July 24, 2010
African Union Force Hamstrung in its Fight for Somalia
The Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan continuously provides some of the best coverage of the Gulf of Aden region -- namely Yemen and Somalia -- available in the English-language press. His July 18 news story, "Rising civilian toll inflames anger at U.S.-backed African Union peacekeeping force as it battles Islamist militants," shed light on the civilian cost of the war between the terrorist group al-Shabab and the forces of the weak Somali government backed by the contingent of African Union peacekeepers.
The article noted how the African Union troops from Uganda and Burundi contribute to civilian casualties in the Somali capital by responding to attacks by al-Shabab with indiscriminate fire, sometimes striking residential areas.
The article, however, failed to describe the context in which African Union forces operate. Their mandate severely restricts their military options and leads to the disproportionate response described by Raghavan. The terms of the force's presence in Somalia allow only for the defense of key government infrastructure and the facilitation of humanitarian aid delivery, preventing the African Union troops from going on the offensive against al-Shabab.
The omission of this key information resulted in a misrepresentation of the brave African Union forces in Somalia and the work they do in trying to execute an extremely challenging task.