Mogadishu, SOMALIA – In response to battlefield losses in August 2023, the Somali government urgently requested an extension of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) mission’s withdrawal. Initially scheduled to conclude on September 30, the government has proposed extending it to December 31, highlighting the continued need for ATMIS forces. Yesterday, following a Tripartite Meeting, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (SRCC) for Somalia and Head of ATMIS announced a significant development: “ATMIS will resume and conclude Phase 2 of the drawdown, involving 3,000 troops, by December 31, 2023,” he posted on X (formerly Twitter).
The announcement of the resumption and conclusion of the Phase 2 drawdown, including the handover of 8 military bases to Somalia Security Forces, is a significant step. However, the situation on the ground in Somalia, particularly in Galgaduud, where there has been little progress in recapturing lost areas, casts a shadow on the effectiveness of the pause in the withdrawal.
Financial Incentives and National Sovereignty
One of the primary reasons the Somali government is advocating for the withdrawal of ATMIS is financial. The government perceives that by taking over the roles currently played by ATMIS, they might gain access to a portion of the international funding currently allocated to the mission. This perspective is rooted in the desire to redirect these resources towards national security efforts. Furthermore, there is a strong sentiment of national sovereignty at play. The aspiration to demonstrate its capability to independently manage national security partly drives the Somali government’s push for ATMIS withdrawal, marking a significant step towards asserting its sovereignty and reducing reliance on international military support.
However, this approach comes with its challenges. The Somali government’s reliance on donor funds, even after ATMIS’s withdrawal, might not be a sustainable long-term strategy. As signs of donor fatigue become increasingly evident, there is a risk that the anticipated financial benefits may not materialize to the extent expected. This potential shortfall could leave a gap in resources necessary for maintaining security and stability. Consequently, the government’s strategy requires a shift towards developing a more self-reliant security apparatus, focusing on building the capacity of its forces and exploring alternative sources of funding. This strategic shift would be critical in ensuring that the transition from ATMIS support does not leave a vacuum but instead paves the way for a more autonomous and resilient security framework in Somalia.
The Critical Role of ATMIS in Stabilizing Frontlines
ATMIS has played a pivotal role in stabilizing frontlines against AS. This stabilization has been crucial in maintaining a balance of power and has significantly contributed to the combat effectiveness of the Somali National Army (SNA). ATMIS’s presence has not only provided direct military support but also enabled the SNA to focus on offensive operations rather than solely defending positions.
The planned withdrawal of 3,000 ATMIS troops presents a strategic challenge. This reduction in force will necessitate a redistribution of SNA troops, many of whom will be required to man Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) previously supported by ATMIS. This reallocation of resources will likely dilute the combat effectiveness of the SNA. The troops, once focused on offensive operations and territorial gains, will now be stretched thinner, tasked with holding and defending a larger number of positions.
Increased Pressure on Somali Forces
The withdrawal of ATMIS troops and the subsequent pressure on the SNA to man additional FOBs may lead to a strategic disadvantage. The SNA, while capable, may find it challenging to maintain the same level of operational intensity and territorial control with reduced external support. This shift in focus from offensive to defensive operations could potentially allow AS to exploit vulnerabilities, regroup, or even mount counter-offensives in areas previously deemed secure.
Preparing for a Transitional Security Landscape
As ATMIS begins its phased withdrawal, the Somali government must prepare for a transitional security landscape. This preparation involves not only bolstering the capacities of the SNA but also developing comprehensive strategies to maintain stability and security in the face of reduced external military support. It is a critical juncture where strategic foresight, adaptability, and effective resource allocation will be key to ensuring the long-term stability and security of Somalia.