25 June 2023
The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) has initiated the transfer of key Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) to the Somali National Army (SNA). This move aligns with the ATMIS commitment to reducing personnel by 2,000 by the end of June as mandated by United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 2628(22) and 2670(22).
On 22 June, the Burundian National Defence Force contingent serving with ATMIS (BNDF-ATMIS) handed over an FOB at Xaaji Cali in the Cadale District of Middle Shabelle Region. The following day, the BNDF-ATMIS at the Mirtaqwo FOB, also located in Cadale District, was transitioned. These handovers signal the readiness of the SNA to assume responsibility for security in these areas, as voiced by the ATMIS and SNA commanders during the official ceremonies.
The ‘Maslah’ FOB, which was officially transferred from the BNDF-ATMIS to the SNA in January 2023, continues to serve as a logistics hub due to its strategic importance for guarding the Main Supply Route from Mogadishu to Balcad. The continued reliance on BNDF for logistical support is a telling sign of the SNA’s struggle to fully take over security responsibilities, despite extensive training and mobilization efforts.
Interestingly, attacks on these FOBs by militant groups, particularly al-Shabaab, have seen a decrease since April 2022. Previously, these groups had claimed responsibility for numerous attacks, including heavy attacks and shelling incidents on both the Xaaji Cali and Mirtaqwo FOBs. However, the transition of these FOBs to the SNA might alter this dynamic.
Al-Shabaab has historically demonstrated strategic retreats in the face of superior military strength, preserving its forces for hit-and-run raids and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) attacks from unsecured rural areas. With the withdrawal of ATMIS forces, the group may see an opportunity to escalate attacks, exploiting the perceived discrepancies in military strength between the SNA and the departing peacekeeping forces.
However, the FOBs at Xaaji Cali and Mirtaqwo have seen fewer attacks compared to other areas of Cadale District, which have been subjected to frequent hit-and-run raids, base attacks, and IED incidents. While these FOBs were not under significant military pressure at the time of handover, the withdrawal of ATMIS forces might embolden al-Shabaab to intensify its assaults due to the perceived differences in military capabilities.
While the transition of the FOBs marks a significant step towards Somalia’s self-sufficiency, the SNA may face logistical challenges surpassing those encountered by the BNDF-ATMIS peacekeepers they replace. The SNA’s ability to maintain, repair, and replace crucial equipment such as boreholes, water treatment and storage equipment, generators, solar panels, and more may be limited. This could subsequently impact the morale of SNA personnel.
The handover of the FOBs symbolizes a vital milestone in the ongoing ATMIS drawdown and the transfer of security responsibilities to the SNA. However, the future of these bases remains uncertain. It is yet to be seen if the SNA can effectively maintain these critical points and thwart al-Shabaab’s potential attempts to reestablish control over the protected territories.