AMISOM is Leaving. What that means for Somalia
If it’s current timetable isn’t revised, by December 2020, all AMISOM combat troops are scheduled to withdraw from all of Somalia’s cities, towns, and villages that they’ve liberated from the al-Shabaab terrorist organization. The troops have been in Somalia for over a decade to support the Federal Government of Somalia against radical elements of al-Shabaab, who continue their insurgency against the Federal Government of Somalia’s institutional and military’s presence in Somalia.
AMISOM, comprised of troops drawn from Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Burundi, is deployed in six sectors covering south and central Somalia through funding support by the EU and UN. The troops alongside the Somali National Army remain the main source of protection for the government as they patrol major roads connecting the Somali capital to the regions and have managed to liberate significant cities such as Mogadishu, Kisimayo, Beletweyne and Baidoa.
The AU mission though it didn’t fully achieve and pacify the country as required and expected, deserves credit for creating and enabling an environment for the Somali government to re-organize and prioritize its resources and establish a national army to build on the current progress in liberating the remaining areas still controlled by al-Shabaab.
The AMISOM troop drawdown has already been felt in different parts of Somalia although the Special Representative of the African Union chairperson for Somalia, Francisco Madeira, stated that transition must be gradual, conditions-based, responsible and done in a manner that will not compromise the safety and security of the Somali people.
Besides their military operations against the al -Shabaab group, the AMISOM troops have been training and equipping the Somali National Army (SNA) with the objective of gradually handing over security duties in liberated areas to the SNA. After close to 18 months of successful operations that uprooted al-Shabaab’s control on major cities, by mid-2013 the offensives by AMISOM and SNA came to a halt. Neither AMISOM nor the Somali army had the capacity to push beyond areas already recovered. Their hold on the existing territory would be tenuous if the current status quo continued.
In recent years, a range of external actors have played a role in training the SNA. These foreign actors include the European Union, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. and a private security company, Bancroft Global. Although their help has been valuable, the lack of consistency and proper coordination of training was a challenge to the SNA. The Somali military significantly lacks proper equipment that coordinated training would achieve. The Somalis need military discipline, national ownership and patriotism to liberate their country from extremists.
As currently constituted, the SNA is more of a collection of regional clan militias more than a unified national force that can take over security tasks from AMISOM.
Somalia’s stability primarily relies on its own military and police forces to secure their own territory. That prospect, however, seemed a long way off until recently the Turkish government opened a $50 million military training facility in Mogadishu capable of accommodating the training of 1,500 forces at the same time with the presence of more than 200 Turkish military trainers which hopes to help in the reconstruction of a strong Somali national force that can tackle the threat of Al-Shabaab after the Withdrawal of AMISOM forces.
Somalia, as a country, is still under a partial U.N. arms embargo that prevents it from importing heavy weaponry while allowing it to import light weapons for its security forces. This embargo hinders the government from achieving self-sufficiency in terms of military offensives.
Though, troops primarily focused on liberating major cities and headquarters of regional administrations, the Al Shabaab extremists were taking advantage of the relative freedom they had in the vast Somali countryside to regroup, plan and execute attacks against civilians in cities within the country and in regions. The group has recently demonstrated its ability to conduct numerous complex raids against hard AMISOM targets, causing significant casualties. Its ability to conduct mass-casualty spectacular attacks in Mogadishu and sustained small-arms attacks against Somali government and security officials is yet to be contained. The recent bloody bombings in Mogadishu which injured and claimed the lives of more than 400 people is an indicator that the extremist group is still active and capable of re-emerging in the event that a military vacuum occurs.
The failure of AMISOM and Somali National Army to pursue al-Shabaab into the hinterlands because of force size constraints or probably, lack of political will provided al-Shabaab access to financial resources, recruitment and training of new foot soldiers, and a space to operate relatively freely outside of major populated centers.
Al-Shabaab has exploited shifts in the AMISOM force posture to prepare for its counteroffensive. When AMISOM (Ethiopian contingents) pulled back in early 2017, al-Shabaab militants immediately reentered the towns of Burduhule, Rabdhure, Garasweyne, and Tiyeglow in the Bakool region; Eli Ali, Halgan, and Moqokori in the Hiraan region; Bud and Gal’ad in the Galgudud region; and Adan Yabal in the Middle Shabelle region. The ease with which al-Shabaab flipped the towns shows that it had retained a presence nearby and that other territories could be as susceptible to re-conquest.
With the presence of AMISOM forces, al-Shabaab’s disastrous presence has not been isolated to Somalia only, the group has expanded its area of operations into northern and coastal Kenya and demonstrated its capability to hit targets outside Somalia citing the 2010 Kampala bombings, devastating attacks on the Westgate Mall and Garissa University in 2013 and 2015. It is poised to exploit the regional religious and security conditions.
Who knows what will happen over the next 25 months as AMISOM troops steadily withdraw lowering their profile to the vanishing point. Somalia might revisit its anarchic history, or President Farmajo might manage to clench and walk the talk on the offensives designed to wipe out Al- Shabaab before the last batch of AMISOM troops withdraw from the country.