Inconsistencies costing the AU Mission in Somalia

Somalia's plea for AU troop drawdown pause exposes security doubts and raises concerns for regional stability.

Shortly before the requested drawdown of 3 000 African troops from Somalia on 30 September 2023, a call was made for a technical pause of the process. This was put to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by the country’s national security adviser, Hussein Sheikh Ali, on behalf of the government. The request came amid continued attacks by the Islamist group in the south-central parts of the country.

In May 2023, 54 Ugandan peacekeepers from the African Union (AU) Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) were killed. In July, 30 Somali forces soldiers were killed in a suicide attack on a military academy in Mogadishu. The recent failure of the Somali National Army (SNA) and ATMIS to hold key villages in the south prompted the call for a pause.

Sidelining the AU

However, the Somalian government approached the UNSC directly without consulting the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC). Although ATMIS is a UN-authorised and -mandated mission, it is an AU-led mission with command and control from five African troop-contributing countries (TCCs). The move raised major questions about Somalia’s regard for the PSC’s role in ATMIS decision-making and constituted what some perceived as a snub.

Despite the meaning of Somalia’s approach, however, PSC insiders indicated that only a few members raised the issue about the request during deliberations. In communiqué 1177, therefore, the PSC strongly supported Somalia’s bid.

Somali’s government sidelined the Peace and Security Council in its request to pause troop drawdown

The Council’s move, in turn, raised several concerns. Chief among these was its ability to impose itself as a pivotal and respected actor for managing peace and security on the continent. Secondly, it revealed a lack of coordination and cohesion on the drawdown among PSC members, especially as some TCCs that are also members had already supported Somalia without recourse to the Council.

Such a move by TCCs and members of the Council reflected a longstanding dismissal of the organ and its role by member states. On several occasions, states have opted for pursuing their own interests rather than the PSC’s preference. It also pointed to diverging positions among the AU Commission, TCCs, PSC and Somali government with worrying implications for the future of peace support operations in the country and region.

PSC inconsistencies

The drawdown of ATMIS is expected to occur over four phases, with a complete handover of the mission to the Somali security forces in December 2024. However, two extensions threaten the achievement of the timeline. During the first phase, the Somali government requested a review of the ATMIS operational timelines and a technical pause for the drawdown of 2 000 troops from December 2022 to June 2023.

The PSC supported this while reconfirming the commitment to maintain the 2024 exit date. Despite authorising the reconfiguration of the AU Mission to Somalia into ATMIS, the Council continues to support delays of the mission’s withdrawal, pointing to several issues.

ATMIS handover to Somalian forces is set for December ‘24, but extensions jeopardise its achievement

The PSC supported technical pauses while acknowledging the financial limitations to sustain the extension. As of April 2023, the financial deficit of ATMIS was about US$10.6 million due to the first technical pause in the mission’s drawdown. Communiqué 1177 noted the financial shortfalls that could impede the application of the technical pause. The AU failed to financially support the first extension of ATMIS despite committing to it.

Inadequate finance, exacerbated with the second extension request, has expedited the AU’s decision to use its peace fund to allocate US$2 million to ATMIS. These challenges and a failure to commit authoritatively to decisions made may have resulted in the sidelining by Somali authorities. This is symptomatic of the numerous inconsistencies in PSC interventions and persisting fragmentations among its members.

The funding challenges also indicate rising tensions on ATMIS between the PSC and the AU Commission (AUC). The Council continues to direct the AUC to mobilise resources for the requested extension in full recognition of the regional and continental funding shortfalls in peace support operations. The UN’s approval for the extensions partly depends on the delays being agreed to on a no-cost basis, meaning that the UN is not financially responsible to TCCs during that period.

Nonetheless, the PSC has asked the AUC to secure resources from the Somali government and AU member states. It has been directed to liaise with African UNSC members to finalise the draft resolution on financing AU-led operations and access to the UN-assessed contributions.  

An improbable drawdown?

The Somali government’s request demonstrates a lack of confidence that the Somali National Army (SNA) can provide stabilisation. ATMIS forces have staged various capacity-building initiatives to enable the SNA to assume full responsibility for the country’s safety and security. However, repeated extensions of the mission’s mandate and revision of the operational timeline for the first phase of the drawdown of 2 000 troops reinforce this logic.

The mission should draw down only if the SNA meets its requirement to generate force in numbers and capacity to sustain troops to degrade al-Shabaab

ATMIS commander Lieutenant Colonel Philippe Butoyi maintains that the SNA demonstrated increasing capability to secure the country. However, the Somali government’s acknowledgement of several significant setbacks in the fight against al-Shabaab casts doubts over the SNA’s readiness to take over this security role from ATMIS.

Continued al-Shabaab offensives against the Somali army and police and the forces’ subsequent retreat from areas they had captured from the jihadists have exposed vulnerabilities in the military’s capabilities. Given insufficient funding and al-Shabaab’s relative strength, ATMIS forces are also overstretched strategically and hindered by limited equipment, such as helicopters, for decisive operations.

Nevertheless, ATMIS continues to degrade al-Shabaab through joint targeted and routine operations. The regional force also provides security to population centres, key government institutions such as presidential palaces and parliaments, major supply routes, seaports, airports and airfields. It also ensures safety for the delivery of humanitarian aid to remote areas and communities in need.

Despite challenges, the mission’s extended stay gives the Somali government optimism about the security of key government installations and major populations. It will allow the government to implement the Somali transitional plan while continuously reassessing and reevaluating the exit of ATMIS.

Support for the SNA through firepower and training, among others, is insufficient to necessitate a drawdown in December 2024. The mission should draw down only if the SNA meets its requirement to generate force in numbers and capacity to sustain troops to degrade al-Shabaab. The AU should also facilitate the role of neighbouring countries in this endeavour.

Short of this, the drawdown according to set timelines will reverse gains of recent years with detrimental implications for Somalia and the broader Horn of Africa. It will also cast continued doubt over the AU’s role in managing peace and security on the continent.

To avoid such sidelining in the future and strengthen its position, the AU must call out such an apparent attempt to diminish its role and project capacity in addressing peace and security concerns. In addition, it should enhance its ability to address emerging weaknesses and avoid perpetuating inconsistencies in its decisions, particularly in obvious situations such as Somalia's request. This necessitates closer cooperation among the Somali government, TTCs, the AU and other partners.

Image: ATMIS/Flickr

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