Somalia army’s first major test in AU troop drawdown

Sunday June 18 2023

A delegation from the African Union Military Staff Committee of the Peace and Security Council at the Atmis Mission Headquarters in Mogadishu, Somalia on 7 June 2023. PHOTO | ATMIS


As the African Union force in Somalia prepares to drawdown 2,000 troops at the end of June, the Somalia National Army faces its first major test when it assumes security responsibilities, with significant vast territory to defend as it takes up seven forward operating bases (FOBs) that the departing foreign forces will handover this month, starting June 15.

The seven FOBs are located in territory currently defended by Uganda, Burundi and Kenyan forces, include Al Jazeera, Arbao and Marka all in Sector I of Atmis under Uganda Peoples Defence Forces; Gherille in Sector II under Kenya Defence Forces, while Cadalle, Haaji Cali and Mirtugo are Sector V manned by Burundi troops.

The impending drawdown comes just a month after the deadly dawn attack by the Al Shabaab militants on May 26 at a forward operating base in Buulo Mareer manned by Ugandan troops, an incident that has triggered debate on the post-Atmis Somalia.

Read: Uganda probes attack on Atmis base in Somalia

President Museveni revealed that 54 UPDF soldiers were killed in the attack, citing panic and deployment of personnel that were not fit for purpose, as the reason the terrorists managed to overrun the base, but he also took issue with Americans and Turks who have the technology, including unmanned aerial vehicles but “did not help us”.

Indeed, security and conflict experts attributed the Buulo Mareer attack to failure to deploy technology and intelligence to stop the attackers, but also, they blamed the fewer numbers available for the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis ) to deploy due to the drawdown.


“This drawdown was never based on realities on the ground,” said Simon Mulongo, a security experts and former Deputy Head of Amisom/Atmis . “Previously, such a base was manned by about 500 or more soldiers. But now the numbers at each base are down to 200 soldiers or less.”

In view of this, and a further drawdown of 3,000 soldiers exiting the mission by September, the EU says Somalia and its partners must in the remaining 18 months of the mission, work to improve SNA force regeneration, capacity and capability to defend the country.

An EU spokesperson also says the only exit strategy for Atmis is to support the Somali security sector, but also the other international players, with different interests in Somalia, should continue to work with the troop contributing countries for a Somali-led, Somali-owned exercise in a coordinated way.

Read: Region rallies to Somalia’s defence

“It is important to consider not only the current fight, but the ways and means needed to achieve the necessary peace dividends beyond the lifespan of the mission so as not to squander Amisom/Atmis'' legacy,” Jennifer Sanchez Da Silva, the EU Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/International Partnerships.

Over the last 16 years of its deployment, the AU force – especially the Amisom the precursor to Atmis – liberated the capital Mogadishu and 80 percent of Somalia territory from Al Shabaab terrorist, and also facilitated the return to civic elections attacks.

The key challenge for the Somali security apparatus remains to develop capable, efficient and effective security forces under one command and one doctrine with a robust command and control, civilian oversight, accountability and governance structures in place, the EU says.

This week, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia, who is also head of Atmis Ambassador Mohamed El-Amine Souef, was joined by Atmis force Commander Lt Gen. Sam Okiding to assess Cadalle FOB, located in Hirshabelle, state ahead of drawdown and handover to SNA.

The impending Atmis drawdown of 2,000 troops by the end of this month and another 3,000 soldiers by September this year, is in compliance with the UN Security Council Resolutions 2628 and 2670.

Read: Somalia ‘willing’ to extend peacekeepers’ stay

The EU’s mission reports show that Somalia’s security forces face a double task of engaging in operations against Al Shabaab, which comes with all the inherent attrition effects that come with conducting combat operations.

While engaging in operations against the terrorist group, the Somali forces are simultaneously working to generate an appropriate force organisation, stabilising liberated territory and effectively taking over as Atmis draws down.