53 African Union peacekeepers killed in Somalia offensive

More than 50 African Union peacekeepers have died in fighting in Somalia since a major offensive against Islamist militants began two weeks ago, officials said yesterday.

The death toll is far higher than any publicly acknowledged casualty figures for the AU, which appears to be trying to keep the extent of its losses under wraps due to political considerations in Burundi, one of two nations providing the bulk of the forces that are fighting alongside Somali troops.



The offensive aims to break Islamists' lock on large swaths of the country's south and central regions. Al-Shabab, a Somali militant group with links to al-Qa'ida, has boxed in the government to just a few city blocks of the seaside capital. The group has instituted a Taliban-style system of rule, with strict edicts enforced by their own courts and public executions.



The government has been promising a full-scale war against militants for years, but coordination among its poorly trained, seldom-paid government forces has delayed that push.



The AU force, known as AMISOM, has publicly confirmed only a handful of deaths since heavy fighting broke started 19 February. An AU spokesman in Nairobi did not answer calls Friday. Burundi's government spokesman was unavailable for comment.



AMISOM says hundreds of militants from al-Shabab have been killed in the offensive. AMISOM officials say peacekeepers have taken back insurgent-controlled areas of Mogadishu, the capital. The AU says it controls up to 60 per cent of the city.



There are around 8,000 AU forces in Mogadishu, with another 4,000 due to begin arriving over the next few months. Almost all are Ugandan or Burundian. They support the country's weak U.N.-backed government against al-Shabab.

The AU troops fight with no air support, little body armor and armored vehicles that are vulnerable to attack by rocket-propelled grenades.



The fighting has spread beyond the Somali capital, to the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders. In Somalia's south, fighters secretly recruited from refugee camps in 2009 and trained in Kenya have been pressed into action. A clan-based militia nominally allied with the Somali government, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, is fighting the Islamists in Somalia's southeast.



It remains unclear whether the Somali government and its international backers have any plan to secure and develop territory they gain. The government has long failed to provide services or security to its people and its mandate expires in August.



The corruption and inefficiency has greatly hampered efforts to wrest back control of the country from the Islamists. Unpaid soldiers often sell their arms or ammunition, sometimes even to the other side.



A report last month by the think tank International Crisis Group described the government as being on "life support." It urged the international community to redirect funding and support to regional administrations if the Somali government does not make significant progress in building alliances and providing better services.



Somalia has not had a functioning government for more than 20 years. Its lawless shores are a haven for pirates and intelligence agencies fear the failed state is also a training ground for international terrorists. Last July, the Somali insurgency launched its first foreign attack, multiple suicide bombings in Uganda that killed 76.



Medical authorities say the most recent round of fighting has killed more than 100 Somali civilians.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Network Support Engineer is r...

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - Tech Startup - Direct Your Own Career Path

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent