Somalia seeks three-month delay in AU force drawdown: letter

Somalia AU troops are due to hand over full security responsibility to Somali forces by the end of next year.  By STRINGER (AFP/File)
AU troops are due to hand over full security responsibility to Somali forces by the end of next year. By STRINGER (AFP/File)

Violence-wracked Somalia is seeking a three-month delay in the planned reduction of African Union troops after suffering "several significant setbacks" in its fight against Al-Shabaab militants, according to a government letter seen by AFP.

Somalia's national security adviser wrote to the United Nations requesting a 90-day delay in the second phase of a pullout that provides for the departure of 3,000 troops by the end of September.

"The Federal Government of Somalia formally requests a technical pause in the drawdown of the 3,000 African Union Transition in Somalia (ATMIS) uniformed personnel by three months," the letter said.

A diplomatic source confirmed its authenticity and another source close to the issue also told AFP that such a request had been made.

But a source in the African Union said "the AU has not received this request", adding that the withdrawal would continue as scheduled.

Several Somali government officials contacted by AFP refused comment.

UN resolutions call for the ATMIS force to be reduced to zero by the end of next year, handing over security to the Somali army and police.

But this has proven challenging, with Islamist militants waging an insurgency for over 15 years to overthrow the fragile internationally-backed government.

AU troops first deployed in Somalia in 2007 with a six-month mandate but still remain on the ground.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in May last year vowing "all-out war" against Al-Shabaab, who were driven from Mogadishu in 2011 but control large swathes of the countryside.

Mogadishu's troops launched a major offensive against the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab in central Somalia in August last year, joining forces with local clan militias in an operation backed by the AU force and US air strikes.

Mohamud, who has recently been visiting the frontline, said in August that government would "eliminate" the jihadists by the end of the year.

'Stretched thin'

The letter said the government had "managed to re-liberate towns, villages and critical supply routes" but had suffered "several significant setbacks" since late August.

"This unforeseen turn of events has stretched our military forces thin, exposed vulnerabilities in our frontlines and necessitated a thorough reorganisation to ensure we maintain our momentum in countering the Al-Shabaab threat," the letter said.

It said a delayed pullout "will, in the long run, contribute to the enduring peace, stability and prosperity of Somalia," adding that the government remained fully committed to the complete ATMIS drawdown by the end-2024 deadline.

The letter, dated September 19, was addressed to ambassador Ferit Hoxha of Albania, the current UN Security Council president, and signed by Somalia's national security adviser Hussein Sheikh Ali.

It comes just days after ATMIS announced it had kicked off the second phase of the drawdown.

"We have witnessed developments on the battlefield where Somali Security Forces have demonstrated their increasing capability to securing the country," said Lieutenant Colonel Philippe Butoyi, the ATMIS commander of a base in the south-central state of Hirshabelle handed over on September 17.

"We have seen the forces attack, seize and hold ground," he said in a statement issued that day.

Two thousand AU troops left by the end of the first phase on June 30 and six bases were handed over to Somali forces.

ATMIS was set up in April last year and has a more offensive remit than its predecessor AMISOM, which first deployed to Somalia in 2007.

ATMIS comprised about 20,000 troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.


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