Kenya Defence Forces’ combat helicopters

Kenya Defence Forces’ combat helicopters during Operation Linda Nchi. The scaling down of the African Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) forces was set to enter the second phase in September, but President Hassan Sheikh     Mohamud appealed to the United Nations, African Union, United States and European Union to delay the process.

| File

Behind enemy lines in Somalia: Inside UN decision to pull Atmis

The drawdown of peacekeeping troops in Somalia has raised fears of increased terrorist attacks in Kenya, with senior officials in Nairobi and Mogadishu remaining apprehensive of an imminent hell-on-earth spell that preceded Operation Linda Nchi in 2011.

The scaling down of forces was set to enter the second phase in September, but President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud appealed to the United Nations, African Union, United States and European Union to delay the process.

Somalia National Security adviser Hussein Sheikh Ali wrote to the UN Security Council, saying the government’s campaign against Al-Shabaab had “suffered several significant setbacks”, and had exposed vulnerabilities that necessitated a thorough reorganisation.

The African Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) had on June 30 concluded the first phase of the drawdown of 2,000 troops, and was due for the second troop withdrawal of 3,000. For about 12 years, Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in Somalia have restricted Al-Shabaab to sporadic attacks, mainly in Mogadishu.

Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale told The Weekly Review that Somalia had petitioned the UN to pause the drawdown following increased terrorist attacks in Mogadishu. He said the war against Al-Shabaab had been transferred to the Somali National Army and police, but the federal government had become apprehensive that the fragile security formations would be overwhelmed by the militia.

KDF troops Somalia

The Kenya Defence Forces will remain in Somalia despite the end of the African Union Mission in Somalia.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“Somalia is now leading the war on Al-Shabaab. They have petitioned the UN to pause the drawdown for (September) October. We are waiting for the response and we are ready and willing to comply with any UN decision. It is not KDF that is in Somalia, but Atmis under a UN mandate. So it is not Kenya or the other troop-contributing countries that are making the decisions,” Duale said.

“If the drawdown ends in December 2024 as scheduled, we are planning to have a post-drawdown discussion and evaluation with the UN on how Kenya is going to secure its territorial integrity. We won’t allow Al-Shabaab to attack us. We have a duty to guard our borders and we have always been ready keep Kenya safe from external attacks.”

If need be, Duale said, Kenya would fill the vacuum left by Atmis along the border to repulse any Al-Shabaab threat. “However, this is subject to the outcome of our discussions with the United Nations. We have always been ready to protect our country,” he offered.

The drawdown of Atmis – which has troops from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Burundi – has government officials scratching their heads as concerns soar in Nairobi and Mogadishu that Somalia is hurtling towards an Afghanistan-like moment. In Kabul, Taliban jihadists overran a weak US-installed regime and replaced it with Islamists who proscribed constitutionalism and secularism in preference to Sharia law. Both the Taliban and Al-Shabaab (and Islamic Union that preceded Shabaab) are backed financially and logistically by global terror outfit, Al-Qaeda. The emergence of hugely resourced Islamic State jihadists in Syria in the past decade adds fresh concerns to Kenya and the Horn of Africa.


Kenya Defence Forces soldiers patrol Tabda in the central sector of Somalia during 'Operation Linda Nchi' on February 20, 2012.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

The Islamic State already has tentacles in Mozambique, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and vast swathes of the Maghreb region of North Africa and West Africa. Nairobi and Mogadishu have quietly expressed reservations over the decision by the United Nations, the African Union, the United States and the European Union decision to defund Atmis – formerly African Mission in Somalia or (Amisom).

A decision to withdraw Atmis peacekeepers in April 2021 states: “The military component will have 18,586 troops until December 31, 2022 and then draw down by 2,000 troops. There will be further graduated drawdowns by September 2023, June 2024, leading towards a final exit in December 2024. The drawdowns will take into account the prevailing security situation in Somalia and will be guided by regular joint technical assessments.”


Amisom soldiers on a military tank in Somalia on January 20, 2014. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Security expert George Musamali told The Weekly Review warned of catastrophic consequences should Atmis pull out. “The drawdown is ill-advised and will expose the region to more Al-Shabaab attacks. The SNA is not ready or capable of tackling Shabaab, who seem to be better equipped and co-ordinated. Kenya initially sought to create a buffer zone between its borders and the militia, but later opted to stabilise Somalia,” he said.

