As African Union Mission in Somalia Draws Down, Al-Shabaab Remains Threat to Country, Region, Special Representative Tells Security Council
The Government of Somalia has made considerable progress on multiple priorities, including State-building and restoring security through the military offensive against Al-Shabaab, senior officials told the Security Council today, as members underlined the need for coordination and support for the Government as it prepared to shoulder the responsibility for its own security, amid the impending drawdown of international presence on the ground.
Catriona Laing, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), highlighted political developments, including the 27 May National Consultative Council communiqué, which set out proposals for a future electoral system. Two of them — the presidential system and the proposed synchronization of federal member states election schedules with the extension of incumbent mandates — were proving contentious, she said, stressing that that all constitutional amendments should be based on inclusive dialogue, consensus and legislative processes.
On the security front, she focused on the continuing threat posed by Al-Shabaab, stating that despite the initial success of the Somali National Army’s offensive in taking significant territory, they have since faced setbacks and operational challenges. As Government forces focus on regrouping, reinforcing, and reorganizing, Al-Shabaab has increased the use of 107-millimetre rockets in Mogadishu and conducted targeted attacks on high-profile Somali politicians. The conflicts have extracted a mounting civilian toll, with 1,289 civilian casualties recorded in 2023 so far, she added.
Mohamed El-Amine Souef, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia and Head of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), reported that, since his last briefing to the Council in June, commendable progress has been made on some of Somalia’s outstanding issues, including consensus building and dialogue among the country’s leaders and the ongoing offensive against Al-Shabaab. Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has been leading the Government’s commitment to fight Al-Shabaab, which remains the main threat to the country and the region, he said, detailing support provided by ATMIS in the Government-led offensive.
Turning to the drawdown of ATMIS, he said the Joint Tripartite Committee completed the drawdown of 2,000 ATMIS troops in June and began activities for the Phase 2 drawdown. The Somali Government requested a “technical pause” of the ATMIS Phase 2 drawdown of 3,000 troops, he said, stating that the African Union Peace and Security Council agreed to support this request, in accordance with its Communiqué 1177 (2023), which he hoped the Council will endorse. “It remains vital that the drawdown of ATMIS troops be informed and guided by a careful assessment of the prevailing security situation and the Somalia security forces capability,” he added.
In the ensuing discussion, many Council members commended Somalia for its advances in State-building, political dialogue and countering the threat posed by Al-Shabaab, while some underscored the need to tackle human rights violations against children, largely perpetrated by that group. Some speakers voiced concern over mounting humanitarian needs, which require adequate funding to address, while others emphasized the need to ensure the continued protection of civilians and avoid a security vacuum, in the context of the impending drawdown of 3,000 ATMIS personnel.
On that, the United Kingdom’s delegate, indicating an impending crunch point in the security transition, with 2024 seeing the continuation of the transition from ATMIS to Somali-led security, called on Member States to step up their financial support to ATMIS and Somalia, noting his country’s $60 million contribution to ATMIS. He welcomed the positive collaboration between Somalia’s Government and ATMIS on the recent joint technical assessment to ensure that the security transition is successful.
In a similar vein, the representative of the United States underscored the urgent need to finalize a security transition plan, with timelines and support requirements, pointing out that some security setbacks highlighted capacity and command and control challenges among Somali security forces. The United States is committed to supporting Somalia and the African Union to build up Mogadishu’s security capacity, which also needs improved international coordination.
Ghana’s delegate, who also spoke on behalf of Gabon and Mozambique, voicing concern about the tense security situation in Somalia, highlighted the urgent need for sustained support in addressing the security challenges considering the ongoing phased withdrawal of ATMIS. Expressing support for Mogadishu’s justification for the technical pause of the drawdown, he underscored the need for support to be lent to the Government to enable it to preserve the hard-fought gains made over the year in stabilizing the country, especially during the implementation of the technical pause.
The representative of Switzerland, meanwhile, voiced concern over the already dramatic humanitarian situation, which is poised to worsen due to rainfall linked to the El Niño phenomenon. In that context, he welcomed the Somali Disaster Management Agency’s initiative to convene a committee to enable better preparedness and crisis management for the expected floods.
Rounding out the discussion, Somalia’s delegate outlined progress made in his country’s military offensive against Al-Shabaab, pointing out that over 600 kilometres of ground had been liberated from the group since August 2022. Ahead of the next drawdown phase by the Somali armed forces, he underlined the need for comprehensive and well-tailored security planning for the population centres surrounding the forward operating bases slated for collapse or handover to ensure a seamless security transition. He also renewed his call for the lifting of the arms embargo imposed on his country in 1992, which “restricts Somali armed forces’ capabilities”. As the armed forces increases its responsibilities, there is more demand for logistical support, which currently falls short due to the escalated operational tempo in countering Al-Shabaab, he added.
