Interview conducted by Hamdi Salad in Mogadishu
The Somali people will see a "tangible difference" in the security situation in 2014, according to African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) spokesperson Colonel Ali Aden Humad.
Humad welcomed the re-hatting of Ethiopian troops under the 22,000-strong peacekeeping force, and said with the troop increase, AMISOM plans to liberate more territory from al-Shabaab this year, despite budgetary shortfalls and lack of equipment needed to free important coastal areas.
Humad also explained AMISOM's responsibilities regarding intervening in tribal clashes, removing illegal checkpoints and disarming militias, and what he thinks about US drone strikes against al-Shabaab.
Sabahi: Can you tell us about AMISOM's planned operations for 2014?
Colonel Ali Aden Humad: The year 2014 will be one in which the Somali people will see a tangible difference on the security front. If the Somali people and the world were disappointed in our work [in 2013], we will make a big change this year. We are now located in important cities, but we will also gain control of the remaining areas quickly.
Sabahi: What were the challenges your troops faced last year that prevented them from liberating more territory?
Humad: The troops were reinforcing areas that were liberated previously [due to their limited number]. However, there is a solution to that now because the number of troops has been increased. We can now take important steps. [For example], Ethiopian forces used to conduct operations sometimes, but AMISOM could not count on their work. They are now a legitimate force that we can use with collaboration from the Somali federal government.
Sabahi: Considering the history between the two countries, some Somali people are uncomfortable with Ethiopian troops in their country. How will that affect the work they are doing?
Humad: The decision by which Ethiopia joined AMISOM did not come from AMISOM. It is a decision made by the leadership of the two countries and the countries of the African Union. However, AMISOM welcomes this development. Whatever the intentions of the Ethiopian troops might be, they will comply with the orders of the African Union and AMISOM from [the command centre in] Mogadishu.
Sabahi: Where will the Burundian troops be transferred now that the Ethiopian troops took over the areas where they were stationed?
Humad: They will be assigned to other important and essential duties. They will go to the Shabelle regions or other important areas. However, we will announce those details at a later time.
Sabahi: What are the challenges facing your operations this year?
Humad: Coastal areas will need special operations and military support concerning marine operations. That can make the operation more difficult, but we will do whatever we can.
Sabahi: Kenyan soldiers liberated Kismayo, a major coastal town that was a stronghold for al-Shabaab. Why is AMISOM not able to liberate coastal areas, such as Barawe, and other locations?
Humad: [The Kenyan government] used its naval forces and equipment, but that is something particular to them. AMISOM does not have such military equipment. However, we will go as far as we are able to.
Sabahi: When do you expect to receive the military equipment needed to liberate the coastal areas?
Humad: Speaking about the military operations budget is a big matter. Neither AMISOM nor the Somali government have naval combat equipment. Among the planned supplies that we are waiting for are helicopters, which we will use for combat as well as to rescue people. We have also ordered other equipment, but AMISOM does not currently have the necessary military equipment.
Sabahi: If you expel al-Shabaab from southern and central Somalia, they might move to other areas such as Puntland. Will you chase after al-Shabaab wherever they go in Somalia?
Humad: AMISOM operates in and is responsible for central and southern [Somalia], so it will not go to an area that it does not have a legal mandate for unless things change.
Sabahi: Does AMISOM need additional troops now or are the 22,000 enough for its operations?
Humad: We need Somali troops that are equal in number to AMISOM troops. If we get that, we can do a lot of important work, but if not, then we will still need additional AMISOM troops. So it will be only two ways: the Somali military has to develop or additional peacekeeping troops will be needed.
Sabahi: What happened to all the Somali troops you trained? Can they fulfil their duties?
Humad: AMISOM trained many Somali soldiers and equipped some. So, the question is where have they gone? When we train them, we turn them over to the government. So, where do they go? Where are they kept?
Sabahi: Did you investigate and ask the Somali government where the troops are now?
Humad: We do not investigate the Somali government.
Sabahi: What are your thoughts about the US military targeting al-Shabaab with drone strikes?
Humad: AMISOM has allies it collaborates with and the Somali government is aware of those because we cannot make such alliances without its knowledge. So, whatever the Somali government allows, we allow it too.
Sabahi: What is AMISOM's responsibility regarding tribal clashes that undermine security?
Humad: It is difficult to find solutions for clan wars, but AMISOM will do anything it can in collaboration with the Somali government. AMISOM will intervene when it comes across a tribal clash.
Sabahi: In some of the areas where you operate, such as Lower Shabelle, people are complaining of illegal checkpoints. Have you done anything about them?
Humad: AMISOM's mandate is to address any issue that threatens security. We removed the checkpoints that were set up in Lower Shabelle when we saw them.
Sabahi: What is AMISOM's responsibility regarding illegal arms that are carried in the cities or traded in the markets?
Humad: We are aware that those issues exist, but there will come a time for disarming and planned awareness operations when AMISOM will disarm those who possess illegal weapons. However, I cannot tell you whether we will implement that this year or not. It will depend on how orders are issued at any given time.
Sabahi: With 22,000 peacekeepers in a small country such as Somalia, will it damage your credibility if AMISOM is unable to restore peace or if it takes a long time?
Humad: AMISOM's success depends on the Somali people. If they want peace, AMISOM can restore peace in the country within a limited time.