By March 2013 a joint French and Malian military operation, backed by a growing deployment of troops from the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), had pushed back a militant offensive against strategic towns in central Mali. At the time of writing, AFISMA is set to be absorbed into a newly mandated UN peacekeeping mission in Mali on 1 July 2013, although the exact time-frame for such a “re-hatting” may alter, as the UN mission will only be deployed if the security situation has been sufficiently stabilized by then (Boutellis and Williams 2013b). Whatever happens in the longer term it is clear that in the coming few months, as the French forces scale-down and largely withdraw, the international community will still rely on AFISMA as a central part of the security pillar of its immediate stabilization strategy for Mali, and AFISMA personnel seem likely to form the vanguard element of the new UN mission, when they are “re-hatted” as UN peacekeepers.

In Somalia, the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) and Somalia government forces have made considerable gains against Al-Shabaab, the militant group, particularly over the last 18 months. A military campaign that bought sudden and unexpected progress in August 2011 has provided space for the conclusion of the political transition and the establishment of the new Federal Government. However, these security gains will only be sustained if effective and acceptable governance for those areas recovered from Al-Shabaab can be arranged (Williams 2012). In this new phase, AMISOM and the UN are reconfiguring in light of the most recent UN Security Council resolutions 2093 adopted on 6 March 2013 and 2102 adopted on 2 May 2013.1

As with AFISMA, AMISOM was initially deployed with the expectation that when conditions permitted, the UN Security Council would deploy a UN peacekeeping operation that would subsume or replace the AU effort. Six years later, those conditions have not yet eventuated and the Security Council has continued to rely upon AU AMISOM as the lead international peace operation for Somalia, even as the UN presence in the country has grown, especially in the last year or so.

For Mali, Security Council Resolution 2100 mandated a new UN integrated stabilization mission – MINUSMA – to begin on 1 July 2013, provided that combat peace making operations have ended and the capacity of opposition forces have been reduced in the areas of MINUSMA’s deployment. AFISMA’s current mandate runs until 20 December 2013 unless there is a transfer of authority to a new UN mission on 1 July. By no later than 25 June, the Security Council will determine whether the security situation has been sufficiently stabilized for the UN mission to take over from AFISMA on 1 July. If not, the deployment timeline for the UN missions will be reviewed as needed.

Both Mali and Somalia have to contend with capable and determined Islamist-inspired insurgencies, that have exploited centre-periphery political tensions, chronic humanitarian crises, weak governance, internationally linked organized criminal networks, banditry and lawlessness. In both Mali and Somalia, African Union-led peace support operations have been a central pillar in the political and security stabilization efforts.

The new prominence of the African Union as a peace and security actor, together with regional bodies such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the Somalia context, the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) in Mali, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in the context of the UN intervention brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is indicative of the emergence of stronger peace and security capacities in Africa over the last decade as a result of, amongst others, international support for African initiatives such as the African Standby Force.

AMISOM and AFISMA both reflect a new networked pattern in the international security architecture where international and regional organisations are increasingly working in close partnership (although not always easily) to further regional and international political and security interests (Boutellis and Williams 2013a). For instance, in Somalia, in addition to AMISOM that is backstopped by a UN support mission (UNSOA), there are IGAD and UN political missions, and a UN Country Team that coordinates the UN humanitarian and development agencies. The EU supports AMISOM, and also runs a security sector support mission that trains Somali government forces, as well as supporting humanitarian, development and peace-building initiatives. The EU has deployed a similar training mission to Mali. There are also a large number of bilateral donors and actors in Somalia, of which Ethiopia, Turkey the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Italy are probably the most prominent. Ethiopia and the United States are also involved militarily. There is a large anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia with three separate (EU, NATO and an UN-coordinated) international naval operations. The number of actors and the variety of different development, diplomatic and security interventions thus make for a complex and often unwieldy network of international peace and security actors. However, in both Mali and Somalia, this complex network of international and regional actors, and the total cumulative effect their combined efforts are able to generate, are indicative of the shape future international interventions are likely to take, namely a networked-pattern of multi-stakeholder cooperation and partnerships.

