UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council approved a surge of African Union troops to fight al-Shabab militants in Somalia, where the world body fears that the war has "ground to a halt."
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize about 4,400 more AU soldiers, bringing the force up to 22,126 troops, and called for massive U.N. assistance to break the stalemate in Somalia.
The Security Council focused its attention on the al-Shabab threat after the Islamic group's September attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed at least 67 people.
"As recent attacks show, al-Shabab continue to pose a threat, not just to Somalia, but to the wider region, and now is the right time for the Security Council to act," British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said.
Tuesday's council resolution said "recent security gains against aI-Shabab are at serious risk of being reversed" and noted that the Somali army and African Union forces "have now assumed a more defensive posture."
The Somali surge is meant to send 2,550 extra combat troops and 1,845 ground-support troops to the force known as AMISOM. After 18 to 24 months, the U.N. wants to hand over the fighting to the Somali national army and send a U.N. peacekeeping mission to replace the AU force "as part of an overall exit strategy for AMISOM," the resolution said.
The resolution also approves 12 new military helicopters from troop-contributing countries, and calls for more "force enablers and multipliers." The U.N. is seeking armored vehicles and trucks, among other equipment, as well as food, fuel, ammunition and supplies for the Somali army and AMISOM.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson visited Somalia in October. He told the council in a briefing last month that the African Union force and the Somali military lack "the capacity to push beyond areas already recovered" from the al-Qaida-linked group in the last 18 months, after a successful campaign to recapture several cities, including Mogadishu and Kismayo.
Eliasson said the war had "ground to a halt."
In the resolution, the council also approved the formation of a U.N. guard force to protect U.N. buildings and installations. In June, al-Shabab forces invaded the U.N. compound in Mogadishu with a truck bomb and then poured inside, killing at least 13 people before dying in the assault. It was the first direct attack on a U.N. building in Somalia since 2008.
The size and composition of the U.N. guard force was not spelled out in the resolution, but Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for another 1,000 troops for the force, and also another 840 police officers to train Somali police force.
If the Security Council later authorizes the additional troops and police, that would boost the AMISOM force to about 24,000 personnel.
Somalia has long been plagued by cyclical drought and famine and decades of armed conflict. But in recent years it has been seen as making strides in security and governance, particularly since August 2011, when al-Qaida-aligned militants were forced out of Mogadishu. Al-Shabab militants still control much of the country's south.