Five East African countries, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, Djibouti, and Uganda, have jointly asked the United Nations Security Council for a 90-day postponement in reducing the number of peacekeepers stationed in Somalia. These peacekeepers are part of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS).
The nations expressed their concerns in a letter to the Security Council, citing a recent technical assessment that highlighted a delicate situation, especially in areas where bases are being transferred to the Somali National Army or set to close. The assessment also raised worries about the scheduled departure of the troops by the end of September.
Somalia had previously raised similar concerns in its direct appeal to the Security Council earlier in the month.
Matt Bryden, Chairman of Sahan Research, a policy and security think tank in Kenya, pointed out that the African Union’s stance might be a significant factor in this situation. He mentioned that without the African Union’s endorsement of the delay request, which is an African Union mission, the UN Security Council is unlikely to disregard the African Union’s wishes.
Bryden also noted that the Security Council might be hesitant to grant Somalia’s request because, until recently, the Somali government had assured the international community of its readiness to take over security responsibilities from ATMIS.
Earlier this year, Security Council Resolution 2687 had mandated the withdrawal of ATMIS troops from Somalia, with a complete withdrawal expected by the end of 2024. This was in line with ATMIS’s two-year mandate, which began in April 2022.
Abdirizak Hussein Issack, a security expert at Hamid Bin Khalifa Civilization Center, emphasized that the Security Council faces a delicate decision between withdrawal and delay. On one hand, considering Somalia’s request is crucial due to the challenges on the ground, including the resurgence of al-Shabab and the insufficient preparedness of Somali forces. However, a delay could also result in an extended stay of African Union troops in Somalia, potentially leading to complacency.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has been leading an offensive against al-Shabab in central Somalia since August, and the federal government plans to extend the operation to the southern regions. Analysts predict that this next phase may encounter additional challenges due to reduced AU troop numbers and the challenging terrain.