Somalia News: African Union peacekeeping force gets troop boost

NAIROBI, Kenya — It's been a long time coming but now it looks as if the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a peacekeeping force that is only now approaching its long-mandated strength of 12,000 is going to get a much-needed boost with more than 5,000 new troops.

The new cap of 17,700 has been requested by the African Union but has to be approved by the UN Security Council. Diplomats here in Nairobi have been indicating that this would happen and now Reuters is reporting the same.

The expectation is that there will be announcement next week ahead of an international conference on Somalia, convened by British Prime Minister David Cameron, to be held on Feb. 23.

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If the new troops numbers are given the nod it should allow AMISOM to move outside Mogadishu, placing detachments in regional towns and putting extra pressure on Al Shabaab.

Kenyan troops in the south of Somalia will "re-hat" as AU soldiers but there is no expectation that Ethiopian troops in the west will do the same.

The bigger force will necessarily require extra resources and AU officials talk of air support — transport as well as, perhaps, attack helicopters — something that would give AMISOM the upper hand in battles with Al Shabaab and reduce casualties: many of the hundreds of AMISOM soldier who have died could have been saved if there had been effective medevacs available rather than just slow-moving armored vehicles.

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Since August when Al Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu under pressure from AMISOM, the force's commanders have been keen to show their efficacy.

This week they have, for the first time, pushed down the Afgoye Corridor, a road leading south from the capital into the Al Shabaab heartland. 

AMISOM has the upper hand, but it still has a long way to go to rid Somalia of the Islamist extremists.

More from GlobalPost: Kenyan and AMISOM forces aim to expel Al Shabaab

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