Kampala, Uganda – The terrorist violence spreading from Somalia dominated this week’s African Union summit, resulting in a decision to boost the number of troops it deploys in the war-torn country.
Meeting just two weeks after the Somali extremist group Al Shabaab’s three bombings killed 76 people in Kampala on July 11, the African Union leaders meeting in this city found it difficult to discuss anything else.
The Al Shabaab rebels said the bombings were in retaliation for Uganda sending peacekeeping forces to prop up the Somali government in the country’s capital of Mogadishu. Uganda also hosts a European Union training camp for Somali soldiers fighting Al Shabaab.
Amid a heavy military presence in Kampala, more than 30 leaders and delegations from 49 of Africa’s 53 countries decided to increase the group’s peacekeeping force in Somalia, from 6,000 to 8,000 troops.
Summit leaders affirmed their continued assistance to the Somali government led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, which is under assault from Al Shabaab, an ally of Al Qaeda.
At the summit’s opening the leaders observed two minutes of silence for the Kampala attack victims.
More coverage of Al Shabaab:
Al Shabaab, ally of Al Qaeda
With African Union forces in Somalia
Video: Under fire in Mogadishu
Video: Meet the president of Hell
Somalia: Is there a solution?
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni then delivered a tough speech in which he urged the African leaders to “sweep the terrorists out of Africa. Let them go back to Asia and the Middle East where they come from. I reject this new form of colonialism through terrorism.”
He called on the African Union to step up its campaign against Al Shabaab and the Islamist militants in Africa.
“These reactionary groups have now committed aggression against our country,” said Museveni. “We have the right of self defense. We shall now go for them.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder came to Kampala for the summit and called on the African leaders to stand together against the Somali insurgents.
“Make no mistake,” said Holder, “these attacks were nothing more than reprehensible acts of cowardice, inspired by a radical and corrupt ideology that systematically denies human rights, devalues women and girls, and perverts the peaceful traditions and teachings of a great religion.”
Officials of the U.S. Africa Command warned of a growing threat from Al Qaeda in Somalia and nearby Yemen and promised to increase military assistance to the Africa Union peacekeeping force by providing more equipment, training, logistical support and information-sharing. The Africa Union will also need helicopters as there are none presently in use in Somalia, according to African military experts.
The peacekeeping force in Mogadishu now consists of about 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops who protect a few blocks of Mogadishu and the airport. The troops are under constant assault from Al Shabaab. As the African leaders met in Kampala, several more people were killed in Mogadishu amid fresh fighting between African peacekeepers and Al Shabaab.
The African Union agreed to send 2,000 more troops from Guinea and Djibouti, two countries with Muslim majorities that leaders said Al Shabaab could not portray as “infidels.”