War against militias in Somalia enters conditional transit stage
In the final phase, the troops are to hand over to the Somalia National Army
In total, there are over 21,000 African Union troops in Somalia
Nearly seven years after Kenyan troops crossed the border to fight the al-shabaab in Somalia, the war has entered a crucial phase which could see the soldiers return home in 2020.
In the transition phase, the troops will surrender their Forward Operating Bases to the Somali National Army.
There are also police stations manned by Kenyan officers which, too, will be handed over to their Somalia counterparts. But the withdrawal is designed to be gradual and conditional.
Besides Kenya, there are more troops from Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Burundi who are also expected to pull out when the United Nations mandate ends in 2020.
In total, there are over 21,000 African Union troops in Somalia.
At present, all the African troops there are under Kenya’s Major-general Tai Gituai, who is the acting commander of the joint force.
He said: “The transit plan is conditional. We will give them the Forward Operating Bases on condition that they will have the resources and acquired capabilities to operate on their own.”
Maj-gen Gituai went on: “It is a comprehensive approach that will also involve the police as well as development partners. They must have prisons, a working judicial system, schools and health centres.”
He also revealed that the European Union has given 100 million Euros (Sh11.8 billion) to make the dream a reality. The funds are meant to last until 2020, when Somalia is expected to hold a General Election.
“That time, African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom) may exit on conditions. As of now, our troops, other police and civilian components of Amisom are mentoring Somalians and professionalising their agencies. We are looking at a transition driven by Somali government because we feel there is ability they can take care of security responsibilities,” said Maj-gen Gituai.
The forces have divided Somalia into sectors and Kenyans are deployed in Sector 2 as well as Kismayu area.
The Kenyan troops are spread out in 16 Forward Operating Bases with the headquarters at Dhobley.
Dhobley was a stronghold of alshabaab before the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) troops flushed out the terrorists in 2011.
The pullout began in earnest as the Amisom force last year withdrew 1,000 soldiers after a United Nations (UN) resolution. An additional 1,000 Amisom troops are supposed to return to their countries by October, in line with another UN resolution.
Kenyan commanders in Somalia are, however, cautious of the draw-downs.
Brigadier Joachim Ngure Mwamburi is Sector 2 Commander, placing him squarely on the front-lines.
“We are ready to hand over to the Somalia military but we have to be sure that, on their own, they can hold liberated areas after we hand over. They are upbeat in recruitment and we are ready to train. But if the Somali National Army (SNA) is not ready, in numbers and resources, the UN should hold the draw-down,” he said.
The Generals are also concerned that SNA may find challenges in operating as a unit after the pullout because, as of now, it is a collection of regional armies, and each is receiving different training from foreign forces.
In Kismayu, the British have been training Somali Army officers while in Lower Juba, KDF are helping Jubaland Defence Force. Other countries involved in training are the United States’ Africa Command, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Uganda and Ethiopia.
Maj-gen Gituai said because militaries have different training and doctrines, the SNA soldiers will not be immediately rearranged into one.
“Those trained in Baidoa will be deployed there and those in Kismayu likewise. But the officers cadre, trained by the British, is more of a single unit,” he said.
KDF entered Somalia in October 2011, five years after Burundi and Ugandan troops had deployed in Mogadishu under Amisom.
Kenya joined Amisom in 2012 at the request of the African Union and the UN.
Kenya Defence Forces soldiers attached to Amisom keep guard at Tabda camp in Somalia.