Somalia wants all Ethiopian troops to leave by December

June 03, 2024, 3:44 PM
By Harun Maruf

Mogadishu – Somali National Security Adviser Hussein Sheikh-Ali announced that Somalia expects all Ethiopian troops to leave the country by the end of 2024. This move aligns with the expiration of the African Union Transition Mission mandate in December.

During a national media broadcast, Ali emphasized that Ethiopian troops would not be part of the African Union forces organized with international partners to secure key installations in Somalia for one year starting January 2025.

Ali’s statement has raised concerns among Somali regional officials, who fear that the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops might strengthen al-Shabab militants.

The decision to exclude Ethiopian troops is reportedly in response to a controversial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in January 2024 between Ethiopia and Somaliland. The MOU grants Ethiopia leasing rights to the Red Sea coastline in Somaliland, allowing Ethiopia to build a naval base in exchange for diplomatic recognition. Somaliland, a self-declared republic in northwestern Somalia, has sought international recognition since 1991, though the African Union officially opposes altering colonial-era borders.

Somalia’s government has vehemently rejected the MOU, calling it a violation of national sovereignty. In a post on X, Ali stated, “Our position on ENDF’s [Ethiopian National Defense Forces] role in the post-ATMIS mission is unequivocal. As long as Ethiopia persists in violating our sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence, we cannot and will not consider it an ally in advancing peace and security in the region.”

Ethiopia currently has thousands of troops in Somalia, primarily in the states of Southwest, Jubaland, and Hirshabelle. Some troops are part of the ATMIS mission, while others are present under bilateral security agreements.

Officials in Jubaland, where Ethiopian troops are stationed, expressed unease about Ali’s announcement. Jubaland Deputy President Mohamud Sayid Aden warned, “This will only benefit Kharwarij,” using Mogadishu’s term for al-Shabab militants. Aden added, “It’s not a matter that can be agreed upon by the stakeholders.”

Southwest State of Somalia Security Minister Hassan Abdulkadir Mohamed also expressed support for the continued presence of Ethiopian troops, stating, “If ATMIS are going to be removed from the country, it needs to be discussed and no one can make a unilateral decision.”

Attempts to obtain comments from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Nebiyu Tedla were unsuccessful.

Some analysts believe that Mogadishu’s position could pose challenges for Somalia and the African Union. Horn of Africa security analyst Samira Gaid noted, “The AU has now the additional challenge of mediating between its member states on this post-ATMIS question after it has been unable to do so on the MOU.”

Gaid also expressed concerns about the time needed to arrange replacement forces. “The government alluded to existing TCCs [Troop Contributing Countries] taking on that responsibility. However, the likelihood of existing TCCs stepping in, organizing themselves in the remaining time, and operating in Bay and Bakool without clarity on the possible political challenges they would face — and clarity on the wider post-ATMIS questions of resourcing, mandate, and numbers — remains to be seen.”

Both AU and Somali officials confirmed that 2,000 peacekeepers would leave the country this month, with another 2,000 departing by the end of September. This will leave about 9,500 AU troops, with Somalia aiming for current TCCs like Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, and Djibouti to remain part of the new mission launching in January. The final troop numbers under the new mission could reach up to 12,000, according to an AU official involved in ongoing discussions.

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