With the mission in Mali only recently operational, there is a real opportunity for AFISMA to draw on the six years of lessons learned from AMISOM in Somalia. At the same time heed must be paid to the two unique recent histories of Somalia and Mali, in terms of the origins of conflict, the fragility of state and security institutions and the involvement of troops and partners from outside Africa. Notwithstanding inherent difficulties in transferring lessons between unique situations, we argue that the AMISOM experience can offer some useful lessons for those that are likely to be engaged in similar missions in Mali.

Much has been written on the deficiencies and challenges that characterised AMISOM’s early struggle to secure Mogadishu. This paper focuses on both positive and negative lessons emerging from the AMISOM experience for AFISMA planners and their partners. Irrespective of when and how the AFISMA mission is absorbed into the planned UN peacekeeping mission, important lessons can be shared between these two unique African peace operations.

Interpreting the Mandate

When the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1772 in 2007 it authorized AMISOM to take “all necessary measures” to inter alia protect the institutions of the Transitional Institutions of the Somali government and “support dialogue and reconciliation” by providing protection and safe passage to personnel involved. In Resolution 2036 of 2012 the Security Council was more specific in authorising AMISOM “to reduce the threat posed by Al Shabaab and other armed opposition groups in order to establish conditions for effective and legitimate governance across Somalia.” Despite the political objectives, AMISOM’s role, circumscribed by the overall scope and direction of the Security Council, was originally primarily seen as a military contribution, aimed at creating an enabling security environment, and part of a wider political strategy that is still taking shape.

Since 2007 the Ugandan-led AMISOM force has gradually implemented its mandate with a sense of growing confidence and robustness. Backed-up by political commitment and support, AMISOM was from 2011 able to exploit the weakening support for Al Shabaab in the context of the devastating drought that affected Somalia at the time, to recover the main urban centres and surrounding areas from Al Shabaab.

AMISOM was initially constrained to defending itself, the transitional government, and the air and seaports in Mogadishu with barely more than a couple of thousand troops. The mission gradually grew in size, with several incremental expansions of a few thousand soldiers at a time, until an increase of almost 6,000 in the troop ceiling occurred in early 20122. Uganda, and more recently Kenya’s, political resolve and national commitment to robustly interpret and implement the mandate has helped to overcome the political and bureaucratic inertia that can often characterise such multilateral missions. A similar commitment from the leading troop contributors will be critical to the success of AFISMA, and then MINUSMA, both in Mali and in the corridors of power in Abuja and Addis Ababa.

Similarly, the sustained attention, political support and commitment of the AU and IGAD remains critical to the success of AMISOM, and similar political commitment from regional powers and neighbours will be equally important in the Mali context. Transferring AFISMA to a UN peacekeeping mission may ease transaction costs when it comes to the support of the mission, but moving the reporting lines to New York may result in diminished focus on the mission in Addis Ababa and regional capitals. In New York, Mali would just be one of many missions that the Security Council and the UN Secretariat are responsible for, but in Addis Ababa and Abuja, it would represent a major commitment and attract considerable focus and attention. As UN and other lessons learned studies have pointed out in the past, and as reflected in the AMISOM experience, political focus and commitment is one of the critical ingredients for mission success.

Autonomy in the Field

AMISOM operations on the ground have been successful, in part, because they have had minimal micro-management from African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa. While being kept briefed on forthcoming operations, the political head of AMISOM, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission (SRCC), provided political cover to Addis Ababa, but was not involved in directing day-to-day operations. Within the operational direction of the Force Commander, contingent and battalion commanders have had a high degree of autonomy3 to pursue tactical objectives in their respective areas of operations. If AFISMA is called upon to undertake similar offensive operations, it will do well to give its field commanders the same degree of tactical autonomy, within a framework that provides clear strategic, political and operational direction.

