SA soldiers, sailors headed for Somalia?


Th South African government will in coming days consider whether to deploy military and naval forces to Somalia to reinforce a troubled peacekeeping mission in that wartorn country.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu yesterday said the matter was with President Jacob Zuma and added that she expected him to deal with it “pretty soon”. Sisulu added rejecting a request by the African Union (AU) to deploy in Somalia could compromise South Africa’s respect and standing on the continent but recognised that such a mission would come with high risks. “As we sit here now, there has not been a specific request to us from the AU to send troops but we did commit ourselves to assisting,” she told reporters in Cape Town. Not to deploy will be an issue…if we are not able to provide a cogent argument why we are not able to.”

French news agency AFP reported earlier this week AU leaders in Kampala decided to do more to stamp out lawlessness in the country that last had recognised national government in 1991 – now 19 years ago. The wire service said the AU asked South Africa to deploy warships to prevent al-Qaeda franchise al-Shabaab from importing weapons via Kismayo port for use against the United Nations-recognised Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and some 6000 AU troops. AFP added SA had said it is ready to do “everything it is asked from it” by the AU.

Zuma was one of some 30 African leaders in Kampala. Sisulu says he will brief Cabinet on the possibility of deploying to Somalia and will then call Sisulu and the military command to weigh the financial and logistical implications of committing troops.

The Kampala meeting was overshadowed by a twin blast earlier this month in the city that killed 76 people watching the soccer World Cup final. al-Shabaab has taken blame for the outrage that it says is a punishment for Uganda deploying troops to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. The Ugandan troops, along with soldiers from Burundi, make up a 6000-strong AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The force has suffered 51 deaths and 49 casualties since March 2007. The AU meeting agreed to boost the mission with another 2000 soldiers and Guinea as well as Djibouti have volunteered troops.
“It is a very different kind of war,” Sisulu said, comparing Somalia with South Africa’s longstanding involvement in peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. “The South African public would need to understand that this is in another realm.”

Her deputy, Thabang Makwetla,added the existing deployments were peacekeeping missions but that in Somalia, South African troops would find themselves in the role of “peace enforcing” as AMISOM tries to shore up the fragile Transitional Federal Government.

The South African Press Association reports Sisulu was adamant that South Africa would not foot the entire bill of any eventual deployment. “If we were ever to go to Somalia, it would be a shared responsibility.” She hinted the AU would have to pick up the tab. Much of AMISOM’s costs are currently carried by the UN.

SAPA added the minister said that she had no doubt that the South African military was up to the task, but was concerned about whether Pretoria could commit more troops to African missions given its involvement in the DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic. “Yes, South Africa is combat ready but whether we have the numbers to deploy on other peacekeeping missions is another matter.”

She added that any deployment would entail both the army and the navy, saying it meant little to help tackle the problem of piracy of the Somali coast without trying to restore political stability to Mogadishu. “Patrolling the waters won’t stop the problem. The most important thing is to support the government of Somalia.” Sisulu added that she was concerned about how the public would respond to a deployment in one of Africa’s most troubled nations. She said that she was hugely relieved that the call on African nations to bolster the force came after the 2010 FIFA World Cup, as South Africa could not have run the security risk of tackling the issue while hosting the world’s biggest sporting event. “We did not want to get into this discussion until the World Cup was over.”

The al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam militia groups have been battling Somalia’s government for three years and control most of southern and central Somalia as well as large sections of Mogadishu.

Speaking in Kampala, Zuma said the deadly blasts at a Ugandan restaurant and a sports bar highlighted the need to work together to combat terrorism. “The terrorist attacks were not just directed at the people of Uganda alone, but was directed at all the people of the continent and the world,” Zuma said at the summit that ended on Tuesday.

Zuma said that he was committed to “walking and acting together” with the Ugandan people through the AU as they fought to combat terrorism. Zuma and the other leaders in a statement “strongly condemned the attacks and other acts of violence perpetrated by al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups against the TFG, the Somali people and the AU Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

The meeting also described the Kampala bombings as “despicable terrorist attacks … against innocent civilians” and called on all member states “and the entire international community to isolate and take all required measures against states, individuals or entities involved.