(1) + (2) + (3) + (4) + ...

I can't think of any more depressing international situation than south/central Somalia. A population trapped between:

(1) unending, rent-seeking clan rivalry

(2) at least two brutal groups of insurgents, one of which regularly amputates teenagers' limbs and stones children to death

(3) a chaotic, Western-backed transitional government in control of just a few blocks of Mogadishu, whose forces have a propensity to sell their weapons to insurgents and recruit child soldiers

(4) an underpowered AU peacekeeping force which admits in its own reports that it indiscriminately shells civilians (arguably because it's too weak and disorganised to do anything else)

How could the international community possibly tinker with this dismal equation to make it any worse? AU chief Jean Ping has a bright idea, which he announced yesterday afternoon:

(5) bolster the AU force in Somalia with a battalion of troops from the armed forces of...Guinea.

The Guinean army? The one which with alarming regularity for over a decade has been opening fire wantonly on its own people? Several units of which attacked peaceful demonstrators just last September, killing 150 people and injuring over a thousand others, and publicly gang-raped over 40 women in the middle of Conakry? A force so factionalised that last December one faction leader shot the president in the head (another military captain who'd seized power in a coup just a year before). A force so remedial that it's currently undergoing near-emergency U.S.-led security sector reform just to prevent another coup or a civil war as Guineans go to the polls in their first ever comparatively free elections. That Guinean army? Still, maybe they'll fit in in Somalia. After all, they've been quite keen on recruiting child soldiers too, at least until their training camps were disbanded after the president's shooting.

There's no denying that the AU force in Somalia (AMISOM) is desperately short of capacity and manpower. That they're effectively used as cannon-fodder by their international backers who don't want to commit troops themselves (but are quite happy to devote tens of millions of dollars and dozens of warships to protect the fraction of their merchant shipping off Somalia's coast which gets attacked by pirates). And, equally, I know that the Guinean army is far from homogenous: that its most factionalised and probably brutalised units, responsible for past and recent atrocities, seem to be concentrated (although not exclusively) in the gaggle of paratrooper and presidential guard units collectively called the beret rouges.

But with SSR just starting, and certainly with no measure yet of its success, it seems insane to think the Guinean army might be ready, even militarily, to play a major role in a peacekeeping operation. My own overwhelming memory of my extremely brief encounter with the Guinean army is a hurried visit to their headquarters at Camp Alpha Yaya in Conakry last November. Dozens of berets rouges and CMIS gendarmes, largely unpaid, sitting around smoking cigarettes in weird, near total silence, most cradling and playing with the long commando knives that they all carried in brown sheathes. The sort of knives that a group of berets rouges were photographed using to casually stab a suspected demonstrator in the suburb of Bomboli on 30 September last year. It's an indictment of AMISOM - and of the lack of serious international commitment to helping Somalia - that these may be the guys tasked vainly with trying to bring security to the streets of Mogadishu.