The UN directive for a phased withdrawal of African peacekeepers from Somalia next month has been opposed by the US, which believes the timing is not right given the terrorist threat in the Horn of Africa.
The US State Department has warned that extremism could escalate in the region if the withdrawal goes through, especially now that Al Shabaab has increased the number of suicide bombings such as the October 14 attack in Mogadishu that killed over 300.
The UN Security Council has endorsed the withdrawal of another 1,000 troops from Somalia by May next year largely with finance, rather than security, as a key consideration after the EU cut its funding to Amisom.
Amisom has been asking for an additional 8,000 troops to bring the total number to 29,000 to cover areas that are not under its control but the troop contributing countries (Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda) have not been receptive.
UN Resolution 2372
Wohlers Marion, who is Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, told The EastAfrican that the US does not expect any troop withdrawals in December as Washington is ready to keep providing training, equipment, logistics, and advisory support in order to build a Somali force capable of operating alongside, and eventually replacing, the African Union Mission.
“We do not support further drawdown of forces beyond that level at this time, due to ongoing security concerns. The United States supports a conditions-based Amisom drawdown that is tied to the development of capable, professional Somali security forces,” said Mr Marion.
The planned withdrawal is tied to the reduction of the Amisom force mandated by the UN Security Council 2372 Resolution made in August, which is to be carried out by the end of 2017.
According to the UN timetable, Amisom will withdraw 1,000 troops by December and another 1,000 in May next year. The final withdrawal of the 21,000-strong Amisom is set for 2020.
While Amisom continues to receive financial, logistical and equipment support from multilateral donors, the reduction of the EU annual stipend to Amisom from $200 million to $160 million has affected operations.
The EU asked the AU to find alternative sources of funding, and the continental Peace and Security Council has been trying to reach out to counties in the Gulf to fill the gap.
The EU provided $1.68 billion to Amisom between 2004 and 2017. This includes the $189.5 million earmarked for the period April–December 2017.
Amisom benefits from a UN logistical support package, donations, and voluntary contributions to the UN managed Trust Fund. The EU provides the resources needed for paying troop allowances and related expenses within the framework of the African Peace Facility.
Mwenda Njoka, spokesperson for the Kenyan Interior Ministry, said that Kenya’s objectives in going into Somalia in 2011 have been largely met, as Kenya sought to secure its borders and dilute Al Shabaab’s capacity to attack the country.
“We have seen attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa decline significantly except in parts of northern Kenya where there are limited opportunistic attacks using improvised explosive devices. We continue to increase border security along the 700km boundary and we are in the process of flushing out Al Shabaab from Boni forest,” said Mr Njoka.
Amisom spokesperson Col Wilson Rono insisted that the withdrawal will proceed as scheduled. “The numbers will come from all the six sectors. The recent attacks will not disturb the programme unless we are instructed to the contrary by the UN Security Council and the AU,” said Col Rono.
But Uganda has offered to send 5,000 troops to Somalia outside Amisom provided the international community commits resources for the operations. President Yoweri Museveni in September gave the offer to Donald Yamamoto, US acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
The first withdrawal which will be on a pro rata basis, will see each of the five countries reduce their troops by four per cent. Uganda, with the highest number of troops in Amisom (6,223) will send home about 250 troops, followed by Burundi with 5,432 troops which will release 217 soldiers.
Ethiopia with 4,395 troops will pull back 176, Kenya’s 3,664 will be whittled down by 146 and Djibouti’s 1,000 troops will make do without 40.
Nonetheless, police contributing countries like Burundi, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zimbabwe will contribute 500 officers to beef up the Somalian police service across the country.
Amisom civilian head Francisco Madeira, who is also the special representative of the AU Commission chairperson said the reduction in peacekeepers would run concurrently with the Somali National Army (SNA) assuming the country’s security responsibilities.
Amisom launched a massive operation on November 6 to flush out Al Shabaab militants from Lower Shabelle and secure main supply routes in the area.
Amisom is supposed to train and equip at least 30,000 SNA troops to take over once they leave.