Coordination in a Growing Force

For the most of its existence, AMISOM has operated with just two troop contributing countries, and under the strong leadership of Uganda. The role Uganda played, initially as lead nation, and throughout as the bedrock of the mission, and the backing President Museveni of Uganda was able to mobilize for the mission from the AU & UN, the USA and the EU, resulted in the AMISOM having a very solid political and military anchor. In contrast, there is no one country in West Africa that has stepped up to play such a strong leadership role. Historically Nigeria played this role, but it is currently consumed by its own internal Boko Haram insurrection, and it is thus not able to play a similar leading role in AFISMA. After Kenya crossed the Somali border on 16 October 2011, and mustered diplomatic support to join AMISOM in the subsequent months, some feared a fragmentation of the Mission. However, the AU and AMISOM seem to have successfully adapted their command and control arrangements. Amongst others, it created a Military Operations Coordinating Committee (MOCC) to ensure force cohesion. The Government of Somalia and international partners, in particular the UN and EU, also adapted their support arrangements to absorb the new mission configuration. This flexibility enabled the AU, AMISOM and its partners to develop the mechanisms and relationships they needed to mitigate the risk of fragmentation and to develop the coordination mechanisms necessary to manage the influx of new troop and police contributors, and allowed for overall mission coherence while operational and tactical objectives were pursued in the sectors by different contingents.

AFISMA and its partners will need to be mindful to retain the same resilience and ability to adapt, so that they can respond to dynamic developments on the ground and in the corridors of power. In part, this requires that partners should not rely on overly formal and bureaucratic coordination and support mechanisms. They should be mindful that the one thing they can be certain of is a highly dynamic context that will result in the needs of the mission evolving continuously. The way to cope with this complexity is to adapt to it regularly. Trying to impose artificial certainty through bureaucratic means will further constrain, not facilitate, mission management and support.

The AMISOM experience has demonstrated the importance of strong political support from the countries contributing troops, and formed police units, and the usefulness of involving them in the strategic direction of the mission. The Military Operations Coordination Committee (MOCC) mechanism has engaged the Chiefs of Defence Forces and other senior diplomatic and military officials, and this has greatly eased national-level ownership and decision-making in support of mission requests. Few other multinational organisations involve their Troop and Police contributing countries in a similar manner, but the degree to which this resulted in political commitment and the provision of technical support for the mission shows that it has been very effective in the case of AMISOM. The AU and ECOWAS should consider how to similarly engage the Troop and Police contributing countries in the strategic direction and support of AFISMA.

On the battlefield, interoperability of equipment and doctrine, and communication between the two longest-serving AMISOM contingents, English-speaking Ugandans and French-speaking Burundis, took time to work efficiently.4 AFISMA will face similar language, and other interoperability challenges, and it will do well to dedicate some of it mission and sector HQ assets to regularly review and adjust its operating procedures to create mission and context specific solutions as the force composition develops.

Multi-national Resolve and Taking the Operational Initiative

A prominent feature of AMISOM’s operations in Somalia has been the patient resolve of its contributors: the unwavering political support of the AU despite several years of slow-paced urban combat; the resilience of the TCCs in the face of high casualty numbers; and the commitment of the international and regional partners notwithstanding widespread skepticism and initial slow progress. Even serious incidents like Al Shabaab’s attack on the Force Headquarters in September 2009, which killed the Deputy Force Commander and other key staff, did not ultimately reduce the tempo of operations or shake the resolve of the mission’s principal financiers and political proponents in the international community.

From the early days of fighting from Mogadishu airport, to the expansive offensive operations of the past eighteen months, AMISOM has developed urban tactical approaches that have successfully defeated Al Shabaab by concentrating force in key locations, and by determinedly ‘cutting’ territory from Al Shabaab and ‘pasting’ it to the areas controlled by the government. AMISOM has also benefited from a broader military, intelligence and diplomatic effort involving international partners that has sought to disrupt Al Shabaab’s funding, leadership and recruitment; including sanctions on Eritrea, disruption of the hawala money transfer system and other revenue streams, counter-piracy measures, strikes by UAVs by bilateral partners, and court proceedings against Somalis around the world. AMISOM has also benefited from an UN-supported information campaign that has contributed to reversing a defeatist international and regional media narrative about Somalia.

AFISMA can shorten its own learning curve by adopting some of these lessons. The mission leadership, ECOWAS, AU and TCC capitals should work with international partners in a larger international diplomatic effort, and the mission should invest in a robust information campaign. All those involved need to prepare themselves for setbacks and, at times, incremental progress, and ensure there is the necessary political resolve on the “home front” in Troop and Police contributing countries to sustain the mission through hard times.

