In a joint request, five East African nations – Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, Djibouti, and Uganda – have asked the United Nations Security Council to postpone the withdrawal of about 3,000 peacekeepers from Somalia for a period of 90 days. These peacekeepers are part of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS).
The nations have expressed concerns about the current situation, especially in areas where the peacekeeping bases are being handed over to the Somali National Army or set to be closed. They also worry about the potential risks associated with the planned troop withdrawal by the end of September.
Somalia had previously raised similar concerns with the Security Council. However, the African Union’s endorsement of the delay request is uncertain, and experts believe it may play a crucial role in determining the outcome. ATMIS being an African Union mission, the Security Council may consider the AU’s stance in its decision.
The Somali government had earlier assured the international community of its readiness to take over security responsibilities from ATMIS. The current situation raises questions among international partners as to why these challenges were not identified or acknowledged earlier by the Somali federal government.
Security Council Resolution 2687, passed earlier this year, had outlined the withdrawal of ATMIS troops from Somalia, with a complete withdrawal scheduled by the end of 2024, aligning with ATMIS’s two-year mandate that began in April 2022.
Security experts believe that the Security Council faces a delicate balancing act between considering Somalia’s request due to the ground realities, such as the resurgence of al-Shabab and the unpreparedness of Somali forces, and avoiding a prolonged presence of African Union troops in Somalia.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is currently leading an offensive against al-Shabab in central Somalia, with plans to expand operations to the southern parts of the country during the second phase. However, this phase could encounter additional challenges due to reduced AU troop numbers and challenging terrain.