29 May 2018

Somalia: AMISOM Explores Sea, Air Options to Deliver Supplies

Already hamstrung by logistical challenges over the area it controls, the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia is exploring water and air transport to deliver supplies and troop reinforcements.

In recent months, these have suffered deadly ambushes at the hands of the Islamist militant group Al Shabaab.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) field commanders report that in recent weeks, floods have also rendered impassable the improvised routes in the Lower Shabelle region, where roads are non-existent in most areas.

As a result, military supplies and infantry vehicles are delayed for weeks, risking the security of troops in the forward operating bases across 80 per cent of Somali territory currently under Amisom's control.

It is divided into sectors, each manned by a contingent from each of the troop-contributing countries -- Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

The Uganda contingent, which covers 75,000 sq km -- the largest of Amisom-controlled areas -- is the most stretched.

The farthest point from force headquarters on the western side is Baraawe, 240 kilometres from Mogadishu. On the northern side, the distance is 90 kilometres.

"It takes one to two weeks by convoy to reach the farthest soldier in Baraawe," said Sector One spokesman Maj Caesar Olweny.

"By that time, we've lost two or three vehicles. Some areas are inaccessible and difficult to operate, especially at this time of flooding."

Supplies by air

Contingent commander Brig Gen Paul Lokech told journalists at his office in Mogadishu recently that they have started using the sea to take supplies to Baraawe.

"But this is in the short term. In the medium term, we will deliver supplies by air. The runway to enable us to do this is under construction. It should be completed in the next one or two months," he said.

While sea transport works for delivery of supplies and troop reinforcements over longer distances, there are no options when it comes to reinforcement of army bases within a few kilometres of each other.

At 3,000km, Somalia enjoys the longest coastline on the African continent but Amisom lacks full control, sharing it with Al Shabaab and pirates who operate off the shore.

For instance, wading through the sand in sweltering conditions, it took a convoy of five infantry fighting vehicles with Amisom soldiers and embedded journalists one hour to cover a distance of six kilometres from the headquarters Battle Group XXII at Ceeljaale to the next base of the First Infantry Battalion at Shalamboot.

An even shorter distance of four kilometres from Shalamboot to the 19th battalion base at Buufow, took the convoy a little over two hours.

"At times the roads are cut off [by floods]; there are improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along the way, hitting our convoys. These delay our supplies," said Lt Col Robert Nahamya, commanding officer of the 19th battalion.

Buufow forward operating base is 81km south west of Mogadishu, and is mandated to patrol and defend an area with a population of 70,000 people, most of whom are internally displaced.

The base is just three kilometres away from the Al Shabaab-controlled town of Janaale.

This increases risks of attacks against the troops and the civilian population -- especially the men who cannot visit Janaale to buy food because the Al Shabaab "suspect them of being Somali National Army or Amisom spies."

The women, who are more trusted, do the buying.

Food aid

Relief agencies have also long abandoned the idea of distributing food aid and other supplies to the civilians. Instead they use the soldiers at Buufow to hand out a $150 monthly allowance to women civilians.

On the day we visited, the soldiers were sharing their monthly food supplies with some starving civilians.

"We need other means of bringing logistics than relying on road routes where IEDs are regularly detonated using mechanical means. If we had helicopters, we would defend this area better," said Lt Col Nahamya.

He said the force also needs better structures to house the forward operating bases, operation rooms (instead of makeshift improvised field tents), helipads and drugs.

The supplies are delivered on a monthly basis, but when bases run out of food or medicines, they are marooned until the next provisions.

An Amisom soldier told The EastAfrican that Buufow is "one of the most challenging bases to be deployed in" because "we see these civilians, but we don't know who is Al Shabaab."East African

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