Africa: Floods Derail AU Mission Exit Plan in Somalia

Mogadishu, Somalia — The rotation of the African Union force in Somalia was delayed by at least one month due to floods, as troops remained marooned in military bases that they were meant to leave more than four weeks ago after El Niño-induced rains submerged roads, and airstrips and cut off major supply routes of the Horn of Africa country, The EastAfrican has learned.

The Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) expected to receive their forces rotating from the mission at the end of December 2023 alongside soldiers that were in phase two of the drawdown of 3,000 troops.

But logistical issues forced the troops to remain on the ground – extending their stay in Somalia by another month – while TCCs could not deploy new units to the mission.

“There were some delays in meeting the December 31, 2023 timeline, primarily due to the floods caused by El-Nino rains,” says Gifty Bingley, Atmis spokesperson.

“As of January 25, 2024, Phase Two is complete, with seven Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) successfully handed over and two collapsed.”

“The successful completion of this drawdown phase, notwithstanding significant challenges, including the El Nino, is a testament to the will of the Federal Government of Somalia to an orderly transition,” said Dr Alhadji Sarjoh Bah, Director of the Conflict Management Directorate at AU, at the FOBs handover ceremony in Mogadishu on January 29.

While the floods caused an operational headache for the peacekeepers, the tripartite partners — Atmis, the Federal Government of Somalia and the United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS) — also turned to battling a floods-induced humanitarian crisis impacting the locals while working to meet the transition timelines.

Michael Dorn, the UNSOS deputy chief of service delivery, said that the floods hit Sectors 3, 4 and 5 of Atmis – areas under the control of Ethiopian, Djiboutian and Burundi contingents respectively, affecting 1.17 million and displacing 334,800 people, as of last week.

This made an already stretched military operation against Al Shabaab due to fewer numbers of Atmis troops, more complex as forces now have to support humanitarian operations in the Horn of Africa country, in places like Baidoa, Belet Weyne, Johwar, parts of Kismayo and northeast areas.

Moreover, throughout most of the month of December, support operations could not deliver crucial supplies to Atmis forces, whose FOBs were rendered become hard to reach by the floods, leaving troops insecure and also facing acute shortages, Dorn said.

In UNSOS assessment, the drawdown of Atmis is limiting field missions and hampering the food security cluster partners in the ongoing flood response, for example in Kismayu.

Due to insecurity and high access constraints, the UN support mission says there is limited information on some of the isolated evacuation camps in West Belet Weyne area of Farmajibaley, making it difficult to either provide assistance or estimate the existing needs.

Despite Somali security assuming responsibility over military bases after both phase one and two of the drawdown, Atmis will still control a total of 56 FOBs, authorities said, with a significant number of these expected to be taken over by Somali forces when 4,000 troops leave the mission in the third phase of drawdown by June 2024.

The rotation – the last for Atmis before the UN-mandated force draws a curtain on its mission this year – coincided with the departure from Somalia of 3,000 troops that had been delayed after the Horn of Africa country requested a technical pause to plug a security vacuum.

This meant the force and TCCs were withdrawing bigger numbers while deploying fewer troops due to the left by those drawndown, a scenario that calls for more vigilance for the incoming forces, according to Force Commander Lt-Gen Sam Okiding.

“You have come in when Atmis is drawing down its troop numbers and that calls on you to be even more vigilant and alert for any possible attempts by the Al Shabaab,” said Lt Gen Okiding on January 23, while presiding over the ceremony to award 41 Ugandan soldiers from Battle Group-37 who were departing the mission.

According to Ms Bingley, this caused challenges in getting a contractor to repatriate Contingent Owned Equipment (COE) – vehicles, office supplies, infantry fighting vehicles, tanks and helicopters – back to the TCCs.

The Atmis spokesperson said the seven FOBs handed over to Somali security forces include Parliament, State House, Bio Cadale, Raga Ceel, Qorillow, Burahache and Kismayo Old Airport, while Sarille and Old Airport KDF military bases have been closed.

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