ATMIS Assesses First Phase of Troop Drawdown, Discusses Next Steps
Security forces liberated parts of central and southern Somalia and handed over six forward operating bases to Somali security forces during the first phase of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia’s (ATMIS) troop withdrawal.
During the first phase, which ended in June, 2,000 ATMIS Soldiers left the country: 400 each from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
In July, military commanders of the five contributing countries attended a four-day strategic meeting chaired by ATMIS Force Commander Lt. Gen. Sam Okiding. The meetings are held every four months.
“We discussed a wide range of issues, including the general security situation and the threats posed by al-Shabaab, and came up with resolutions to be implemented by the respective sector commanders,” Okiding said in an ATMIS news release. “We also discussed the transition in detail, mainly phase one drawdown and its impact as well as our capacity and capabilities for subsequent operations.”
Al-Shabaab attacks surged during the drawdown’s first phase. Between May 27 and June 23, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project recorded more than 200 attacks or violent incidents linked to the terrorist group in Somalia. More than 700 people died in the attacks.
Most of the violence was in the Lower Shabelle region, which surrounds Mogadishu, where al-Shabaab launched dozens of attacks against ATMIS troops.
Another 3,000 ATMIS troops are expected to withdraw by the end of September. ATMIS has until December 2024 to hand over full security responsibilities to Somalia.
“We must assess the first phase of the drawdown, its implications on security, humanitarian, the political situation and other fields, the challenges encountered, and analyze how we can effectively conduct the second phase of the drawdown,” said Maj. Gen. Marius Ngendabanka, ATMIS deputy force commander in charge of operations and plans.
By mid-August, the Somali army began clearing mines in central Galmudug State in preparation for another offensive against al-Shabaab. Troops in the Hiiraan region also successfully targeted al-Shabaab hideouts, according to the Somali Army.
Ahmed Adan, a security officer in Mogadishu, told Anadolu Agency that al-Shabaab suffered significant defeats around the country as the army thwarted numerous attacks.
“I can’t give you the exact number of terrorists killed in recent days and weeks ahead of the upcoming military offensives, but the number exceeds hundreds,” Adan said.
On August 16, troops killed a suicide bomber who tried to attack security forces outside the recently liberated town of Masagawa in eastern Galgadud State.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in mid-August said he expects the next offensive against al-Shabaab to eliminate the group in five months.
“If we do not clear them out completely, then maybe there will be few pockets with a few harmless al-Shabaab that cannot cause problems,” Mohamud said in a Reuters report.
Mohamud planned to launch the second phase of the campaign from the central town of Dhusamareb. The second phase aims to push into southern Somalia, a traditional al-Shabaab stronghold.
However, Somali army Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Sheikh Muhudin said on August 17 that he doubted that troops from Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya would participate in the second phase.
“There is a preparation before an operation; I don’t see the preparation,” Muhudin told Voice of America. “We are waiting for them, but I don’t see they can be part of what we are working on now, considering their preparation.”
A senior military leader in the Kenya Defence Forces told the publication that the country still planned to participate.