Somalia Seeks Delay in African Peacekeeper Withdrawal Amid Security Concerns

Mogadishu, Somalia (June 21, 2024) – The Somali government is calling for a slowdown in the withdrawal of African Union (AU) peacekeepers, citing fears of a security vacuum that could be exploited by the militant group Al Shabaab. This comes as the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) is scheduled to complete its pullout by December 31, to be replaced by a smaller force.

In a letter sent last month to the acting chair of the African Union Peace and Security Council, Somalia requested to delay the withdrawal of 2,000 of the 4,000 peacekeepers due to leave by the end of June until September. The letter, which has not been previously reported, follows a joint assessment with the AU, urging a revised withdrawal timeline based on the preparedness of Somali forces. The United Nations Security Council had mandated this assessment, which warned that a rapid drawdown could lead to a destabilizing security gap.

Mursal Khalif, a member of Somalia’s parliamentary defense committee, expressed grave concerns, highlighting the potential for a deteriorating security situation. Neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda, which have contributed troops to the mission, share these worries. They fear that a weakened presence could enable Al Shabaab to gain power, similar to the situation seen in Afghanistan.

The European Union (EU) and the United States, primary financial backers of the AU force, have been advocating for a reduction in peacekeeping operations due to financial constraints. Discussions regarding a new, smaller force have been complex, with varying opinions on its mandate and size. The Somali government has indicated a preference for a force of no more than 10,000 troops focused on securing key areas.

Security Risks and Political Complexities

As ATMIS proceeds with the drawdown, with 5,000 troops already withdrawn last year, Somali officials are confident yet cautious about maintaining security. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed has previously declared a mission to eliminate Al Shabaab but faces significant challenges after recent militant counterattacks.

The situation is complicated by the differing priorities of international stakeholders and the intrinsic political disputes among Somali factions and neighboring states. Ethiopia, a significant troop contributor, may consider withdrawal amid contentious negotiations over the new mission’s framework.

Despite these challenges, the AU and Somali government stress the need for a conditions-based drawdown to avoid creating a security vacuum. Mohamed El-Amine Souef, AU’s special representative to Somalia, underscored the commitment to achieving a sustainable peace agreement that prevents instability.

International Concerns and Funding Challenges

The EU, which funds a significant portion of ATMIS’s $100 million annual budget, is transitioning to bilateral support models, aiming to reduce overall contributions. The U.S., having invested over $2.5 billion in counterterrorism efforts in Somalia since 2007, supports a robust new mission but also seeks to limit long-term financial commitments.

Diplomatic sources note that European nations are pushing for the new mission to be funded through U.N. member contributions, potentially increasing the financial burden on countries like the U.S. and China. However, the U.S. has indicated that such a system is unlikely to be feasible in the immediate future.

The peacekeeping mission’s future hinges on finalizing the proposed size and mandate, with formal financing arrangements still to be determined. International consensus remains crucial to maintaining support for Somalia’s transition and preventing a resurgence of militant control.

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