Kenyan soldiers to join AU Somali force
Nairobi - Kenya will avail 4 660 soldiers to the African Union force in Somalia, where it already has troops fighting the al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents, the army chief said on Monday.
The integration follows a UN Security Council resolution last month that increased the force's strength to 17 731 from the currently authorised maximum of 12 000.
"Our mandate in Somalia is peace enforcement. So the posture that we adopted when we crossed into Somalia last year remains the same," General Julius Karangi told a parliamentary panel on defence.
Soon after Nairobi sent troops in October to southern Somalia to fight the Shabaab, it said it was willing to have the forces join the AU mission, in what was seen as a move to ease the financial burden on Kenya.
"When we entered last year, we entered at the full cost of the people of this country. What is going to happen now as members of Amisom is that from the date our entry was approved by the UN security council, we externalise all our expenses to the AU and UN," Karangi said.
Nairobi has never given the exact figure of its soldiers currently in Somalia and it was unclear whether the 4 660 to join the AU force are the ones already on the ground.
The AU force has so far comprised some 10 000 troops from Burundi, Djibouti and Uganda based in Mogadishu and tasked with protecting Somalia's weak Western-backed government from the extremist insurgents.
Karangi said the AU force command structure will be altered to include a Kenyan deputy commander. Currently the force is headed by a Ugandan commander with one Burundian deputy.
Kenya's offensive in Somalia was followed by Ethiopia's in November in the west of the war-torn country, as neighbouring states increased pressure on the Shabaab who are blamed for destabilising the region.
Somalia has been plagued by a relentless conflict since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.
Last month, Somali and world leaders met in London for a conference aimed at finding solutions to the Horn of Africa country's protracted crisis that has spawned piracy, militancy and a devastating humanitarian crisis.