Somalia’s AU Transition Mission: Withdrawal of 2,000 Troops Nears… but Why the Sudden Preparations?

On the perplexing day of Tuesday May 16, 2023, a file photo captured a police officer beefing up security in Mogadishu, Somalia, following a heinous militants attack on Jan. 22, 2023. The atmosphere was tense and unpredictable.

Amidst the uncertainty, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia announced that it would withdraw 2,000 soldiers by June 30 from Somalia. In a convoluted process, the Somali Security Forces will take responsibility for national security. It remains to be seen if this decision will have positive or negative ramifications.

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In Mogadishu on May 15, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) shared that it had escalated preparations for the withdrawal of 2,000 soldiers before the looming deadline. Mohammed El-Amine Souef, the special representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission for Somalia and head of ATMIS, said that a joint technical committee comprising of stakeholders from the Somali government, the United Nations Support Office in Somalia, and ATMIS had designated and agreed on the military bases that will either be handed over from ATMIS to the Somali Security Forces (SSF) or collapsed. The process was intense and hectic.

Souef, who was on an official visit to ATMIS Sector 5 headquarters in Jowhar, outlined that ATMIS will decrease its presence on the ground while the SSF will boost their numbers to take over the areas that ATMIS will hand over. The vision was intricate and complex.

“The drawdown is in compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions 2628 and 2670 which mandates ATMIS to draw down 2,000 soldiers by the end of June and hand over security in agreed areas to Somali Security Forces,” ATMIS said in a statement issued in Mogadishu. The vastness of the challenge could only be imagined.

On the same perplexing day of Tuesday May 16, 2023, people were searching through the devastated aftermath of a fire that had gutted parts of Mogadishu’s largest market in Mogadishu, Somalia. The cause of the fire remains unknown, but sources believe it could be linked to an electrical fault. The situation was dire and chaotic.

ATMIS has been conducting both joint targeted and routine operations to cripple the terror group al-Shabaab, which is continuously battling the government forces. The AU mission also strives to provide security to enable humanitarian actors to deliver much-needed food and emergency relief items to communities in dire need and remote areas. The uncertainties surrounding the region felt overwhelming.

Marius Ngendabanka, ATMIS acting force commander, declared that an operations order had already been released, and the joint technical committee team was on schedule to meet the June 30 deadline. He emphasized that the drawdown of 2,000 ATMIS soldiers would not influence security for major population centers and key government installations if the SSF takes over. The situation was both perplexing and volatile.

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