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Inconsistencies are costing the AU Mission in Somalia

Inconsistencies are costing the AU Mission in Somalia
Troops of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) and the Somali National Army (SNA) at the Xaaji Cali Forward Operating Base in Hirshabelle State on 20 June 2023. (Photo: © Atmis / Mukhtar Nuur)

The country’s plea for an AU troop drawdown pause exposes security doubts and raises concerns for regional stability.

In September, a call was made for a technical pause to the African troop drawdown from Somalia, following the initial withdrawal of 2,000 troops in June. The country’s national security adviser, Hussein Sheikh Ali, put the request for a pause to the UN Security Council (UNSC), citing continued terror attacks in the country’s south-central regions. 

In May, 54 Ugandan peacekeepers from the African Union (AU) Transitional Mission in Somalia (Atmis) were killed. In July, 30 Somali forces soldiers died in a Mogadishu military academy suicide attack. The failure of the Somali National Army and Atmis to retain key villages in the south prompted the call for a pause.

Somalia’s government approached the UNSC without consulting the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC). Despite Atmis being a UN-authorised and mandated mission, it is an AU-led mission with command and control from five African troop-contributing countries. The move questions Somalia’s regard for the PSC’s role in Atmis decision-making. Some regard it as a snub.

However, PSC insiders say only a few members raised the issue during discussions. The PSC in fact strongly supported Somalia’s bid in its 1,177th meeting communiqué, endorsing the technical pause.

This PSC decision in turn raised several concerns. Chief among these was the council’s ability to impose itself as a pivotal and respected actor in managing African peace and security. Second, it exposed a lack of coordination and cohesion on the drawdown among PSC members, especially as some troop-contributing countries also had already supported Somalia without first tabling the extension at the PSC. 

Such a move by troop-contributing countries and members of the council reflected a longstanding dismissal of the PSC and its role by member states. States have often opted to pursue their interests over the PSC’s preference, indicating diverging positions among the AU Commission, troop-contributing countries, the PSC and the Somali government. This raises concern about the future of peace support operations in the country and region. 

The Atmis drawdown is planned in four phases, with a full mission handover to Somali security forces in December 2024. However, two extensions threaten the timeline’s achievement. In the initial phase, the Somali government sought a review of Atmis operational timelines, leading to a technical pause for the drawdown of 2,000 troops from December 2022 to June 2023. 

The drawdown according to set timelines will reverse gains of recent years, with detrimental implications for Somalia and the broader Horn of Africa.

The PSC supported this while reconfirming the commitment to maintain the 2024 exit date. Despite authorising the reconfiguration of the AU Mission to Somalia into Atmis, the council continues to support delays of the mission’s withdrawal, pointing to several issues. 

The PSC supported technical pauses while acknowledging the financial limitations to sustain the extension. By April, the financial deficit of Atmis was about $10.6-million due to the first technical pause in the mission’s drawdown. Communiqué 1,177 noted the financial shortfalls that could impede the technical pause. The AU failed to financially support the first extension despite committing to it. 

Inadequate finance, exacerbated by the second extension request, prompted the AU to allocate $2-million from its Peace Fund to Atmis. These challenges and a failure to commit authoritatively to decisions may have led to the sidelining of the PSC by Somali authorities, revealing inconsistencies in PSC interventions and ongoing fragmentations among its members.

The funding challenges indicate rising tensions on Atmis between the PSC and the AU Commission (AUC). The council continues to direct the AUC to mobilise resources for the requested extension, acknowledging the regional and continental funding shortfalls in peace support operations. UN approval for the extensions partly depends on the agreement that delays are on a no-cost basis, relieving the UN from financial responsibility to troop-contributing countries during that period. 

Nevertheless, the PSC has asked the AUC to secure funds for the Somali government and AU member states. It’s been directed to liaise with African UNSC members to finalise the draft resolution on financing AU-led operations and access to the UN-assessed contributions. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: UN Security Council due to vote on lifting arms embargo on Somalia

The Somali request reveals a lack of confidence that its army can provide stabilisation. Atmis forces have staged various capacity-building initiatives to enable the military to assume full responsibility for the country’s safety and security. However, repeated extensions of the mission’s mandate and revision of the operational timeline for the initial 2,000 troop drawdown reinforce this scepticism. 

Atmis commander Lieutenant-Colonel Philippe Butoyi says the army demonstrated increasing capability to secure the country. However, the government’s acknowledgement of several setbacks in the fight against al-Shabaab casts doubt over its readiness to take over this security role. 

The mission should draw down only if the military meets its requirement to generate force in numbers and capacity to sustain troops to degrade al-Shabaab.

Ongoing al-Shabaab offensives against the Somali army and police, coupled with forces’ retreat from areas previously captured, exposed vulnerabilities in the military’s capabilities. Insufficient funding and al-Shabaab’s relative strength has left Atmis forces strategically overstretched and hindered by limited equipment, such as helicopters, for decisive operations.

Nevertheless, Atmis continues to degrade al-Shabaab through joint targeted and routine operations. It also secures population centres, key government institutions, major supply routes, seaports, airports and airfields. It ensures safety for delivering humanitarian aid to remote areas and communities in need. 

Despite challenges, the extended mission gives the Somali government optimism about the security of key government installations and major populations. It will allow the government to implement the Somali transitional plan while continuously reassessing and reevaluating Atmis’s exit. 

Support for the army through firepower and training, among others, is insufficient to necessitate a drawdown in December 2024. The mission should draw down only if the military meets its requirement to generate force in numbers and capacity to sustain troops to degrade al-Shabaab. The AU should also facilitate the role of neighbouring countries in this.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Too much, too fast? Somalia joins the East African Community

Short of this, the drawdown according to set timelines will reverse gains of recent years, with detrimental implications for Somalia and the broader Horn of Africa. It will also cast continued doubt over the AU’s role in managing peace and security in Africa.

To prevent future sidelining and bolster its position, the AU must call out such attempts to diminish its role and project capacity in addressing peace and security concerns. It should also enhance its ability to address emerging weaknesses and avoid perpetuating inconsistencies in decisions, particularly in obvious situations such as Somali’s request. This necessitates closer cooperation among the Somali government, troop-contributing countries, the AU and other partners. DM

Maram Mahdi, Moussa Soumahoro and Hubert Kinkoh are researchers in Africa Peace and Security Governance at the Institute for Security Studies, Addis Ababa.

This article was first published in the ISS’ PSC Report.

First published by ISS Today


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