14.3.2023: Mogadishu, Somalia
This week we turn our attention to southern Somalia where there has been a silent build up of foreign troops in the border regions with Soomaali Galbeed known as ‘Somali State’.
Addis Ababa deployed dozens of soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) to the Gedo region of Jubaland on Wednesday according to locals in the region.
According to reports, the units were accompanied by armoured vehicles and tanks amongst other heavy armaments.
However, while it is a common story to hear deployment of foreign troops in Somalia, the deployment of these ENDF do not come under the African Union’s Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) banner. In other words, these troops come under the direct orders of the Ethiopian High Command in Addis Ababa which has drawn criticism from Somali security experts that see this deployment as further incursion on Somali sovereignty – a topic which has been a central to Somalia’s future in recent years with the UN-approved Somali-led security transition plan.
Earlier this month, the national security adviser to the President, Hussein Sheikh-Ali confirmed that Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya would send new troops to support Somali forces in the next phase of military operations against al-Shabab.
Sheikh-Ali emphasized that these troops would join the soldiers already serving in the African Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) but would not be part of the ATMIS mission.
“Their role is to jointly plan and operate under the command of the Somali security forces,” he said. “They will fight against al-Shabab alongside Somali forces. That is the plan.”
However, there is an issue.
As Sheikh-Ali pointed out, there are already over 20,000 African Union soldiers deployed in Somalia so why is there a need to deploy even more foreign troops? A simple question is why Villa Somalia and its neighbouring allies not utilising the readily available force stationed in Somalia which comprises of the necessary forces.
Absent ATMIS Force
The Somali Government alongside local clan militia known in the Somali language as Macawisley have been fighting Al-Shabab militants on multiple fronts in the Federal states of Galmudug and Hirshabelle for months now, liberating dozens of towns, cities and strategic regions that were previously under militant control. These forces were supported from the air by US and Turkish drones that targeted Al-Shabab positions before attacks and bombarded fighters during Al-Shabab counterattacks usually at dawn. Dozens of senior and respected Somali commanders have died in this latest chapter in the war to liberate Somalia.
The real question many Somalis have been asking themselves is the role ATMIS units stationed in Somalia play? While there has been sporadic logistical support in Beledweyne and other regions near ATMIS bases, there has not been a large scale offensive organised by ATMIS, previously known as AMISOM forces in more than half a decade.
So, why is the Mahmoud administration supporting the deployment of even more foreign troops to Somalia that do not even come under ATMIS control and therefore international scrutiny?
There are a number of important questions to be asked:
- What will these new foreign troops do differently to the ATMIS troops stationed in Somalia already?
- Even if we were to accept such troops, surely we ought to support the drawing back of ATMIS troops in Somalia?
If we look back at 2022, the Mahmoud administration led by National Security Advisor Hussein Sheikh-Ali supported the extension of the initial withdrawal date of ATMIS in December 2022 by six months that was passed by the UNSC in December of last year under Resolution 2670.
A Disorganised Security Policy
It appears to be a contradictory policy to say the least. To support the withdrawal of ATMIS units under the Somali Transitional Plan yet support the extension of the initial withdrawal of ATMIS Forces as well as giving a green-light to further foreign troops being deployed indicates a government that states one thing but does the other. The real question is, what is the security policy of Villa Somalia under Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud?
To make matter worse, the Somali Army has already received thousands of soldiers that were freshly trained in Eritrea over the past few years return to Mogadishu. Yet, these soldiers also have not been utilised to support Macawisley militia as well as reinforce SNA positions in South West South, Hirshabelle and Jubaland which are currently areas with high amounts of Al-Shabab engagements and positions.
Instead, reports indicate that Villa Somalia has been negotiating with the UAE to obtain salary payments for these new soldiers in exchange for elements of UAE control of these soldiers as previously seen under the previous Mahmoud administration before these units were dismantled by the Farmaajo administration in 2018 for engaging in operations that were not authorised by Somali High Command at the Ministry of Defence which resulted in a raid on a senator’s home the capital, Mogadishu according to a report released by the government at the time.
If we analyse all these different elements, we can see a government policy that appears to be all over the place, disorganised and lacking a clear vision and direction.
This is evident with the weakening of the current war against Al-Shabab in central regions of Somalia. Despite major gains in recent months, there has been quiet on the frontlines of Galmudug and Hirshabelle in recent weeks as government advancements stall.
For months, analysts have advocating for the Federal Government to utilise the momentum of the public revolt against AS in Hiiraan to create a national strategy and policy through joint operations with FMSs. This unfortunately was not done which resulted in the current muddled operations we see.
The Somali National Security Advisor and the Ministry of Defence must think of new strategies immediately if it wishes to continue this war outside of foreign support.
Frontlines States Summit
However, we must look at the Frontlines States Summit to understand the government policy in regards to deployment of Ethiopian troops.
It was last month when the Mahmoud Administration hosted leaders from Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti to discuss the fight against al-Shabab, as a wide-ranging offensive against the armed group gathered pace over the past several months.
In a communique, leaders noted that the regional countries had agreed to mobilize resources to support the ongoing military operations in Somalia. They also agreed to jointly plan and organise a robust operational campaign to “search and destroy” al-Shabab on multiple frontlines.
It seems as though the government intends to launch an attack on AS in partnership with neighbouring allies which is great, but why support the continued presence of ATMIS units?
There has been no comment from the Federal Government in Mogadishu nor has there been any comment from the Ethiopian side on the deployed troops.
Reports indicate that there will also be an influx of more foreign troops from Djibouti and Kenya to support the current war against Al-Shabab.
Is it time for Somalia to take control of its own security policy and have a Somali military solution rather than foreign troops helping to liberate Somalia which has time and time again proven to fail? The issues in Somalia are not simple ones. They are ones involving decades of injustice, clan tensions, political underrepresentation and killings. A simple military victory will not eradicate the underlining issues that have enabled the rise of AL-Shabab and other extremists groups and clan militias that are anarchist and opposed to the government.
For more on Somalia, follow Suldan Mohamed and HORUMAR.
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