the TFG and the Ethiopian troops supporting it. Its leader, Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur,” has pledged his allegiance to al-Qaeda, but there is little evidence of operational ties as of yet. Abu Mansur threatened to bring a “jihadi war” to Kenya in October, over Kenya’s provision of military training to 10,000 TFG recruits (see Terrorism Focus, November 5). Al-Shabaab is also angered by Kenya’s practice of extraditing Somali nationals to Ethiopia, where they are detained and questioned by U.S. intelligence. The Shabaab spokesman warned that the Islamists will “wage attacks inside Kenya” if the deployment to Somalia goes ahead.

With the TFG now exerting control over only parts of Mogadishu and Baidoa (and in daylight hours only), the gradual withdrawal of Ethiopian forces threatens to spell the end for the TFG, many of whose members already prefer the safety of Nairobi to a precarious existence in the Somali capital. The urgency of the situation was reflected in a three-day visit last week to Addis Ababa by the U.S. AFRICOM Commander, General William “Kip” Ward. The General held meetings with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and numerous Ethiopian military commanders (, November 20;, November 21).

TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf admits that his government is “on the verge of a total collapse.” The government has failed to name a new cabinet, and the President is unable to work with the Prime Minister. Referring to the rapid fall of town after town to advancing Islamist forces, Yusuf warned, “It is every man for himself if the government collapses… The Islamists kill city cleaners, they will not spare legislators” (al-Jazeera, November 16).

This article first appeared in the November 26, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Al-Qaeda Planning Strike on Uganda in Retaliation for Somalia Peacekeeping Efforts?

Andrew McGregor

September 24, 2008

Kenyan intelligence reports that fugitive terrorist Fazul Abdullah Muhammad may be planning an attack on Kampala in retaliation for the Ugandan military’s ongoing participation in African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping efforts in Somalia. Ugandan authorities have been notified and remain on high alert (The Standard [Nairobi], September 16).

Fazul Abdullah MuhammadA native of the Comoros Islands, Fazul Abdullah is wanted in connection with a long series of terrorist acts, including the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, the 2002 truck bombings of the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, and a failed missile attack on an Israeli airliner the same year. In August the terrorist suspect evaded a Kenyan police dragnet in the coastal town of Malindi where he was reported to be seeking treatment for a kidney ailment, though police captured two of his aides and seized documents and a laptop computer (New Vision [Kampala], September 16; The Standard, September 16).

In a sign of the growing distance between the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the more militant al-Shabaab fighters, the ICU issued a detailed statement on September 14 calling on al-Shabaab to abandon their threat to destroy any aircraft using the Mogadishu airport. A Ugandan military plane defied the threat from al-Shabaab, landing amidst a mortar barrage on September 19. The airport has been unused since (Somaliweyn, September 22). Al-Shabaab states the airport is being used to bring in Ugandan and Burundian “occupiers” (New Vision, September 15).

While acknowledging the problems posed to the resistance by AMISOM and Ethiopian military use of the airport, the ICU also noted the benefits to the Somali people through keeping the facility open, including movement in and out of the country, pilgrimage to the holy cities of Saudi Arabia, importation of needed foreign goods and the use of aircraft to send wounded civilians for emergency treatment abroad (, September 14). The appeal has had no response from al-Shabaab so far.

Ugandan bases have been the frequent target of al-Shabaab hit-and-run mortar attacks and their convoys have been attacked by grenades, IEDs and small-arms fire. Two Ugandan soldiers were killed in a September 15 ambush on an AMISOM convoy on the Airport Road, near a Ugandan base. The attackers fired small arms from rooftops along the road. An AMISOM spokesman reported “AMISOM troops once again acted professionally and restrained themselves from firing into buildings that are known to be inhabited by the civilian population” (New Vision, September 15).

On September 22, Somali insurgents launched simultaneous attacks on the two main AMISOM bases in Mogadishu. Though AMISOM reported no casualties, 40 people were killed when shells fell on the city’s Bakara market (BBC, September 22). The previous evening an attack on the Ugandan base was repulsed, though Ugandan mortars were reported to have taken the lives of 18 civilians (Somaliweyn Media Center, September 22).

