The international peacekeeping force in Somalia may need to be almost trebled in coming months to 20,000 troops because of the increased insurgent threat, a U.N. envoy said Thursday.
The envoy, Augustine Mahiga, told the U.N. Security Council that more international action is needed to stop foreign fighters and weapons getting into Somalia to help the aAl-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militia.
The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which has been defending the troubled transitional government in Mogadishu, has an authorized limit of 8,000 but is currently about 2,000 short.
"The threat level in Mogadishu and in southern-central Somalia has actually increased," Mahiga said. The African Union (AU) and East African nations "foresee a new AMISOM troop level of up to 20,000 in the coming months.
"The AU Peace and Security Council will soon submit to the U.N. Security Council a request for authorization for increased troop levels for Mogadishu and other strategic locations in Somalia."
The Shabaab Islamist militia controls much of central and southern Somalia, which has been plunged into civil war for much of the past two decades.
"I am concerned by the security situation in the country and its potential impact on the entire region," Mahiga told the Security Council. Shabaab has already claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks in Uganda in July in which more than 70 people died.
He said the Shabaab-controlled port of Kismayo "has become the entry point for foreign fighters, war material for the insurgents and has become a scene of criminal activities and illicit trade.
"There is a need for increased maritime and aviation security to deter this material from being used against AMISOM and the transitional federal government," added the envoy.
He praised AMISOM troops for defending the government "the vital installations in Mogadishu and for holding off the recurrent attacks by the terrorist insurgents led by foreign fighters from undermining the peace process."
Mahiga also said that the transitional government, which has a mandate running until August 2011, must make urgent efforts to overcome political infighting and increase its authority.
With Shabaab attacks becoming ever more daring in Mogadishu, the government only survives with the presence of the African troops, mainly from Uganda and Burundi.
The United States called for greater international assistance, in troops and finance, for the African peacekeeping force.
U.S. ambassador Susan Rice said the United States shares the U.N.'s "view of the exceedingly dangerous situation in Somalia."
The U.S. government is reviewing the proposals for increased troop numbers, Rice said, and called for greater international action against pirates that terrorize Indian Ocean shipping lanes from Somali ports.
A special ministerial meeting on Somalia is to be held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly next week. There is growing international disquiet at the lack of action by the transitional government to establish its authority and prepare for a long term government.
Mahiga said he had urged the transitional administration to reach out to more opposition groups and focus on improving services for the beleaguered Somali population.
France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said the transitional government "must convince the population that it can provide the basic services, health care, education, justice and security. Overall there are considerable needs remaining."