The African Union held a three-day summit in Kampala earlier this week where it agreed to boost its peacekeeping force by sending another 4,000 troops, saying it was important to improve security in Somalia and in surrounding countries.

Broadening reach

The decision came after al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a double bombing in Kampala that left 76 people dead on July 11, which it said was punishment for Uganda's lead role in the peacekeeping force.

The attack, the first launched by al-Shabab outside of Somalia, demonstrated the group's increasing influence and broadening reach ahead of the AU summit.  

The current 6000-strong AU force in Somalia has been engaged in fierce fighting with al-Shabab, but has been restricted to retaliatory fire by the mandate it has been operating under.

Human rights groups warn that if the troops are allowed to expand their operations, civilians in Somalia will be further exposed to violence. Thousands have been killed in crossfire this year alone as battles between government troops and al-Shabab fighters have raged in the streets of Mogadishu.

Somalia has been wracked by conflict for decades, with the latest bout of fighting erupting after Ethiopean troops, operating with US approval, invaded and overthrew the Union of Islamic Courts, whose rule had brought a period of relative stability to the troubled country.