Regional leaders agree on final push for joint operations in Somalia

Regional leaders have agreed to make the final push for joint operations in the areas that remain under terrorists to completely liberate the whole of Somalia from Al-Shabaab. The meeting, hosted by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, also looked at a coordinated military offensive against the Al-Qaeda-linked group, which has been waging an insurgency in the troubled Horn of Africa nation for more than 15 years.

“The problem of Burundi was solved by East Africa. So this problem, the way we discussed today, I am sure we can solve it,” noted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at a press conference immediately after the heads of state deliberations on Somalia had concluded.

Contributing countries have appealed for increased financial support to address the funding gaps for ATMIS and the Somali Security Forces to fully ensure that they are capable of undertaking their duties of securing Somalia.

One of the major setbacks for the mission, according to technocrats who held a prior meeting Wednesday, is the lifting of the arms embargo on Somalia, which was essential for the sustenance of security gains.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh, while reiterating his administration’s mission to stamp out the threat of terror from the Al-Shabaab group that has its tentacles in central Somalia, has thanked the African Union for its efforts.

“Somalia is yet to finish the tasks as a post-conflict country, but with your systemic support for the last one and a half decades, Somalia is turning around, and I’ll decide to take full responsibility of its security, but still, we are requesting and have requested your continued support until the end when Somalia has freed itself of insecurity, which we are all definitely sure and committed to seeing happen,” stated President Sheikh.

The ATMIS mission, which replaced the flagship peacekeeping mission in Somalia AMISOM, had its mandate set to expire in December 2024, with the United Nations Security Council pushing a troop drawdown from December 2022 to June 2023.

Aden Duale, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Defence, cautioned that the ATMIS drawdown should ensure proportionate force balance for the maintenance of security, not only for Somalia but the entire region.

“The regional and indeed the global security landscape continue to evolve rapidly each time, presenting new trends and challenges. It is our responsibility therefore to ensure peace, security, and stability within our region to achieve the much-desired economic prosperity,” noted Duale.

The terror threat posed by Al-Shabaab has on many occasions threatened to negate the major and minor gains the Horn of Africa state has made over time with attacks in the capital Mogadishu as well as in other regions.

Government forces have been gaining ground against the militants since August after launching the most significant Somali-led campaign against Al-Shabaab since the jihadis began their terror campaign 15 years ago.

Territorial gains, mostly in central Somalia, have been backed by a financial crackdown that has led to the freezing of hundreds of bank and mobile money accounts holding a “couple of million dollars” combined, and a drive to convince Somali clerics to condemn Al-Shabaab as “anti-Islamic.”

The holy month of Ramadan that ran between March and April 2023 received very few reports of Al-Shabaab attacks in that country, compared to other years when the terror group executed attacks on civilian and military installations in the month of prayer, fasting, and self-reflection.

In the 2020 fasting season, the group had threatened to execute attacks in that country during the fasting period, as it had done in previous years. In 2014, Al Shabab militants claimed responsibility for a blast that killed two people near the Somali parliament building, after threatening to step up attacks during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Regarding military peace efforts in Somalia, Defense and Foreign Affairs ministers from countries contributing troops to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) and its partners have called for a deliberate and coordinated exit of African Union troops from Somalia to avoid negating the security gains made. During the meeting, which preceded the heads of state meeting on Thursday, panelists noted the need to conduct a joint assessment of the security situation, planning, and coordination as TCCs (Troop Contributing Countries) to execute drawdown timelines, and for the Federal Government of Somalia to ensure force generation and integration to assume the security responsibilities.

The Director of the Conflict Management Directorate of the African Union Political Affairs, Peace, and Security Department, Alhaji Sarjoh Bah, stated that the African Union remains committed to the effective implementation of the drawdown plan within the spirit and context of the PSC (Peace and Security Council) and Security Council resolutions. “However, for this to happen, it is critical to ensure that we are coordinated, in order to guarantee that there are no risks to the protection of civilians, and it is important that there is consensus among the TCCs,” said Alhaji Sarjoh Bah.

The African Union has also sought to reiterate Somalia’s call for a complete lifting of the arms embargo, as it acknowledged Somalia’s continued push to make progress on decisive benchmarks outlined in Security Council Resolution 2662. The UN agency UNSOS has pledged its support to facilitate the transition process and called on the international community to ensure sustainable logistics support to the Somali Security Forces as ATMIS draws down.

Regional leaders have asked the international community to increase support for the development of a Somali logistics capability that is sufficient, affordable, and sustainable. This would involve additional and advanced capacities for the Somali Security Forces in various aspects of logistics, including procurement, warehouse management, aviation, firefighting, and medical delivery.

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