Jubaland official: ATMIS withdrawal, untimely in Al-Shabaab war
KISMAYO, Somalia - The decision by the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia [ATMIS] to activate withdrawal from Somalia was wrongly advised and untimely, a senior Jubaland official has said, just moments before the country kick starts operations against Al-Shabaab in two more states within the Horn of Africa nation.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud maintained that the Somali National Army [SNA] and foreign troops will commence the final liberation of Jubaland and Southwest states, just after similar exercises in Galmadug and HirShabelle states that left over 3,000 Al-Shabaab militants dead.
But Jubaland Vice President Mohamud Sayid Aden insists that it will be difficult for Somali forces to secure areas deserted by the ATMIS troops, adding that the initiators of withdrawals should have given it time. Already, Al-Shabaab has waged an attack on Gherille Forward Operating Base, just a few days after Kenya Defence Forces [KDF] left.
“There is going to be a danger from there,” Mohamud Sayid Aden told VOA on Tuesday. “The enemy is going to get [an] advantage. The civilians who relied on the Somali and ATMIS forces will face revenge [from al-Shabab militants].”
So far, seven Forward Operating Bases have been handed over to the Somali National Army [SNA] across all fronts. The African Union intends to completely withdraw its troops from Somalia by 2024, an idea that is now facing resistance from stakeholders.
For instance, Kenya's President William Ruto told France 24 that the KDF could stay beyond the drawdown schedule in Somalia, arguing that the East African nation would not give room for the resurgence of Al-Shabaab. Ruto maintained that Al-Shabaab "should not be allowed to erode our gains".
By the end of this month, it is anticipated that 2,000 soldiers would have left the country with an additional 3,000 expected to leave by the end of September. ATMIS has enjoyed 19,000 strong forces in Somalia since 2007 with major contributors bringing Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Burundi.
“It’s a plan not well-thought out, it’s hasty,” Aden said. Aden called for the drawdown to be “paused and reviewed.”
However, Abdullahi Mohamud, a current member of parliament and former National Intelligence Security Agency [NISA] Director maintains that the exit is necessary, adding that the Somali forces have been in charge of most recent operations against Al-Shabaab.
“It’s the right time for the forces to leave,” he said. “It’s essential the national armed forces takeover responsibility of the security.”
The Al-Shabaab militants have lately increased attacks in Kenya, triggering heightened security operations and surveillance in the country, with the Chief of Defense Forces Gen. Francis Ogolla visiting troops in Somalia. The second operations phase against Al-Shabaab will involve troops from Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.
Some officials, including Aden, say al-Shabab attacks in Kenya are an indication the group wants to continue fighting inside Kenya if defeated in Somalia, VOA reports.
“Yes, they could continue the war in Kenya if they are destroyed in Somalia,” he said. “They will move to the [Boni] forest, the wetland along the coast on either side of the border. They want to keep hiding there and try to make a comeback, and attack areas seized from them, and to carry out ambushes and violence.”
The group has lost significant territories to the national army and foreign troops in recent months but it has increased tempo by attacking army bases. For instance, they recently killed over 54 Uganda People's Defense Forces [UPDF] troops serving in Sector I, triggering fresh operations by ATMIS in Lower Shabelle.