Enabling Capabilities

AMISOM has evolved from fighting in the urban environment of Mogadishu to dispersing its force over a much wider area, and the need for force enablers and multipliers has similarly changed.5 AMISOM has struggled with insufficient specialist equipment but over time and through a variety of mechanisms the UN and international partners have stepped in to identify and supply some specific military capabilities.

It took many years to build some basic military facilities to a satisfactory level, particularly in terms of medical support. Through UN support, AMISOM has acquired access to a small yet still insufficient number of outsourced helicopters for medical evacuation and transport functions, an increasingly important feature as troops are now dispersed over a wide area. Although identified as a part of the most recent AMISOM strategic concept, the maritime component remains unfunded and woefully inadequate. It is also still controversial, with both the Government of Somalia and key partners reluctant to embrace the idea that a maritime component is necessary.

With bilateral support, AMISOM has acquired some equipment that, together with specific tactics, have been deployed on the battlefield to great effect. For example, during intense periods of urban fighting, armoured bulldozers proved vital to the steady advance of the frontline and breaching Al-Shabaab trench systems in Mogadishu. A secure tactical radio network, signal intelligence and reconnaissance UAVs have been key force assets that have allowed a relatively lightly armed infantry force to gain the upper hand over Al-Shabaab. In many cases, bilateral partners have provided such capabilities, together with the necessary training.

The operational requirements of AFISMA and MINUSMA will be very different but identification of enablers must be an early focus in planning and revisited as the mission progresses. Early on, planners should identify the key enablers to support its expansion in the remote north, and the mission’s leadership should prioritise acquiring those assets in the early stages of the campaign. In subsequent phases, this requirement for enablers may well change significantly. Working with partners, AFISMA should be sensitive to emerging requirements on the battlefield and provide planning capacity so that it can effectively anticipate, prioritise and meet the needs of battlefield commanders. MINUSMA, with its different role, will also need to review the needs of its mission. Both must make an effort to obtain the necessary equipment, personnel and resources before their absence critically constrains mission success.

Funding and Adequately Resourcing the Mission

The funding structure for AMISOM has pragmatically evolved over the years, in response to changing needs and a growing force size, albeit with time lapses. Despite the considerable speed and scope of this evolution, a characteristic of regional operations supported by the UN and other partners is that ‘non-organic’ support provided by third parties often falls short of operational requirements on the ground. Resource constraints, the absence of key enablers and force multipliers like air assets, and high transaction costs between bureaucracies will limit what such missions can achieve. AFISMA’s planners should be conservative in the scale of the support they can expect to receive in the short term. This may be further prejudiced with the impending deployment of a UN mission which may cause contributors to not finance AFISMA as well.

During the first two years of its deployment the force depended almost entirely on bilateral support from the United States6, the European Union’s African Peace Facility7 and the United Kingdom, to supplement the support provided by the TCCs. In 2009 the United Nations stepped in with an unprecedented solution to reinforce the existing revenue streams. Security Council Resolution 1872 created a combined structure of UN assessed contributions and voluntary funding for the Mission, with a logistical support mission in the form of the United Nations Support Office to AMISOM (UNSOA).

A voluntary UN-administered Trust Fund was established as well, and it was initially designed to reimburse contingents for equipment used on operations and to match allowances for troops to levels equivalent to UN peacekeepers. However, donations were irregular and generally inadequate to cover contingent owned equipment, often leaving reimbursements in arrears.8 For operations on the ground this reportedly disrupted the supply and maintenance of vital military equipment.

In February 2012, the funding structure adapted again to enable a growing AMISOM to exploit an Al-Shabaab in retreat, with costs of contingent equipment being shifted to the UN’s assessed contributions budget. This provided more regular funding to the expanded Force size of 17,731 and supported a limited number of logistical requirements for a more dispersed Force. It was, to a large degree, an acknowledgement that more adequate and predictable funding was needed if AMISOM was to sustain and expand its successful campaign against Al-Shabaab (Gelot, Gelot & de Coning 2012).

The Trust Fund (Table 1), which has received $77m since 2009, has been attractive for donors and the UN alike as finances can be ear-marked for specific capabilities and donors are satisfied that money will be properly accounted for. However, from the point of view of battlefield commanders, there can be significant delays caused by unwieldy tendering processes.

