By Marie Besançon and Stephen Dalzell

Africa: The Soldier and the Street
Africa: The Soldier and the Street

Africa's armed forces have already learned one important lesson from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), write Marie Besançon and Stephen Dalzell. You need effective civil-military operations (CMO) to complement the other components of your military mandate.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is a watershed in African security – a truly multinational, all African, peace support operation.[1] [2] While there will be many strategic, operational, and tactical lessons to be drawn from this experience, one that is already yielding changes within African military forces is the awareness of the need for effective civil-military operations (CMO) to complement other components of the campaign. Not only are the AMISOM leaders and units adapting on the ground, the troop-contributing countries (TCC) are implementing changes in their organizations and training programs at home. For the “tactician” in global security, this poses interesting questions regarding the operational role of CMO and its impact on regional security; strategically, it is important to evaluate how this increased awareness of CMO is driving changes in East African armed forces and the implications for civil-military relations in all the countries involved.

The AMISOM Experience with CMO A 2012 Africa Union Commission Report estimates that it will be 2020 before Somalia is stable enough for AMISOM troops to entirely withdraw.[3] Between now and then, the daunting task for the Somalis is to solidify professional military and police institutions to secure the internal and external safety of the population. In the meantime, how long will it be before the local population begins to view the AMISOM forces as an occupying army, if they don’t already?[4]

What can the TCCs and the soldiers on the ground do to promote positive relations with the Somali people, government, and civil society? What should the role of the American military be in this endeavor?

As the AMISOM troops slowly encroach upon the Islamic insurgents’ (al-Shabaab) territory militarily, what can appease the local population while the Somali government stabilizes and embeds its brand of African/Muslim consensual democracy politically?[5] Western military doctrine suggests effective CMO planned and conducted by the AMISOM forces could help this process; this is occurring to a certain degree already. As the population grows restless and al-Shabaab is not yet defeated, there is little doubt that the presence of the AMISOM forces in Somalia may be needed for quite some time.[6]

Somali Backdrop to AMISOM

In a country divided by complex clan ties, in the past 40 years Somalia’s attempts at governance have included nine years of democracy, a dictator (General Siad Barre), warlords, UN/U.S. troops, three transitional governments, an Islamic ruling structure (Islamic Courts Union), Ethiopian troop occupiers, al-Shabaab insurgents, and AMISOM. The formation of the temporary governments with the help of the international community began in 1999; then re-formed in 2004, and expanded to include the opposition in 2008 with the Djibouti Peace Agreement.[7]

The advent of the Islamic Courts Union in the mid-2000s, fairly strict Islamic law, and militias hired by wealthy businessmen together rendered some stability to the otherwise volatile country. However, Ethiopia and the U.S. had concerns about Somali collaboration with terrorists, and Ethiopia invaded in late 2006, staying through 2009. Somalis tended to back the Islamic militias (al-Shabaab being the major faction evolving after the invasion) in the face of foreign invaders.[9] The Islamic insurgents have varying goals, ranging from uniting Somalia under an Islamic regime to worldwide jihad.[10] These insurgents are still in control of large parts of southern Somalia and are present throughout the country in a diffused form, which makes them difficult to defeat, causing concern to Somalia’s neighbors and the U.S.[11] The current government (Federal Government of Somalia– FGS) was formed through a representative parliament in 2012, which then voted for the president.[12] The FGS, with all of its flaws, has managed to reach fragile agreements with the “clan-states” of Jubbaland and Puntland, and to make some progress with plans for services badly needed by Somalis. Additionally the Rahanweyn have formed a separate state backed by the FGS.[13] AMISOM forces can both limit further violence and help fill some of the roles in providing services normally provided by a government until the current government matures.

The Conflict Continues with Pockets of Ceasefire

News reports and military situation reports indicate that the only real peace in southern Somalia is in areas controlled by African Union (AU) peacekeepers – peace enforcers. Areas in and around the airport in Mogadishu, where foreign aid and military groups have bases and compounds, are fairly secure, but the growing force of Somali police and soldiers have training and corruption issues as well as supply issues. Monthly attacks by al-Shabaab have not diminished over the past few years, and in fact spiked somewhat during the latest Ramadan season and have been on the increase since the end of 2013 and most of 2014. There are weekly news reports of attacks against government officials, IEDs (improvised explosive devices), assassinations, rocket-propelled grenades, and even suicide bombers, and attacks by al-Shabaab and others by groups wanting to affect politics. With Somalia’s large geographical area, a relatively small population, and the small number of AMISOM and Somali National Army (SMA) soldiers, securing the territory is challenging.[14]