In an interview with Iranian TV, a spokesman for the Hawiye clan (the largest clan in Mogadishu) accused Ugandan troops of responsibility for the deaths of a large number of civilians. Ahmed Dirie demanded that Uganda withdraw and stop supporting the Transitional Federal Government (Press TV, September 20).

1,600 newly trained Ugandan troops are expected to relieve the current force in Somalia sometime in October. Although the UN specifies a six-month rotation schedule for peacekeepers, the Ugandan force in Mogadishu has not been relieved since their arrival in March 2007. A Ugandan People’s Defence Force spokesman said Uganda has been unable to rotate forces due to ongoing insecurity in Somalia and logistical difficulties (, September 14).

This article first appeared in the September 24, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Fatal Ambush of UN Peacekeepers in Darfur Raises Questions on Future of UNAMID

Andrew McGregor

July 16, 2008

The July 8 ambush of a United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) patrol came amid growing tensions in Sudan generated by the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, military maneuvers around Khartoum and declarations from Darfur’s strongest rebel movement that it intends to repeat its long-distance May assault on the national capital.

Darfur - RwandaRwandan Peacekeeping Patrol in Darfur

The deadly ambush occurred near the village of Umm Hakibah, roughly 100 km (60 miles) southeast of Darfur’s provincial capital of al-Fasher. The dead included five soldiers from Rwanda (probably the most effective detachment now in UNAMID) and two policemen, one from Ghana, the other from Uganda (Sudan Tribune, July 13; New Vision [Kampala], July 13). A further 19 were wounded and three UNAMID armored cars destroyed during a two-hour gun battle. The identity of the attackers has not been confirmed, but the accounts of survivors describing men on horseback wearing Sudanese Army-style fatigues suggested the attack was the work of the Janjaweed, a largely Arab militia sponsored by Khartoum. A later UNAMID statement claimed the attackers were carried on 40 vehicles (presumably pick-up trucks) equipped with heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons and recoilless rifles (Sudan Tribune, July 11). Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN’s head of peacekeeping operations, described the ambush as a “well-prepared” operation in a government-controlled area that used weapons and equipment not usually employed by rebel groups (AFP, July 11).

Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army – Unity (SLA-Unity) condemned the ambush in a statement (Reuters, July 11). The two rebel movements dominate the Darfur resistance through a military alliance. Elements from both forces were believed to be behind the massacre of 10 African Union peacekeepers at Haskanita last September. A Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman claimed that the Umm Hakibah attack was the work of SLA-Unity, but a statement on a website believed to be close to Sudanese intelligence services described the attackers as “an armed group loyal to the Justice and Equality Movement” (Sudanese Media Center, July 10), a claim quickly denied as “government propaganda” by a JEM spokesman (Sudan Tribune, July 10).

UNAMID differs little in size, composition or capability from the 9,000-man African Union force it replaced at the beginning of the year. Only a few hundred of the projected 17,000 additional troops that were to form UNAMID have actually arrived. African Union troops have repainted their helmets in UN blue, but still lack basic transportation equipment as well as vitally needed helicopters (for the problems with UNAMID, see Terrorism Monitor, November 8, 2007). Australia suspended its UNAMID deployment of a small force of military specialists in the wake of the Umm Hakibah attack (Sydney Morning Herald, July 13). Political activists led by actress Mia Farrow are now calling for the deployment of controversial U.S. private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, notorious for their free use of weapons in Iraq, including a 2007 massacre of 17 civilians in Baghdad that led to an FBI investigation (Financial Times, June 19; BBC, October 8, 2007).

This article first appeared in the July 16, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Islamist Suicide Attack on Burundian Peacekeepers in Mogadishu

Andrew McGregor

April 16, 2008

A late afternoon suicide attack on the Burundi Army base in Mogadishu claimed the life of one Burundian peacekeeper and five civilians on April 8 (Shabelle Media Network, April 8). Two other Burundian soldiers were injured in the first strike by Islamist insurgents on the Burundian peacekeepers. A pickup truck loaded with explosives targeted the recently arrived Burundian contingent of AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Shaykh Mukhtar Robow, the leader of al-Shabaab, a military wing of the Islamic Courts Union (Radio Shabelle, April 9).

