Washington — As the UN-authorized African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) continues its military offensive against al-Shabab insurgents in central Somalia, the rainy season approaches.
Ethiopian military forces joined the AMISOM force in January, bringing troop levels for the campaign to more than 22,000 peacekeepers. The enhanced force has expelled the jihadist rebels from an estimated 10 towns and villages in that region.
African Union special representative to the Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) Mahamet Annadiff Saleh was interviewed by Timothy Donangmaye of VOA's French to Africa language service about what lies ahead.
The interview was conducted Wednesday in French. Ambassador Saleh is from Chad and earlier was the AU's permanent special representative to the European Union.
"We want to do as much as possible before the arrival of the rainy season," Saleh said. "We are not talking about stopping the operations. Where possible, military operations are planned so as to be continued anyway. But we will take into account the realities on the ground."
When Donangmaye asked Saleh about the remaining challenges facing AMISOM, the head of mission said they need helicopters to minimize al-Shabab's capacities. "I think that even if the rainy season arrives, the helicopters will allows us to reach a number of targets that are quite difficult."
Towns stripped of infrastructure
Saleh described devastating conditions in the communities re-taken by AMISOM forces: destroyed water wells, dismantled schools. "We found destroyed cities and villages, no infrastructure," he said.
"So it is really a challenge to rebuild the cities and villages. It really poses the challenge of providing government services."
The AMISOM head of mission said they will try to offer "a bit of relief to the population" but their primary task is to secure the region militarily so that others will be able to deliver much-needed humanitarian services.
Delicate transition to local governance
A transition to new governance in these communities is a delicate question, Saleh said.
"The government told us that it is consulting with some parliamentarians to bring people, but we don't really like that option since people of Mogadishu might not be accepted, or they could even create other problems.
"These people need to be managed very carefully.
"The government has been pro-active," Saleh said. "They sent some ministers into these areas and we work together with them to try to have the people choose interim leaders.
Saled described a semi-military administration that deals with bringing order to the newly liberated communities, "but the government is doing everything in consultations we supervise in order to bring in temporary administrators," Saleh said.
He assured that AMISOM and the Federal Republic of Somalia have been collaborating on the re-establishment of governance and public services.
Conversion of young al-Shabab recruits
The risk of losing ground to al-Shabab is low, he said. "Our greatest success would be that those many young people who have been brainwashed, who have been traumatized by al-Shabab may come to realize that it is a lost war."
"We are mobilizing through the Somali press, with the Elders, and with senior clan leaders so they can actually appeal to young people to abandon al-Shabab... "