UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sponsors of a U.N. resolution to boost by nearly half an African force trying to defeat Islamist militants in Somalia are seeking to have the Security Council pass it by the middle of next week, diplomats said on Wednesday.
If the council does so, the authorization to increase the African Union force would come on the eve of an international conference in London to discuss measures to tackle instability in Somalia and piracy off its shores.
"We're planning to put the text into blue on Friday and vote it on Wednesday (February 22)," A senior Western diplomat said. Putting a text "into blue," in U.N. jargon, means to complete a vote-ready draft. The London conference is on February 23.
The draft would increase the force, known as AMISOM, from 12,000 to around 17,700 troops and step up equipment support from the U.N. budget, although it contains no specific figures.
The force, which first entered Somalia in 2007 and has long consisted of Ugandan and Burundian troops, has claimed a series of recent successes against Islamist al Shabaab fighters who had seized much of the east African country's center and south.
Last August, the African force wrested control of the capital, Mogadishu, and this week said it had captured strongholds to the south of the city - a claim denied by al Shabaab. Kenyan and Ethiopian troops have launched independent incursions into Somalia which have intensified pressure on the militants.
Although not a U.N. force, AMISOM receives authorization from the United Nations, which provides much of its funding.
"Having increased military pressure on al Shabaab is a key element in the overall political strategy which will be endorsed, hopefully, at the London conference," the senior diplomat said. "The plan is to degrade al Shabaab and basically destroy al Shabaab as a military force."
The increase in the AU force will include transferring the Kenyan troops to its command - a process known as "rehatting" - and bringing in others from Djibouti and Sierra Leone, said the diplomat, speaking on condition he was not identified.
The move is expected to more than double the U.N. cost of supporting AMISOM to around $500 million a year, not counting salaries for the soldiers, which are covered by the European Union, he said. The United States and France have expressed concerns about the cost but are expected to agree, he added.
Another diplomat said one aim of passing the resolution on Wednesday was to keep the force increase issue off the London agenda. "We don't want leaders arguing about 17,000 or 15,000 or 20,000 troops," he said.
Somalia collapsed into feuding between rival warlords, clans and factions after dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. Its Western-backed interim government controls only limited areas.