In a recent interview leading Somalia expert Roland Marchal discussed al-Shabaab’s short- and medium-term strategies.[15] “Shabaab will get weaker, will be less numerous, but will survive and will try to capitalize on any political crisis that may take place in Somalia and elsewhere.”[16] Other experts like Andre Le Sage have similar opinions on the ability of al-Shabaab to regroup, remain strong and continue operations in other regions, again indicating the need for a strong support force while Somalia builds.[17] Al-Shabaab might not control people and territory, but it can terrorize, so it remains a force to contend with. The coordinated and planned attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 demonstrated an international capability.[18] As AMISOM has increased and reclaimed territory from al-Shabaab, so have al-Shabaab’s ties to al-Qaeda increased.

Le Sage contends al-Shabaab is doing the same thing it did in 2007 following Ethiopia’s invasion, it is re-forming the mugawama/muqawama (resistance), using assassinations, attacks and intimidation.[19] While some al-Shabaab fighters are retreating to Puntland and others are disappearing into their clan families, they are leaving weapons stashes and secret safe houses in their wake.[20] In the format of cell groups, they depart from the district, but leave appointed al-Shabaab emirs. In Galgala, the al-Shabaab strategy was to recruit some of the smaller, discontented clans, then take over their districts. They promote destabilization in an area, and follow up by offering themselves as the security provider.[21] In summary, Somalia remains insecure, poor and without a strong central government providing services, justice, and voice to the people.

CIMIC and the AMISOM Forces

The African Union Commission’s strategic review of AMISOM in 2013 says;

Since the deployment of a civil affairs capacity, the mission has contributed in the reinvigoration of local governance institutions, especially in Mogadishu. AMISOM’s mandate includes the facilitation of humanitarian assistance, and the mission has contributed to enhanced coordination with humanitarian agencies, NGOs and the FGS. In addition, AMISOM has, through its Humanitarian Affairs section and the Civil-Military Coordination (CIMIC) branch of the Force (as a last resort) provided access to free medical care, free potable water supply and, in some instances, basic food items to civilians.

AMISOM hosted its first CIMIC conference in Mogadishu September 19, 2013, where CIMIC officers in Somalia came together to share their experiences on implementing the mission’s mandate and enhanced cooperation with civilians. The AU Special Representative for Somalia, Ambassador Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said “this initiative comes at a time when increasing interactions with civilians is crucial to consolidate peace dividends recently gained in Somalia. Although security improvements have been observed, civilian populations continue to be vulnerable.”[22]

CMO is particularly challenging because the individual AU countries – particularly Kenya and Ethiopia – historically have had ulterior motives for intervening in Somalia, increasing Somali suspicion of all foreigners.[23] Meservey summarizes the challenges for the foreign forces intervening in Somalia by saying that a foreign force composed primarily of black, Christian troops from countries that are Somalia’s traditional enemies has invaded a xenophobic Muslim country infamous for its violent tribal politics.[24] Problems regularly follow military troops deployed in populated areas for extended lengths of time: discipline, insubordination, human rights abuses and corruption among others. The locals tolerate this as little from foreign troops as from domestic soldiers. AMISOM troops were alleged to have committed gang rape in the fall of 2013 and even earlier.[25] Furthermore, certain TCC forces (and the Somalis) claim that other TCC forces only remain because of the huge income from the UN/AU, and that they do not attack or pursue al-Shabaab, but simply occupy space already secured. Lynch says that as of late 2012, Kenyan soldiers were not running patrols into Kismayo, but staying inside their bases rather than interacting with civilians, understanding their environment and running a counterinsurgency campaign. Some reports claim that AMISOM runs “evasion tactics” rather than integration, and that AMISOM forces want the conflict to continue.[26] Nevertheless, if AMISOM troops can provide certain services and security that no one else can, their acceptance can be secured while Somalia rebuilds.

CMO, CIMIC, CAO: Distinction with a Difference?

Within the doctrine of the U.S., NATO, and other Western militaries, the preferred way to improve relations with the local populace is through conducting Civil Affairs Operations (CAO) or similar activities. Reflecting its roots in the occupation of the former Axis countries following World War II, U.S. joint doctrine includes both “coordination” tasks and the “hard CMO” of assuming roles of civil government as needed. This doctrine defines civil affairs as the “forces and units organized, trained, and equipped specifically to conduct civil affairs operations and to support civil-military operations,” and then (circularly) defines CAO as the “military operations conducted by civil affairs forces that (1) enhance the relationship between military forces and civil authorities in localities where military forces are present; (2) require coordination with other interagency organizations, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, indigenous populations and institutions, and the private sector; and (3) involve application of functional specialty skills that normally are the responsibility of civil government to enhance the conduct of civil-military operations.”

