A 22,000-strong African Union (AU) force combating the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab in Somalia will begin pulling out of the troubled Horn of Africa state in 2018.
The AU's Peace and Security Council said that it planned to withdraw the entire contingent within a two-year period, meaning that by December 2020, the mission will have been fully transferred to the Somali National Army (SNA). The decision was taken in a meeting at the end of June in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and communicated in a statement published on Wednesday.
The AU's mission in Somalia—known as AMISOM—was established in 2007 with an initial six-month mandate but has rolled on as Al-Shabab's influence in Somalia has fluctuated. A precursor of Al-Shabab, known as the Islamic Courts Union, seized control of the Somali capital Mogadishu in 2006 but was later repelled following an Ethiopian-led invasion. The United Nations Security Council authorized the extension of AMISOM's mandate until May 31, 2017, at a meeting on Thursday.
Al-Shabab has retained control of rural parts of Somalia and held the capital again in 2010, and has also carried out a series of transnational attacks, particularly in Kenya. Since the start of 2016, the group has ramped up its suicide bombings and armed attacks, perhaps with a view to disrupting limited elections due to take place when the current government's mandate expires in August. The group recently killed at least 14 people in an attack on the Naasa Hablood hotel in Mogadishu.
AMISOM has come under increasing strain in recent months after the European Union, the main funder of the mission, decided in January to cut its financial support by 20 percent. Soldiers in the mission have also reportedly failed to receive substantial EU allowances for months. Citing a lack of progress and frustration in failed cooperation with international partners, Uganda—which provides the biggest contingent to AMISOM, with more than 6,000 troops—has said it will pull its soldiers from the mission by December 2017.