Table 1

Trust Fund and UN Assessed Contributions to AMISOM ($ million). Source: United Nations Support Office to AMISOM (UNSOA)

Year Trust Fund income* Trust Fund expenditure Assessed funding expenditure Total annual expenditure

2009 28.7 5.5 71.9 77.4

2010 4 8.1 160.2 168.3

2011 13.2 20.8 210 230.8

2012 30.3 22.8 287.5 310.3

Total 76.2 57.2 729.6 786.8

*Contributors to the Trust Fund have been Australia, Canada, Czech rep, Denmark, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Malta, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Turkey, UK.

The support from the UN, EU and major bilateral donors remain vital to cover the core needs of the Mission and its contributors. At times, there have been delays in important bilateral funding, including for allowances for troops and salaries for Somali security forces (Williams and Schulman 2012). Ensuring timely procurement of appropriate equipment to match developments on the battlefield has been a problem for some bilateral partners that have provided equipment in-kind. These are all important lessons that AFISMA and MINUSMA, and their international partners, will need to play close attention too.

Building Alliances

Since deployment, AMISOM operations have been constrained by resources, particularly force size, despite repeated requests for increases in force strength from the African Union. When the first 1,650 Ugandan AMISOM troops arrived in March 2007 they were intended to replace an estimated 10,000 Ethiopian troops deployed in Mogadishu and Baidoa. Nonetheless, by 2013, AMISOM has emerged to become the central pillar of stability in Somalia. It did not do this alone but relied on a series of partnerships and alliances with the Somali government forces and other armed groups in the country. It is not clear that such alliances and partnerships have emerged yet in Mali. Compared to AMISOM, the much smaller AFISMA force will be further challenged by its role in reinforcing the Malian Army.

AMISOM has grown its force size by demonstrating success, but at the same time it has relied on a range of armed groups and forces across Somalia, to different degrees at different times. Somali government forces have mostly complemented AMISOM on operations, providing vital human intelligence and population engagement, although their independence, reliability and quality remains low. Militia forces, including Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a and Ras Kamboni, have been vital allied components for operations outside Mogadishu, particularly the latter in the operation to take and hold Kismayo. Similarly, two armed, mobile AMISOM Formed Police Units numbering 280 police, now backfill and supplement security in areas of Mogadishu vacated by AMISOM’s regular soldiers. Somali police are being trained to permanently take over this function.

Training and improving the Somali security forces is increasingly becoming a priority for AMISOM9, as is the work of the civilian component in supporting the provision of effective governance by the Government of Somalia in those areas recovered from Al-Shabaab.10 As the mission increasingly takes on the function of keeping the peace, the international military, political and humanitarian machinery will need to become better harmonised.

The AFISMA-Malian joint concept of operations similarly identified training and equipping the Malian security forces as a central element in its mission. French commanders and others have been confronted by how badly demoralised, inadequately trained, supplied, paid and equipped the Malian forces have proved to be. It envisaged supporting over ten thousand Malian security personnel, which will include basic and specialist training, and equipping many of them. The EU has deployed a fifteen-month mission of some two hundred trainers to work with the Malian army, although some are already predicting it may take longer (Croft 2013).

In Somalia, the EU mission for training national forces has been operational since the beginning of 2010 and still has a lot more to do. Some AMISOM battalions have also received training by US forces in Uganda prior to deployment. This commitment to training both the African-led force and the Somali forces has started to pay some dividends but it has taken time to develop and evolve. The scope and pace of the training of the Somali national forces are now expected to increase substantially in the wake of international commitments made at the 2013 Somalia Conference in London.

By paying attention to lessons learned from the Somali experience, AFISMA and international partners may be able to win some time in Mali, but the Somalia experience also serves as a warning to those that may have unrealistic expectations regarding the time-frame within which such training and support can start to show dividends.

Gaining and Maintaining Popular Support

Recognising the risks of fighting among an urban population, the African force prioritised activities and used cultural ties to attract the support of the Somali population. Regular meetings with community leaders, out-patient clinics for treating Somali civilians, and donations of clean drinking water have been purposefully used by AMISOM to build and maintain the support of the population and political leaders during the most intensive period of the military campaign.

