The withdrawal of the African Union peacekeeping force from Somalia has raised concerns about the country’s ability to tackle the security burden on its own.
The AU Transition Mission in Somalia has withdrawn 2,000 troops instead of the planned 5,000, which has caused panic among Somalia’s security leadership. The al-Shabaab terror group poses a continued threat to the country, and officials fear that they could overrun the country without the support of AU forces.
One region that is particularly at risk is Gedo, located near Somalia’s southern tip. If Ethiopian forces, who are currently hosted there, are pulled out, Gedo will face dramatic security challenges. The lack of resources and manpower in outlying regions like Gedo makes it difficult to organise locals and mobilise regular forces. Most resources and forces have been moved to the heartlands of the country.
Ali Yussuf Abdullahi, the regional administration’s spokesman, expressed concerns about the withdrawal of AU forces in Gedo. He stated that if the forces were to withdraw today, they would not be able to hold more than two weeks due to the lack of resources and a capable force in the region. Unlike in central areas where al-Qaeda-linked insurgents faced uprisings, in Gedo, they have opted for political pragmatism.
The security situation in Somalia is a delicate one, and the withdrawal of the AU forces adds further complications. The UN Security Council may need to consider extending the AU mandate past its December 2024 expiration date or lifting the decades-long arms embargo in order to address the security concerns in the country. The threat posed by the al-Shabaab terror group is significant, and without proper support, Somalia may struggle to tackle this burden on its own.
Abdullahi expressed his concerns by stating that the situation at hand resembles that of al-Shabaab. However, these concerns have not been alleviated.
Mohamed Abdi Tool, the governor of neighbouring Bakool, informed Who Owns Africa that Somalia does not have enough troops to independently combat the threat, similar to the circumstances in 2007 when AU troops were initially mandated.
Experts believe that Somalia would face significant challenges if it were to take over from the peacekeepers at this time, considering the wide range of responsibilities they currently undertake.
Omar Mahmood, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Eastern Africa, stated that Somalia is in the process of building its army, fighting al-Shabaab, securing areas, and expanding its activities. Mogadishu is now seeking to delay the drawdown by three months in order to address these issues.
While this additional time may assist Somalia in resolving these matters, Mahmood cautioned that challenges will still persist even after the delay.
He emphasised that the legacy of the peacekeeping force will also be defined by these circumstances, highlighting the significant achievements made by the AU mission in Somalia over the past 16 years.
Mohamed Husein Gaas, the director of the Raad Peace Research Institute in Mogadishu, stated that since 2007, Somalia has made substantial progress in strengthening its security forces to eventually replace the AU mission.
However, Gaas acknowledged that this task is complex and ongoing, requiring substantial international support in terms of capacity building, training, and equipping. He also suggested that lifting the arms embargo on Somalia would facilitate this process.
In addition to expanding the size and capabilities of the Somali forces, a successful transition from the AU mission will necessitate continued support for the national army, meticulous planning for a smooth transfer of responsibilities, and a revitalization of the peacekeeping force until then.
The AU force has made significant progress in countering al-Shabaab, including their removal from major urban areas. However, in recent years, there have been limited offensive actions taken against them. It is crucial to maintain a balanced approach, where Somalia takes responsibility for its security while also benefiting from international assistance and capacity-building efforts. In order to effectively combat the terror threat and achieve lasting peace and security, a renewed and proactive approach is necessary.
It would be considered an epic failure for AU peacekeeping efforts in Africa if a withdrawal were to occur at this time, disregarding the sacrifices made by thousands of soldiers. The decision to halt the withdrawal has already been made by the mission and African peace and security leadership, but it ultimately depends on the AU and other countries to provide the necessary financial support to Somalia. Somalia requires a fraction of the funding given to Ukraine by the US and EU in order to defeat al-Shabaab. It is important for the UN Security Council to recognize that Somalia is fighting a global terror organisation on behalf of the world.
To sustain the progress made in the war against al-Shabaab, the arms embargo on Somalia should be gradually lifted to allow the federal government to acquire the necessary military capabilities to defeat the group. While achieving a complete defeat of al-Shabaab during President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s current term may be ambitious, it is still achievable. The country is on the verge of a critical opportunity to fully eliminate the group, with recent unprecedented territorial gains against them. To achieve final victory, a comprehensive, well-coordinated, long-term approach is needed, encompassing stabilisation, service delivery, rebuilding, and reconciliation.