Amisom starts withdrawal: is Somalia ready?

The official announcement of the start of AMISOM's withdrawal from Somalia arrived Tuesday from the head of the African Union's peacekeeping mission, Francisco Caetano Jose Madeira of Mozambique, who during a press conference in Mogadishu, explained that to safeguard security of the local population the withdrawal will be gradual and will be completed by the end of 2020.

Madeira pointed out that 'one-thousand troops to leave Somalia by the end of the year. In March, the withdrawal of the first African Union military personnel from Somalia was announced as of October 2018, but the leaders of the mission decided to anticipate the start of the contingency reduction program.

The gradual reduction of troops would be part of a wider plan of downsizing, involving the inclusion of 500 policemen by 31 December 2017. Then there would be additional reductions and potentially reconfigurations by October 2018.

The AMISOM commander reiterated that AMISOM will be part of the much publicized offensive against al-Shabaab in collaboration with the Somali National Army (SNA) and with the support of US Special Forces, stating that the areas of the upcoming operations will include Mogadishu and its surroundings.

Madeira also denied media reports that additional Ethiopian troops entered Somalia. He said troops who entered Somalia last week were just part of a routine rotational exercise within the African mission.

Doubts about SNA's ability to counter terrorist activities

The gradual withdrawal of AMISOM raises concerns about the SNA's and the Somali police's effective ability to counter the threat of al-Shabaab terrorist group linked to al Qaeda.

This year marked the tenth anniversary of AMISOM, created 19 January 2007 by the African Union Peace and Security Council (UA) to stabilize Somalia and officially approved by the United Nations on 20 February 2007, with Resolution 1744.

AMISOM was born technically as a Peace Support operation, i.e. support for the security apparatus of the then Somali transitional federal institutions in the fight against al-Shabaab terrorist movement. At present, over 22,000 peacekeepers from five African countries (Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia) are present at the mission. Until early 2015 there was also a contingent of 850 Sierra Leone soldiers.

Over the past decade, AMISOM has achieved remarkable success in containing the threat of the Islamic extremist movement, driving it out of its strongholds in central-southern Somalia, but has not yet managed to train Somali security forces to the point of being effectively able to counter a group of al-Shabaab's power.

Much remains to be done before reaching the full unity of a Somali security force. In addition, the Guulwade Plan (Victory Plan), launched in April 2015  from the federal Ministry of Defence for rebuilding the army, had recognized that the SNA was little more than a cluster-based militia, devoid of centralized structure and attachment to any national ideology.

Difficulties for the legitimation of the SNA beyond Mogadishu

It should also be noted that the federal structure of Somalia and the presence in the country of autonomous regions also complicate cooperation for ​​internal security issues, but above all affect significantly the legitimation of the SNA beyond the Mogadishu capital.

Without progress to find a political solution to the claims of the autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland, it is difficult to foresee how the security and legitimacy issues can be adequately resolved within the next three years.

Moreover, the organization has been able to survive the elimination of its leaders, territorial losses and internal splits. As of the first months of 2015, its offensive ability has returned to materialize in all its violence, as evidenced by the hundreds of attacks that have spread throughout Somalia and the massacres carried out in Kenya and Uganda during the same period.

All this shows that AMISOM has not had and has no power to inflict the final blow to the Somali extremists, which have in the meantime taken over control of many peripheral areas in the south and the center of the country, regaining the ability to complete lethal attacks on large scale, even against the UA military.

Not to mention that observers believe that al-Shabaab could acquire new affiliates, who would join in its ranks for revenge on US President Donald Trump's directive, which expanded the powers that allow the U.S. Department of Defense to conduct air strikes and participate to ground raids against the Somali terrorist group.

Finally, al-Shabaab could continue to exploit the deep dissatisfaction of the local population with poverty, corruption, unemployment, social exclusion, but also the government's failure to ensure primary services to the population. A series of factors that, according to a recent report by the Cape Town Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, induce Somalis to approach the jihadist group.

In such conditions, the decision of starting an exit-strategy for AMISOM would seem premature and lays the foundations for a significant escalation of the conflict and a high risk of destabilization of the entire country.

@afrofocus

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