CMO, a broader field, comprises all “activities of a commander that establish, maintain, influence, or exploit relations between military forces, governmental and nongovernmental civilian organizations and authorities, and the civilian populace in a friendly, neutral, or hostile operational area in order to facilitate military operations, to consolidate and achieve operational U.S. objectives.” Most significantly, these “may be performed by designated civil affairs, by other military forces, or by a combination of civil affairs and other forces.”[27]

These terms are closely related to CIMIC (Civil Military Cooperation/Coordination), the preferred construct of most Western European armies, which NATO doctrine defines as, “The co-ordination and co-operation, in support of the mission, between the NATO Commander and civil actors, including national population and local authorities, as well as international, national and non-governmental organizations and agencies.”[28] 

In practice, all of these terms are used in connection with AMISOM training and operations, partly because of the wide range of military traditions in Africa and the variety of international actors who support training and operations, each using their own doctrine as the standard. Regardless of the label applied on the ground, there is clearly a demand for this kind of activity, and an expectation that AMISOM will provide it. One UN report stated, “No apology or amount of compensation can give back what Somali war victims and their families have lost. But our findings clearly show that an attempt to respond to their suffering in this conflict can mitigate some of the consequences and return a sense of dignity to the victims and their communities.”[29] The Ugandans, Kenyans, Burundians and Djiboutians now see the need for certain skills to deal with the civilian populations. American forces contribute to CMO/CIMIC training, probably more so in the last three years than in prior years, when they focused on conducting CMO in Africa (though not in Somalia) – a strategy that brought its own challenges.[30] As AMISOM began more aggressively moving outside Mogadishu and expanded the number of troops and troop contributing countries (TCCs) in 2012 and 2013, CA forces from the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) conducted multiple training events (some with field applications) with the Kenyans and Ugandans. The American forces conducted high-level leadership training on CIMIC/CMO with most of the AMISOM TCCs (Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Uganda) in 2012 and 2013.

The Way Ahead in Somalia

In one of his first media interviews, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said that the top three priorities in Somalia are “security, security and security.”[31] However, if citizens do not receive jobs and services, as well as security, conflict will remain. Insurgent groups provide some of the key needs for the local populace in marginalized societies, including three areas identified by Africans in a 2010 conference on preventing terrorism: 1) justice, 2) voice, and 3) inclusion.[32] Injustices such as land taken from minority and Rahaweyn clans in southern Somalia have yet to be addressed, from Siad Barre’s time until today.[33] If basic grievances (such as human rights abuses) and other urgent needs are not addressed, the central government will not have legitimacy. Former Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon noted that the government has learned that winning hearts and minds will be more important than bullets.[34]

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1.Brianna Musselman of the School of International Service provided invaluable assistance to this project. Dr. Ladan Affi, a post doctoral fellow at Qatar University, provided input and editorial comments on Somalia.

2. AMISOM was created by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council on 19 January 2007 with an initial six-month mandate, which has been extended. The current troop-contributing countries (TCCs) are Uganda, Djibouti, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Ethiopia ( Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Ghana are police contributing countries (PCCs).

3. Report of the African Union Commission on the Strategic Review of the African Union Mission in Somalia, January 2013. Ibrahim Gambari: “A significant portion of Somalia remains under the control of Al Shabaab and the liberation of Somalia still requires a significant sustained effort.”

4. In a 2013 interview with Dr. Besançon, a prominent Kenyan imam said: “Kenya should be out of Somalia yesterday.”

5. Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujaheddin - HSM or simply Al Shabaab or AS—is the radical Islamic military movement in Somalia with domestic and foreign ‘terrorist’ support. Somalis is majority Muslim, but mainly Sufi.

6. A senior U.N. official disclosed that 3,000 AMISOM personnel have been killed during its seven-year mission (Source (Mombasa RMS): Taifa Leo (Independent newspaper and generally unbiased), in Kiswahili, 11 May 13)

7. Ken Menkhaus in Robert Rotberg. 2005. Battling Terrorism in the Horn of Africa& Markus Hoehne. 2009 ‘Counter-Terrorism in Somalia: How external interference helped to produce militant Islamism.’

8. Somali Scholar’s comment 2014: the Islamic Courts have been around since the early 1990s but they were not cohesive until 2004/2005 when the CIA began to fund the warlords to go against the Islamic Courts.

9. Somali Scholar’s comment 2014: by the time Ethiopia invaded Somalia, the Islamic Courts had scattered, later on coalescing in Eritrea.