He noted that the increase in attacks on security installations in Somalia, along the Kenyan border and in Lamu was an indication that the region was not ready for a drawdown from Somalia. “We have seen an increase in attacks on military camps and critical installations in both countries. Towns from which Atmis has withdrawn and handed over to SNA are falling back to Al-Shabaab, which shows that SNA is not ready. We have not achieved what we intended to,” he said.

Major setback

In their assessment of SNA’s preparedness to replace Amisom, Texas National Security Review found that the conception of the structure and size of army was haphazard and done without the requisite clan and economic ingredients to guarantee acceptability and representativeness that would have provided a buffer against Al-Shabaab incursions in neighbouring countries – especially Kenya.

“The assessment was needed because neither the Somali government nor its partners had reliable basic information about the army, including the identities of its personnel, their locations and unit affiliations or their weapons and equipment. The assessment confirmed the army was in a dire state: There were fewer frontline personnel than previously estimated (on average battalions had only 63 per cent of their authorised strength), there were inconsistent recruiting standards and most battalions lacked basic equipment, including weapons, ammunition, communications kit and vehicles,” Texas National Security Review found.

Somalia descended into ‘incestuous’ clan war following the ouster of former tyrant Siad Barre on November 1, 1991. The war has sucked in foreign interests with the Al-Qaeda establishing terrorist cells in the Horn of Africa nation that periodically unleash terror in neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and even as far afield as Uganda, Mozambique, DRC and South Africa.

Al-Qaeda have made no secret of their ambition to establish an Islamic caliphate in east and southern Africa using Kenya as their staging ground for the holy war or jihad. Kenya’s invasion of Somalia in 2011 proved a major setback to these ambitions but the onset of the drawdown has seen an upsurge in terrorist activities along the Kenya-Somali border and Kenyan coast.


African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) troops during a routine drill in Beletweyne, Somalia on November 23, 2022.

Photo credit: Pool

There have also been deadly attacks in Kampala and western Uganda, where Al-Shabaab and Islamic States allies, the Allied Democratic Forces, have claimed responsibility.

Former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa shares President Mohamud’s fears of an imminent upsurge in terrorism in eastern Africa with Kenya on the leeside of the resultant terrorist crossfire. Wamalwa links the start of the withdrawal of Atmis peacekeepers in June to increased Al-Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu and in Mandera and Lamu.

“Everything should be done to prevent Somalia from going the Taliban way. Somalia is exposed in the face of unmatched capability of Somali national army to take over from ATMIS. Kenya will bear the brunt of the ensuing insecurity as already witnessed in Mandera, Lamu and Boni Forest. We are already feeling the brunt (of the Al-Shabaab attacks) as SNA lacks the capacity to fill the vacuum left by Atmis,” he said.

Texas National Security Review’s Paul D. Williams provides some sobering assessment of the situation in Somalia as the drawdown is implemented. “My new research provides the first comprehensive assessment of 11 years of international efforts to build an effective Somali National Army… Somalia represented a uniquely difficult context for this project because of two decades of state collapse, internecine clan conflicts and world-leading levels of corruption.”

The sentiments are shared by a former UN Development Programme Under-Secretary, Dr Christoph Jaeger, who is currently resident in Nairobi and is involved in stabilisation of Somalia. Dr Jaeger, until recently a senior advisor of Somalia Berghof Foundation, warns that “it’s premature to leave the country without outside security support”.

“The country is still not sufficiently united and stable. State-building is still mostly a top-down affair, and ‘western thinking’ is still prevalent – and too much focused on constitution building with hardly any elements of the Somali culture and value system,” Jaeger told The Weekly Review.

Rather than help Somali re-emerge from the years of terrorism and guarantee security and safety in neighbouring country the German conflict expert says the drawdown provides another opportunity for increased US military attacks. He observed: “But this (my view) does not answer your question of (Atmis) leaving the country without outside security support other than the US bombing expeditions that, it seems, (will) kill more innocent civilians than ‘terrorists’.”

Kenya’s preparedness to degrade Al-Shabaab’s capacity to visit mayhem to the country remains in a quandary with fears that Nairobi may have spread its military capacity too thin as its troops are involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan and Mozambique peacekeeping missions. Kenya has also accepted a UN and US request to deploy 1,000 police officers in Haiti to rein in runaway crime un the Caribbean island nation.