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In DepthPost-ATMIS Somalia and the fate of Ethiopian troops

Post-ATMIS Somalia and the fate of Ethiopian troops

Is Mogadishu looking elsewhere for protection?

It has been less than three months since the signing of the MoU between Ethiopia and Somaliland, but the controversial deal has already contributed substantially to increased tensions in the region, and set off a diplomatic spat between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu.

Remarks from Field Marshal Birhanu Jula, chief of staff for the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), during an interview with state media last week shed light on the status of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) and what the MoU could mean for the future of Ethiopian military involvement in Somalia.

“Ethiopian troops are covering 60 percent of Somalia,” said Birhanu. “If we were to withdraw, the Somali government wouldn’t sustain.”

The Field Marshal criticized the Somali government for trying to undermine “sacrifices” on the part of Ethiopian troops following the signing of the MoU with breakaway Somaliland.

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Ethiopian troops, along with military personnel from Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, and Djibouti, have been present in Somalia under ATMIS since April 2022, as part of the military and civilian mission that replaced the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). In all, the Ethiopian military has played a crucial role in fending off Al-Shabaab in Somalia since 2007.

However, recent developments call into question Ethiopia’s continued military presence in Somalia.

The UN Security Council and the AU have decided to gradually withdraw peacekeeping troops from Somalia and dissolve ATMIS by December 2024. Some 5,000 troops, including Ethiopians, have been withdrawn since last year, leaving close to 13,600 personnel on the ground.

Despite a resurgent threat from Al-Shabaab, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government is keen to see the foreign peacekeeping mission come to an end. In December 2023, Mogadishu requested the AU and UN to replace ATMIS with a smaller AU mission, arguing it requires a new and limited multilateral mission to provide strategic protection of population centers and key infrastructure.

However, during the interview, the ENDF Chief of Staff stated that ATMIS will probably be renewed, and predicted a fifty-fifty probability for Ethiopian involvement in the new mission.

Political analysts, on the other hand, argue that Somalia has already made the decision to place its security needs in the hands of other guardians.

“I’m not certain whether the Somali government needs troops from neighboring countries because it is already entering military agreements with Arab League countries and Turkey. I don’t think Ethiopian troops will remain in post-ATMIS Somalia,” said Constantinos Berhutesfa (PhD), a former AU anti-graft commissioner who has published literature on Al-Shabaab.

He observes the AU and UNSC decision to end ATMIS later this year means there will no longer be any funding to keep troops in Somalia.

“Peacekeeping missions like ATMIS are very expensive operations. It takes vast resources daily to maintain the combat forces. Weapons, fuel costs, salaries, and other expenses are substantial. The US and EU are the largest funders and ATMIS cannot continue without their financing,” said Constantinos.

It costs close to one billion USD a year to sustain the peacekeeping mission.

“Of course, it is highly risky to withdraw ATMIS without another peacekeeping scheme in place. Without such forces, the Mogadishu government cannot survive a day,” said Constantinos.

He is among the pundits that argue Somalia is shifting its choice of guardian angel from ATMIS to Turkey and Arab League member countries. Other analysts argue that Mogadishu might have other plans, including negotiations with Al-Shabaab. 

Recent developments seem to align with the latter hypothesis.

The Somali government has announced intentions to amend the Somali constitution, and is reportedly considering the declaration of an Islamic state. The move would mesh with Al-Shabaab’s interests, and while some say this is Hassan Sheikh’s way of extending a hand to the fundamentalist group, others argue the President is attempting to nullify Al-Shabaab’s influence by snatching its agenda.

Post-ATMIS Somalia and the fate of Ethiopian troops | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

Constantinos sees the developments as a positive.

“I recommend negotiations between the Somali government and Al-Shabaab. It’d be good. What Al-Shabaab wants is an Islamic state. There are a number of Islamic states, like Sudan, Saudi, and Mauritania.”

A decision from Washington this week to sanction several businesses it accuses of having affiliations with Al-Shabaab suggests there is a redoubling of global efforts to dry up the group’s financing.

A US Treasury Department office in charge of regulating foreign assets has imposed sanctions on 16 entities and individuals who compose an expansive business network spanning the Horn, UAE, and Cyprus. The network, which includes influential business people in the region, is accused of laundering funds for Al-Shabaab.

A report from the Department reveals Al-Shabaab generates over USD 100 million a year through the extortion of local businesses and individuals, as well as financial support from its affiliates.

The threat posed by Al-Shabaab is not limited to Somalia – its revenues are shared with other Al-Qaeda-supported groups worldwide, according to the report.

Dubai-based Haleel Group (with subsidiaries in Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Cyprus), UAE-based Qemat Al Najah General Trading, and Kenya-based Faysal Yusuf Dini are among the financial and telecom institutions sanctioned for alleged ties to Al-Shabaab. 

Several Somali business people and officials have also been sanctioned for allegedly facilitating frauds and carrying out money laundering for Al-Shabaab.

Despite this, there are reports emerging that Al-Shabaab is gaining momentum, including forging alliance with the emerging activities of Yemeni Houthis between the Horn and Gulf regions.

There are fears the fallout between Ethiopia and Somalia following the Somaliland MoU will provide fertile ground for an Al-Shabaab resurgence. Decisions to defund large-scale peacekeeping missions like ATMIS add to the fears.

Although Hassan Sheikh is resting his hopes on a recent military pact with Turkey, many doubt Somalia’s ability to fend off the extremist group using its own security forces and urge the AU to rethink the prospect of communication gaps and a security vacuum in post-ATMIS Somalia.

Funding shortfalls are the most critical roadblock to installing a new peacekeeping mission following the end of ATMIS. Financial gaps are already testing the limits of ATMIS, let alone a future peacekeeping mission.

For instance, there is a 100 million USD financing gap required to sustain ATMIS between now and its scheduled drawdown in December.

Experts urge AU and UN officials to devise an innovative financing scheme to prevent Al-Shabaab domination.

In the meantime, finding a win-win resolution for the impasse between Ethiopia, Somalia and Somaliland, will also positively reflect on the campaigns against the extremist group. Experts foresee the resurrection of Al-Shabaab is not only a threat to Somalia, but also to neighboring countries like Ethiopia – a country already struggling to cope with internal armed conflict.

The UN Security Council and the AU have decided to gradually withdraw peacekeeping troops from Somalia and dissolve ATMIS by December 2024. Some 5,000 troops, including Ethiopians, have been withdrawn since last year, leaving close to 13,600 personnel on the ground.

In December 2023, Mogadishu requested the AU and UN to replace ATMIS with a smaller AU mission, arguing it requires a new and limited multilateral mission to provide strategic protection of population centers and key infrastructure. However, during the interview, the ENDF Chief of Staff stated that ATMIS will probably be renewed, and predicted a fifty-fifty probability for Ethiopian involvement in the new mission.

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