In a decisive move on Thursday, November 9th, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) announced a three-month suspension of the African Union (AU) troop withdrawal from Somalia. This strategic decision, a response to Somalia’s urgent appeal supported by the AU and troop-contributing countries, is aimed at bolstering the ongoing battle against the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Shabab extremists.
The UNSC’s resolution marks a significant pivot in the international approach to the protracted conflict in Somalia. Al-Shabab, notorious for its brutal attacks and stringent taxation policies, especially amid Somalia’s worst drought in history, continues to exert control over vast rural areas in central and southern Somalia. The group’s relentless pursuit to establish an Islamic state has been a persistent threat, exploiting clan divisions and causing widespread turmoil.
Under the leadership of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who assumed office in May 2022, Somalia’s government has prioritized the fight against al-Shabab. The federal troops, in collaboration with local militias, AU forces, and United States drone strikes, have made significant inroads in reclaiming territories once under the extremist group’s control. However, the resilience of al-Shabab is evident in its continued attacks within Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu, and extending to neighboring countries like Kenya, where its fighters have targeted civilians and security officers in border towns.
The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), which replaced the 15-year-long African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), was initially set to commence its phased withdrawal last June. The UNSC’s latest resolution, however, delays this plan, acknowledging the critical role of the 19,000-strong AU force in stabilizing the region and supporting Somalia’s peacebuilding efforts.
This suspension of the withdrawal reflects the complexities of the situation in Somalia, where a combination of severe drought and al-Shabab’s activities has pushed local communities to the brink. The international community’s decision to delay the withdrawal underscores the challenges faced in ensuring a stable and secure Somalia, capable of managing its security by the end of 2024, as envisioned in the ATMIS mandate.