The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) and the country’s security forces are entering the decisive months in the battle against militant group Al-Shabaab, which could determine how month the handover of operations will be.
The Atmis is supposed to exit from Somalia by end of December next year. But its gradual drawdown initially planned for this month was delayed by six months, with the African Union admitting the surge of Al-Shabaab needed backup forces.
But if Atmis is to totally hand over operations to Somalia security forces, this month and several others ahead will determine whether Mogadishu is up to the task without falling into ruin.
Traditionally, al-Shabaab have often upped their attacks from October through December and early months of the following year, profiting from propaganda and targeting civilians in festivities.
ATMIS is staying to back up operations of the Somali National Army, now boosted by the support of volunteering vigilantes known locally as Mo’awisley. This week, they captured Adan Yabaal town, about 220 km north of the capital Mogadishu.
Adan Yabaal, a town located near the border between Hiran and Middle Shabelle regions that comprise Hirshabelle State, one of the five Federal Member States (FMS) of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) had been a strategic location held by Al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda linked extremist group.
The SNA said in a bulletin that it met no resistance from Al-Shabaab that left the town without posing resistance.
But such victories also give the SNA and Somalia a headache: how to ensure Al-Shabaab do not recover lost territory. On Monday, fearing possible fighting between the allied forces and terrorists, residents vacated the town, not to be caught in crossfire.
Al-Shabaab have lost most of the towns and settlements in Hirshabelle State, both Hiran and Middle Shabelle regions, after the SNA and Mo’awisley vigilantes waged offensive wars.
Mo’awisley vigilantes are mainly composed of nomadic herders who rebelled against the jihadists’ confiscation of their herds and illegal tax collection known as zakawaat, taking up arms.
Last month, a decision reached by the African Union Peace and Security Council, the 15-member body that decides policy and programmes on security across the continent, following a request from Somalia, said the drawdown begins in June 2023.
But the AU also wants the UN Security Council to provide certainty on funding the remaining months to sustain momentum.
“[The PSC] Confirms support for the FGS (federal government of Somalia) request to extend the Atmis Phase 1 Reconfiguration for the drawdown of 2,000 Atmis troops from 31 December 2022 to 30 June 2023, as a slight revision of the operational timeline, while reconfirming the commitment to maintain the exit date of 31 December 2024 by Atmis,” the Council said.
The ATMIS were in February reconfigured from the AU Mission in Somalia (Amisom) following a UN Security Council resolution to help build Somalia’s security forces and allow continental troops to gradually pull out starting this December. Atmis mandate was also changed from purely a combat force to one with civilian technocrat s to help draw up Somalia’s rebuilding programmes.
At least 2,000 troops were to depart Somalia starting next month, allowing troop contributors Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda and Burundi to totally exit by December next year.
But the AU Council on Wednesday said it was acting in “solidarity with the people and the Government of Somalia in their aspirations for durable peace, security, stability, and prosperity, for the benefit of the region and the Continent as a whole.”
The PSC said the original total exit dates will remain unchanged, however. The slight revision of the draw-down means a new programme will be publicised by end of February 2023.
In the meantime, the AU Commission, working jointly with the UN, Somalia government, and partners are to submit a joint report by February 15, 2023 on the technical assessment of progress made and compliance with agreed benchmarks for withdrawal “to guide the PSC on the next steps in the transition plan,” the Council said.
Reporting by Aggrey Mutambo and Abdulkadir Khalif