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Multinational force to take over Somalia security mission from African Union


Hasan-Kafi Mohamed
Tuesday February 20, 2024

A leaner multinational force will replace the current African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Somalia by the end of the year, National Security Adviser Hussein Sheikh-Ali told The National.

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) is expected to wind up its operations on December 31, ending the presence of the AU force in Somalia 17 years after it was deployed to help drive the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab militant group out of the capital, Mogadishu, and to support the internationally recognised federal government.

The AU force is operating under a UN mandate to counter a resurgence of Al Shabab and to train Somali security forces.

The deployment of a multinational force in its stead is likely to face a backlash from some Somalis, who were hoping to see the country’s own armed forces take over. However, while the multinational force will be smaller than Atmis, it will be considerably better equipped than the Somali army, and therefore a stronger option for combating Al Shabab than local security forces.

The new force will secure key government and diplomatic installations in the country, according to Mr Sheikh-Ali, who has been leading Somalia’s negotiations on the transition from Atmis.

Talks on the issue were also held before the African Union’s heads of state summit, which was held at its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa over the weekend and was attended by Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

“Discussions are already ongoing at AU headquarters, UN headquarters and Mogadishu on this new multinational force between the Federal Government of Somalia, AU, UN and donor partners,” Mr Sheikh-Ali told The National by telephone.

The talks focused on the mandate and strength of the new force, he said.

“The mandate of the new forces will be to protect key government infrastructure within Somalia and the logistics hubs of the Somalia Security Forces as well as areas where foreign diplomatic missions, UN agencies and international humanitarian organisations are located,” the security adviser said.

“We estimate the new multinational forces to be around 3,000 to 8,000 and they will closely work with an equal number of Somali forces who will co-locate with them to eventually take over Somalia’s security responsibilities from them after 12 months,” he said, referring to plans for Somali forces to embed with the multinational coalition.

The role of the mission will be reassessed after 12 months, with an option for an extension depending on the security situation in the country, he explained.

The strength of the current AU mission has dropped over the years from 22,000 at its outset to 14,262 currently, with another 4,000 personnel expected to leave in June. They operate in Mogadishu and across much of southern Somalia.

Its members come from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Mr Sheikh-Ali did not say whether the new multinational force would draw from members of the Atmis forces already in Somalia.

Al Shabab threat
Although the AU peacekeepers have been credited with preventing Somali forces from being overrun by Al Shabab, the militants continue to cause heavy civilian and military casualties with hit-and-run guerrilla attacks.

Somali government forces are currently engaged in active combat against Al Shabab in south and central Somalia.

Al Shabab’s preferred methods of attack are suicide bombings and car bombings that have often claimed many civilian lives, particularly in Mogadishu.

Last week the group fired several mortar rounds at the Ministry of Defence, with some landing within the compound. Police said one of the mortar rounds hit a house, killing one person and injuring 11 others from the same family.

Al Shabab also regularly attacks Somali military and Atmis bases.

Last month, the militants seized an outpost from government forces in the village of Caad in Mudug region of central Somalia, with many casualties reported on both sides.

President Mohamud declared all-out war on Al Shabab after his re-election in May 2022, describing them as Somalia’s public enemy number one. He launched a three-pronged offensive to counter the group militarily, financially and ideologically.

Since then, government forces have taken the war to Al Shabab. However, security analysts say the militants are now avoiding direct clashes with state forces and instead resorting to hit-and-run attacks, which allow them to strike at a time and location of their choosing.

It is civilians, either killed or maimed, who have been the main victims of Al Shabab’s raids, bombings and mortar fire over nearly two decades.

“We are worried. Whether the Atmis peacekeepers leave or a new foreign force replaces them, the question many Somalis ask is, can Al Shabab really be defeated? That is the million-dollar question that needs actions more than answers,” Abdi Ali, a shopkeeper in Mogadishu, told The National.

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