10. Jihad was the minority view from al Shabaab until the Ethiopian invasion.

11. Somalia’s history is complex and has been documented by multiple historians and current academics including I.M. Lewis, Gerard Prunier, Kenneth Menkhaus, Alex De Waal, Roland Marshall, and Andre Le Sage, among many.

12. Also known as the Somali Federal Government of Somalia (SFG) and the Somali National Government SNG.

13. Central Somalia and the FGS still consider Somaliland, a self -declared separate nation, unrecognized by the rest of the world, as part of greater Somalia.

14. UN Security Council Resolution, 2124: AMISOM is authorized to deploy 21, 586 soldiers into Somalia as well as 540 police officers. CIA Factbook places the population of Somalia at approximately 10 ½ million and the area as 647,657 square kilometers., last accessed 13 July 2014.

15. ‘Approximately two of every five local or regional reports on or related to al-Shabaab argue that “al Shabaab’s quasi-state in southern and central Somalia has been progressively reduced over the past thirteen months” (AMISOM Daily Media Monitoring website) as the result of “multi-pronged military operations” by Somalia government forces, AMISOM peacekeepers, ENDF, and allied militias.’ CUBIC Media Analysis Report 26 November 2012.

16. Toni Weis. May 30 2012. ‘The War is Changing, not Over:’ Roland Marchal on Somalia after Afgooye.

17. Presentation in November 2013 by Dr. Le Sage to US troops deploying to Africa.

18. Jeffrey Gettleman. 2013. “Ominous Signs, Then a Cruel Attack: Making Sense of Kenya’s Westgate Mall Massacre.” New York TimesSeptember 27.

19. Andre Le Sage, November 2012. Norfolk, VA.

20. Scholar at Tufts University. November 2012. Also, on 08 November 2012, a cache of firearms and ammunition thought to belong to al-Shabaab militants was recovered by Somali and African Union forces in the port city of Kismayo after they carried out a major joint operation to the west of the town. Source: Ethiopian Radio (Pro-government), in Amharic, 09 Nov 12; Ethiopian Television (Pro-government), in Amharic, 09 Nov 12; Addis Zemen (Pro-government), in Amharic, 10 Nov 12. The Economist.October 2012. “The Shabab, who have dispersed their communications equipment men and weapons, can again be expected to play a waiting game.”

21. Andre Le Sage, November 2012. BBC January 8, 2014 -


23. The Somalis believe the Kenyans want the coastal territory of Kismayo and the natural resources, but the Kenyans particularly felt the need for a buffer zone to secure their coastline from attacks and protect their tourism industry. The Ethiopians and Somalis have long had border and territory ownership issues – marked by the Somali invasion in 1977.

24. Joshua Meservey. 2013. “The Somalia Insurgency: The growing threat of al Shabaab’s resurgence,” pp. 87-88.

25. Nicholas Kulish. 2013. “African Union and Somalia to Investigate Rape Accusation.” New York Times August 15.

26. Colum Lynch. 2013. “Soldier of Misfortune.” Foreign Policy. August. Quoted by Josh Meservey 2013.

27. Both definitions from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 1-01,, accessed 4 September 2013.

28. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Allied Joint Publication (AJP)-9, “NATO Civil-Military Co-Operation (CIMIC) Doctrine, June 2003.

29. Nikolaus Grubeck, “Civilian Harm in Somalia: Creating an Appropriate Response,” Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), 2011, online at, last accessed 1 October 2013.

30. Jessica Lee and Maureen Farrell. 2011. ‘Civil Military Operations in Kenya’s Rift Valley: Socio-cultural Impacts at the Local Level. PRISM (2) 2. Marie Besançon. 2011. Uganda Karamoja VETCAP: Partnering with UPDF and NGOs. CJTF-HOA/SCRAT Report.

31. “President of Somalia Sets Top Three Priorities: Security, Security, Security,” New Statesman

32. ACSS Conference (Africa Center for Strategic Studies). April 2012. Senegal. ‘Preventing Terrorism.’

33. Alex De Waal. 2007. ‘Class and Power in a Stateless Somalia.’ Roland Marchal. November 2012 Tufts University Workshop. Ken Menhaus. 2012. ‘Stabilization Transitions, Then and Now: Lessons from the UNOSOM Experience for 2012-13 Post Transition Somalia.’ ODNI.

34. April 15 Burundi (Prime Minister Sharidon was replaced in December 2013 by Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed).

Dr. Marie Besançon was head of the Socio-Cultural Research and Advisory Team for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa from 2010-2013. She is a Senior Fellow at the TransResearch Consortium.

Dr. Stephen Dalzell is a professorial lecturer in the School of International Service, American University.