However, difficult lessons have also been learned. It took time for AMISOM to acknowledge that its use of mortar, artillery and rocket fire resulted in civilian deaths (Human Rights Watch 2010), and to adjust its Rules of Engagement accordingly. As the battleground has changed from the towns and open ground of conventional urban and maneuverist warfare to asymmetric warfare, the support of the civilian population is increasingly seen as the central prize by both sides (Beadle 2012). Most recently, recommendations for incorporating civilian protection into AMISOM’s work have been drawn-up based on two pillars which look at protecting civilians from harm during AMISOM operations and strengthen processes for civilian protection in AMISOM’s area of operations, and at the time of writing an AMISOM PoC strategy was pending approval.11

Despite its sophisticated propaganda capacity and sustained efforts to discredit the international force and its motives, Al-Shabaab failed to create substantial Somali opposition to AMISOM. On the other hand, AMISOM was able to exploit Al-Shabaab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu and waning support for the militants following their unpopular response to the famine and aid effort in 2010–11. Looking forward, AMISOM will need to develop a very different skill-set to maintain consent for their presence as Somali leaders and the population grow increasingly independent.

For AFISMA, it will be similarly important to minimize civilian casualties and to adopt a protection of civilians posture. This will require a genuine people-centered approach that puts the actual needs of the population first. It will also require an embedded capacity to undertake serious information operations, to counter propaganda and to ensure that force actions and information operations are better synchronised and support the overall mission objectives. As AFISMA is the first AU mission to have an approved Protection of Civilians policy it is off to a good start, but the policy would need political will and aligned resources to have an impact.12


African military operations in Mali and Somalia are at very different stages of maturity. The force, and its supporting partners, in Somalia have accumulated a wealth of context specific knowledge and expertise over six years of operations and under its own command. In Mali, AFISMA has only recently been thrust into operations around different areas in the north, with considerable support from the French. The situation in Mali is developing rapidly and it is unclear exactly what is in store for AFISMA. Most immediately, as AFISMA may transition into a UN peacekeeping mission with less reliance on a sizeable French combat contingent, we argue that important lessons for the African force in Mali can be gleaned from the hard-won experiences of AMISOM in Somalia.

We have identified several major themes that helped to drive success for the AMISOM mission despite serious deficiencies in its early years – the determination of troop contributors and their funding partners; effective mechanisms to fully engage troop and police contributors in planning and decision-making; blending bilateral support with a long term and predictable funding stream; the gradual escalation of force; providing key specialised equipment and enablers; actively pursuing the support of the host population, and being mindful of the unfolding political process. In addition, the African character of the force has been a visible hallmark of the AU intervention in Somalia, with the leadership and initial bulk of the fighting forces deployed by a lead-nation, Uganda. And it was important that the lead-nation was generally perceived by the population as a relatively benign actor in Somalia.

At the operational and tactical levels, we have highlighted a number of features that AMISOM has adopted - context-specific training, autonomy in commanding operations, a high degree of adaptability, working with allied armed groups in Somalia and a dogged determination to see the fight through by the troop contributing nations.

In the African Union and United Nations, a repository of knowledge now exists about how to assemble a financial and logistical support package under difficult conditions for a non-UN operation implementing one of the most challenging stabilisation operations in its history. It has been a story with both positive developments and setbacks, fraught at times with organisational inefficiency and delays, but ultimately it is a story of organic adaptation and pragmatic compromises.

Partners and donors, troop and police contributing countries and AMISOM showed enduring resilience in conducting operations against a tenacious enemy in a difficult environment. That patience paid dividends when Al-Shabaab weakened in the middle of 2011 and opened the opportunity for AMISOM to prosecute the strategic objective: building sufficient secure space for a political peace process. Nevertheless, the next stage for both operations may be the most challenging yet as African Union troops are called to keep a complex and fragile peace in Mali and Somalia. Of additional interest will be the evolving relationships of the AU operations with the UN peace missions in each country. In Somalia, despite the conditions not being right for a UN peacekeeping mission, a larger UN political office is set to engage closely with AMISOM, while in Mali there are real prospects that a UN peacekeeping mission will soon absorb the mission.