Burundi - SomaliaBurundian Troops Man Defensive Line in Mogadishu (AP/Stuart Price)

The powerful explosion at the base on the grounds of the now-closed Banaadir University was heard throughout Mogadishu and shrapnel that spread 100 meters injured scores of people (HornAfrik, April 8; Radio Simba, April 9). A roadside bomb targeting a Burundian military convoy the next day failed to cause any casualties (AFP, April 9).

Muhammad “Dheere” Umar Habeb, a former Jowhar-based warlord who now acts as governor of Banaadir Region and mayor of Mogadishu, claimed that the perpetrator was “brainwashed” and acting under the orders of al-Qaeda (Somaaljecel, April 10). It is customary for officials of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to attribute all terrorist attacks in Somalia to al-Qaeda in order to secure military and financial support from the United States.

1,500 Ugandan troops arrived in Somalia in March 2007. They were expected to be the vanguard of an 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission intended to support the TFG, establish stability, facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid and create conditions for long-term reconstruction and reconciliation. Since then, however, only 850 troops from Burundi have arrived to assist the hard-pressed Ugandans, who have been targeted several times for lethal attacks by the Islamist insurgents. Contingents from Nigeria, Ghana and Malawi have all failed to appear.

The attack on the Burundians seemed to fulfill a promise made last year by notorious ICU militant Aden Hashi Ayro: “We will fight and assassinate [Ugandan] officers. All other African troops sent to Somalia will face the same fate” (Qaadisiya, November 14, 2007). With its diminished numbers, the AU mission has had little impact and many Somalis view the peacekeepers’ mission to be one of support to the Ethiopian occupation force and the U.S.-backed TFG warlord government. Force de défence nationale (FDN) spokesman Lt. Col. Adolphe Manirakiza stated that the sole objective of the Burundian troops was to “help the Somali brothers reconcile,” noting that “every trade has its risks…” (Panapress, April 9). The FDN initially claimed it was unable to fulfill its commitment to AMISOM due to equipment shortages and transportation difficulties but has since received assistance from France and the United States (, April 9).

This article first appeared in the April 16, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Into the Somali Void: Somalia’s Islamists Target Uganda’s Peacekeepers

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Research Initiative Perspectives on Terrorism

November 30, 2007

The 1,400 man contingent from Uganda represents the sole contribution so far to the African Union’s peacekeeping mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The mission was supposed to deploy 8,000 troops, but Nigeria, Burundi, Ghana, and Malawi have all failed to send detachments. AMISOM was originally intended to field nine battalions of African Union peacekeepers with air and military support. AMISOM has a mission to provide support to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in establishing stability, facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid and create conditions for long-term reconstruction, reconciliation and development (Communiqué of the 69th meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council, January 19, 2007). Approximately 1,500 Ugandan troops expecting to be the vanguard of the mission arrived in Somalia in March 2007. To date they remain the only element of AMISOM to actually deploy.

ugandans amisomPublic opinion in Uganda quickly turned against the mission due to the deaths of Ugandan peacekeepers in an attack in May, the impression that Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni was using the peacekeepers to gain favour with the United States, and a general feeling that the mission used military resources that could have been better employed in bringing a decisive end to the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda (VOA, May 19, 2007). The six-month Ugandan mandate ended in September. However, President Museveni has held to his initial word that the Ugandan force would remain in Somalia until stability has been restored, and indeed the Ugandan mandate has been renewed until January, 2008.

The “War against Foreign Forces”

The persistence of the Ugandan presence in Somalia is not without consequence. In this regard, Aden Hashi Ayro, a leading Islamic Courts Union (ICU) militant and al-Qaeda associate, issued a 20 minute audiotape on 14 November (Qaadisiya, November 14).Carried by an ICU affiliated Somali website, the message ordered al-Shabaab (a military wing of the ICU) militants to target Ugandan peacekeepers as well as the Ethiopian occupation force. Ayro, who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, accused the Ugandans of invading Somalia. After opening with a greeting to Osama bin Laden, Ayro’s message described a “war against foreign forces…To us the Ugandans, Ethiopians and Americans are all the same; they have invaded us and I am telling the mujahidin, Ugandans must be one of our priorities”. Ayro continued his message with a threat directed towards Ethiopian civilians; “They beheaded our children, women and elderly people in Mogadishu and we must behead theirs in Addis Ababa”.

