Kenyan troops were officially integrated into the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), with Kenya’s defense minister signing an agreement at AU headquarters Saturday.
“We conclude the process of establishing a formal, legal framework for the integration of the Kenyan defense forces into AMISOM,” Minister of Defense Yusuf Haji said at the signing in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.
Kenyan tanks and troops rolled into Somalia in October following a series of kidnappings and attacks in Kenyan soil believed to be carried out by Shebab insurgents.
In December, the AU said it backed the integration of Kenyan troops into its peacekeeping mission.
AU peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra welcomed the official integration and said it marked progress towards defeating Shebab militants in Somalia.
“We are really opening a new chapter — a chapter that will take us closer to … the completion of the mission in Somalia,” he said.
The rehatting of Kenyan troops comes three days after the Shebab-controlled town of Afmadow fell to AU and allied troops. Afmadow has been a long-term target ever since Kenyan troops invaded southern Somalia in October.
Haji said AMISOM troops were inching closer to capturing the strategic port city, Kismayo, but he did not specify a timeline.
“We are not very far from Kismayo, but we can’t say when we are taking over,” he said, adding that although Shebab rebels still posed a threat, they have lost strength on the ground.
“They have been diminished and also their command structure has been destroyed on the ground, but you can never rule out few remnants of al-Shebab here and there but we are very hopeful that at the end of the day AMISOM will end the war in Somalia,” he said.
Lamamra added that the AMISOM force still faces a number of logistical challenges and urged the U.N. to maintain support for the mission.
“Now that AMISOM is expanding, now that we are covering the entire territory, we do have more challenges, in particular, what relates to logistics, we need our friends in the U.N. to be able to supply all what is needed,” he said.
Somalia has been embroiled in civil war since 1991, when former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.
It has been variously governed by ruthless warlords and militia groups and a fragile transitional government which holds official power in the Horn of Africa country.