BY OMAR FARUK
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The second phase of the African Union troop withdrawal from Somalia has started, the bloc said Monday. The pullout follows a timeline for the handover of security to the country’s authorities, which are fighting al-Qaida’s affiliate in East Africa — the Somalia-based al-Shabab.
Last year, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a new African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, known as ATMIS, to support the Somalis until their forces take full responsibility for the country’s security at the end of 2024.
The mission is targeting to pull out at least 3,000 more troops by the end of the month, out of the originally 19,626-strong AU force. In the first phase, some 2,000 AU troops drawn from various member states left Somalia in June, handing over six forward operating bases.
On Sunday, the Burundian contingent handed over the Biyo Adde forward operating base in the south-central Hirshabelle state, near the capital of Mogadishu, to the Somali national army. Commander Lt. Col. Philip Butoyi commended the progress made by the Somali forces.
“We have witnessed developments on the battlefield where Somali Security Forces have demonstrated their increasing capability to secure the country. We have seen the forces attack, seize, and hold ground,” the mission quoted Butoyi as saying.
Somali army Maj. Muhudiin Ahmed, thanked the Burundian troops for putting their “lives on the line and shed blood to defend our land against the enemy”.
Under a U.N resolution, the pullout will occur in three phases and completed by December 2024.
Somalia’s government last year launched “total war” on the al-Qaida-linked terror group al-Shabab, which controls parts of rural central and southern Somalia and makes millions of dollars through “taxation” of residents and extortion of businesses.
Al-Shahab has for more than a decade carried out devastating attacks while exploiting clan divisions and extorting millions of dollars a year in its quest to impose an Islamic state. The current offensive was sparked in part by local communities and militias driven to the brink by al-Shabab’s harsh taxation policies amid the country’s worst drought on record.