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The Somali government has requested a revised timeline for the withdrawal of troops from the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS). In a letter dated May 16, 2024, Mogadishu officials expressed concerns that a rapid pullout could create a security vacuum potentially exploitable by the extremist group Al-Shabaab.

The letter, addressed to the African Union, emphasized the need for a phased withdrawal.

Hassan Sheikh Mohammad’s government wants to see a delay in the initial plan to withdraw 4,000 peacekeeping troops by the end of this month. It is in contrast to previous statements from Mogadishu, which have been largely in favor of withdrawal.

Recent developments concerning the terrorist group have forced Somali officials to reconsider the decision and lodge for postponement, proposing to cut the number of troops to withdraw by the end of June in half to 2,000. They want to see the remaining 2,000 troops remain in place until September.

They argue this will enable Somali security forces to have adequate time to stabilize and secure areas currently under ATMIS control, thereby mitigating the risk of increased militant activity.

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A well positioned official at IGAD confirmed the latest request from Mogadishu to The Reporter.

“The Somali government requested the AU to delay the withdrawal. The Americans also have similar interests – that ATMIS should stay. There is fear that the terrorist group might overtake the government if a major security gap is created because of the withdrawal. Al-Shabaab is currently collaborating with the Houthi forces. This gives Al-Shabaab more leverage and creates more havoc,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official confirmed that Ethiopian peacekeeping troops will be staying, despite Somali government officials recently pushing for their withdrawal.

The Somali government’s request underscores the delicate balance between maintaining security and achieving self-reliance in national defense. Al-Shabaab has been a persistent threat in the region, and the stability provided by ATMIS troops has been a crucial component in countering their influence.

However, on June 20, 2024, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) transferred control of the Jowhar Town Forward Operating Base (FOB) to the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF). The Burundi National Defence Forces (BNDF) had managed the Jowhar Town FOB since 2014.

The FOB, encompassing the Horseed, Parliament, and State House military bases, functions as a security buffer to protect the Hirshabelle State Presidential Palace, Parliament, and the surrounding community.

“This handover signifies progress and Somalia’s dedication to rebuilding their nation. We rely on you to protect the population, maintain peace and security in your areas, and preserve the hard-won gains,” said ATMIS Sector Five Commander Col. Oscar Hatugimana during the handover ceremony. “We have complete confidence in our Somali counterparts. Their successful operations in attacking, seizing, and holding ground send a clear message to terrorist groups that their time is limited. A professionally trained and well-equipped SNAF is indeed pivotal in the fight against terrorism in Somalia.”

The Jowhar Town FOB is the second base to be handed over during Phase Three of the troop drawdown.

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, a peacekeeping force, plans to withdraw by December 31, after which a smaller new force is expected to take over.

Reports indicate that with 5,000 of the approximately 18,500 troops having left last year, both the US and EU have jointly contributed USD 5.3 billion to support the peacekeeping troops combating Al-Shabab.

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