Nairobi — Ethiopian troops have officially joined the African Union mission in Somalia known as AMISOM, giving a boost to the security force as it continues to battle against al-Shabab militants. Ethiopian soldiers have served a critical role securing areas in the west of the country, acting independent of the AU mission.
After operating two years on their own to fight al-Shabab, more than 4,000 Ethiopian troops will now operate under the AMISOM mandate backed by the United Nations.
AU force spokesman Colonel Ali Aden Humad told VOA that Ethiopia, with its experience in some parts of Somalia, will help AU troops take more ground from the insurgent group.
"It is obvious if we have more troops and especially the Ethiopians are a bit familiar with the region, we will be moving forward easily and our priorities will be getting more areas and liberating more towns," he said.
Ethiopia is the sixth African country to contribute troops to the AU force in Somalia after Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Djibouti and Sierra Leone. Ethiopia's contribution takes the AU force to 22,000 troops.
The militant group al-Shabab lost control of major cities in south and central Somalia in 2012 during a concerted military effort by African Union forces and Somali government troops. But al-Shabab continues to control parts of the countryside.
The Ethiopian troops are expected to move into the Gedo, Bay and Bakool regions where al-Shabab has a strong presence and training bases.
An Ethiopian operation in those three regions will let troops from Burundi and Uganda move into some parts of Lower and Middle Shabelle, used by al-Shabab to launch hit-and-run attacks in the capital Mogadishu.
Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia in 2006 but the invasion sparked a bloody conflict. After failing to restore order it pulled its forces out.
AMISOM spokesman Ali Aden Humad says the mission this time is different and Ethiopia will have to respect the rules of engagement.
"They will be working under the AMISOM force commander's instructions and orders and that will be respecting the mandate, the African Union mandate and U.N. resolution," he said.
AMISOM deployed troops in Somalia in 2007 to provide assistance to the weak, internationally recognized transitional Somali government, which faced daily attacks from al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab.