UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council authorized an increase of more than 4,000 peacekeepers in Somalia on Tuesday so the U.N.-backed African force can boost its fight against al Shabaab militants who have shifted tactics and expanded their reach.
Somalia is struggling to rebuild after two decades of civil war and lawlessness sparked by the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991. A U.N.-backed African Union peacekeeping mission - known as AMISOM - was deployed in 2007, more than a decade after initial U.N. peacekeeping missions in the country failed.
A joint U.N. and African Union review of the AMISOM found that al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab had deliberately changed tactics since May from conventional to guerrilla warfare, with targets including the government, state bodies and the United Nations.
The Islamist militants have also taken their fight beyond Somalia's borders, claiming responsibility for an attack in September on Nairobi's Westgate shopping center in neighboring Kenya that killed at least 67 people.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Tuesday boosting the number of African peacekeepers in Somalia to 22,126 for up to two years and expanding U.N. logistical support to the force.
"It is a significant increase and it should allow AMISOM to go on to the front foot to regain momentum in tackling al Shabaab and we will certainly be encouraging them to do that," British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters.
The resolution also called on countries to consider supplying the peacekeeping force with up to 12 much-needed military helicopters.
In a letter to the Security Council last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the Somali National Army and the AMISOM had assumed a largely defensive, static posture against al-Shabaab due to a lack of troops and equipment, particularly helicopters.
"This resolution ... provides them with the tools to regain the momentum against al Shabaab and deliver increased security to a population who have suffered too much at the hands of extremists," Lyall Grant said.
The Security Council also approved Ban's intention to send guards to protect U.N. compounds in Somalia.