The tape contained essentially the same message ICU leader Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys gave in an interview with al-Jazeera last June, where he said that “it makes no difference to us whether [the occupiers] are Ugandans or Ethiopians. We will continue fighting with them as long as the foreign forces are on Somali soil” (East African Standard, June 23, 2007). At the time Shaykh Hassan was angered by what he perceived as the use of Ugandan troops and tanks in support of Ethiopian forces in April, claiming the Ugandans had “arrived in Somalia only to back up the Ethiopian occupation”. The AMISOM mandate to support the Somali TFG is similar to the proclaimed mission of the Ethiopians, leading many Somalis to believe the Ugandans are there to impose an unwanted government. In fact, Uganda’s government has a sincere desire for stability in Somalia, as it believes insecurity there is a major factor in the flow of arms into Uganda’s northeastern Karamoja region. This cattle-herding region is awash in guns, which are seen by locals as the only means of guarding against cattle raiding. A disarmament campaign that began in 2001 in Somalia may actually have spurred new shipments of modern arms into Karamoja.

In apparent response to Ayro’s appeal, Somali insurgents attacked the Ugandan base in Mogadishu’s K-4 neighbourhood on November 15 with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. With insurgents, Ethiopians, TFG forces and now Ugandans all involved in the fighting, Mogadishu is once again coming to resemble a battleground. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 60% of the city’s population has fled, with more leaving every day (BBC, November 20).

The May attack in Mogadishu

The raid on the K-4 base was not the first time Ugandan troops have been targeted in Somalia. Five Ugandan soldiers were killed and a number of others seriously wounded in May when a truck from an AMISOM convoy struck an improvised explosive device (IED) outside the Ministry of Finance in Mogadishu. TFG troops are known to frequent the area of the attack, and initially a Ugandan Army spokesman said al-Qaeda “definitely carried out the attack, not the insurgents.”(Shabelle Media Network, May 21, 2007)

In a subsequent joint press conference, Col. Iliyupold Kayanda (head of Ugandan military intelligence) and State Defence Minister Roth Nankapirwa rejected claims that al-Qaeda was involved in the attack, suggesting that the Ugandan truck struck an IED intended for Ethiopian or TFG troops. Alternatively, the bomb might have been set off by militants who mistook the Ugandans for TFG or Ethiopian forces; “The Ugandans did not reveal they were going to the area where the blast occurred and the bomb was not there for them, but it accidentally exploded while passing, according to our intelligence” (Shabelle Media Network, May 21, 2007).


After the K-4 attack, Ugandan army spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye vowed that the assault would not make the Ugandans “run away,” while strongly denying that the Ugandan forces were operating in cooperation with the Ethiopians or TFG. He stated that “we have maintained a neutral stance, so it will not change our position. However, should we get targeted, as [the militants] have done before, we shall defend ourselves.” (VOA, November 15, 2007)

The prospects of additional participation in AMISOM are less than positive. Malawi has withdrawn its offer of troops for AMISOM, while Burundi is “almost ready” to send several hundred peacekeepers (though this has been the case since last spring). There are also reports that Nigeria is preparing to send troops (The Reporter, Addis Ababa, November 17, 2007) but Nigeria’s military is busy fighting militants in the Niger Delta. Moreover, its resolve has probably soured on African Union peacekeeping missions after the slaughter of Nigerian troops in September at the African Union base in Haskanita, Darfur. The military sent a high-level delegation to investigate after reports emerged that the troops at Haskanita did not have enough ammunition to defend themselves from the rebel raid. Nigeria is unlikely at this point to commit to Somalia.

UN peacekeepers are also not likely to deploy in the near future. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon suggests the deployment of a vague “robust multinational force or coalition of the willing” to create conditions for an Ethiopian withdrawal. However, according to Ban Ki-moon, a UN peacekeeping operation is “not realistic or viable given the war-wracked African country’s security situation” (UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary General on the situation in Somalia, November 7, 2007).

While there were questions in May as to whether Ugandan troops were being deliberately targeted by Somali militants, this ambiguity no longer exists. The Ugandans are being pulled into the conflict, in part because AMISOM lacks an international character. Although a larger, multinational force might be able to command the respect and authority needed to complete AMISOM’s mission, Aden Hashi Ayro offered unveiled caution, stating “we will fight and assassinate [Ugandan] officers. All other African troops sent to Somalia will face the same fate.” (Qaadisiya, November 14)