UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The war against al-Shabab militants in Somalia has "ground to a halt" and needs a surge of almost 4,400 more African Union troops and massive U.N. assistance to break the stalemate and avoid failure, a top U.N. official said Wednesday.
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told the Security Council that the U.N.-endorsed African Union force and the Somali military lack "the capacity to push beyond areas already recovered" from al-Qaida-linked group in the last 18 months during a successful campaign to recapture several cities, including Mogadishu and Kismayo.
Eliasson presented the Security Council with recommendations from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the AU force be boosted by 2,550 combat troops and 1,845 ground-support troops for the next 18 to 24 months.
Ban also called for another 1,000 troops for a U.N. guard force to prevent attacks like the recent suicide bombing at the U.N. compound in Mogadishu, and for another 840 police officers.
On June 19, al-Shabab forces invaded the U.N. compound in Mogadishu with a truck bomb and then poured inside, killing at least 13 people before dying in the assault. It was the first direct attack on a U.N. building in Somalia since 2008.
If the Security Council approves the additional troops, that would boost the force to about 24,000 personnel, up from its current level of just over 17,700 soldiers and police.
"It is hard to ask for additional resources in our present difficult financial environment," Eliasson said. "But it is my duty to advise this council that, without increased support, our present — and indeed past — investment in peace, and that of millions of Somalis, may be lost."
The Security Council is focused on the al-Shabab threat after the September attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, by al-Shabab terrorists in which at least 67 people were killed.
The AU mission in Somalia is meant to pave the way for an eventual U.N. peacekeeping force. It is led by Ugandan officers and has large Kenya and Burundi contingents.
Somalia has long been plagued by cyclical drought and famine and decades of armed conflict. But in recent years it has been seen as making strides in security and governance, particularly since August 2011, when al-Qaida-aligned militants were forced out of Mogadishu. Al-Shabab militants still control much of the country's south.