THE SITUATION IN SOMALIA
CATRIONA LAING, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), presenting the latest Secretary-General’s report (document S/2023/758), said that, since her last briefing in June, she had provided it an update on the situation in Laascaanood [Las Anod] on 7 September, as well as briefed its Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict on 6 September. On political developments, she highlighted the 27 May National Consultative Council communiqué, which set out four specific proposals for a future electoral system, including moves to a presidential system, and a two-party system. These proposals dominate the political debate, with the presidential system and the proposed synchronization of federal member states election schedules with the extension of incumbent mandates proving contentious. Noting tensions around term extensions in South-West and Jubaland States, she stressed that all constitutional amendments should be based on inclusive dialogue, consensus and legislative processes.
Turning to the situation in Laascaanood, which escalated on 25 August when the Dhulbahante militia advanced towards the town of Oog, she said the situation is presently calm, with people returning home. However, the potential for a relapse into violence cannot be ruled out. Therefore, the United Nations continues to convene partners to coordinate joint efforts towards conflict resolution. Outlining her team’s engagements with key stakeholders, including President Bihi, President Deni, elders and the Dhulbahante leaders, among others, she said her key message to all parties is to push for an immediate exchange of detainees; a commitment to no further violence; and to the start of dialogue. On the security situation, she said that, in the offensive against Al-Shabaab, despite initial success when the Somali National Army (SNA) and allied clan militias took significant territory, they have since faced setbacks and operational challenges.
While Government forces are focused on regrouping, reinforcing, and reorganizing, she noted that Al-Shabaab has increased the use of 107 millimetre rockets, particularly in Mogadishu, and also conducted targeted attacks on high-profile Somali politicians. The conflicts continue to extract a civilian toll, she said, noting that 2022 saw the largest increase in civilian casualties since 2017, with early data indicating a similar trend in 2023, with 1,289 civilian casualties recorded so far. On the drawdown of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), she said that a particular challenge was posed by the military offensive in August and September alongside preparations for the second phase of the drawdown. Urging all partners to provide support to fill the funding gap for ATMIS to ensure it can deliver its mandate fully, she welcomed the joint technical assessment, which reviewed lessons from the Phase I drawdown on civilian populations. As well, she outlined progress made by UNSOM on women, peace and security, including its work with the Government through the joint programme on women, peace and protection, which focused on engaging and empowering women in peacebuilding processes.
On the humanitarian front, linked to climate change, she said the situation was worsening, with 4 million people continuing to be food insecure and in need of assistance. The situation is projected to deteriorate further from mid-October to December, mainly due to the enhanced Deyr rains exacerbated by the El Niño phenomenon, expected to cause flash and riverine floods in large parts of the country. In this context, she underscored the need to scale up programmes that tackle the underlying drivers of the humanitarian crisis, integrate humanitarian response with longer-term climate adaptation, and ensure funding for the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, pointing out that only 39.4 per cent of the needed $2.6 billion funding is funded. Turning to human rights, she welcomed positive legislative developments through the Federal Government’s approval of the Disability Rights Bill as well as the Child Rights Bill and the Juvenile Justice Bill. As well, she welcomed progress by Somalia towards reaching the heavily indebted poor countries completion point by December.
MOHAMED EL-AMINE SOUEF, Special Representative of the African Union Commission Chairperson for Somalia and Head of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), detailing his engagements with all partners, reported that on 12 October he hosted a briefing session with diplomatic partners in Mogadishu to take stock of the progress achieved in the transition process and to determine the required support for a successful and orderly transition. The continued collaboration between the African Union, the United Nations and other key partners remains vital in delivering collective support to Somalia, which remains united under the leadership of Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, he said. Since he last briefed the Council in June, commendable progress on some of Somalia’s immediate and outstanding issues has been made, mainly focused on maintaining consensus building and dialogue among the country’s leaders and the ongoing offensive against Al-Shabaab, he added.
The National Consultative Council continues to play a leading role in fostering unity between the Government and its federal member states, and in June it agreed to accelerate the Government’s offensive against Al-Shabaab and prioritize stabilization and reconciliation in the newly recovered areas, he said. Puntland’s expressed intention to engage in direct talks with the Government signals renewed willingness to re-engage, he added, noting that he looks forward to Puntland’s return to the National Consultative Council, which remains a crucial mechanism for building consensus and advancing national priorities.
Turning to the security situation, he said their assessment indicates that Al-Shabaab remains the main threat to Somalia and the region. President Mohamud has been leading the Government’s commitment to fight Al-Shabaab. In parallel, ATMIS has continued to support the Government-led offensive against Al-Shabaab, he said, detailing its efforts to that end. Turning to the agreed drawdown, he said the Joint Tripartite Committee completed the drawdown of 2,000 ATMIS troops in June and began activities for the Phase 2 drawdown. “Operational and military successes, while significant, are not enough to degrade and ultimately defeat Al-Shabab,” he stressed, adding that they must be supplemented by dedicated support to the Government’s reconciliation and stabilization efforts, comprising promotion of social cohesion and extension of State authority, including to newly liberated areas.
Voicing concern that El Niño is likely to worsen the humanitarian situation in internally displaced persons camps, he said ATMIS has already established, in consultation with UNSOM and the United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS), a mission-wide disaster management committee to coordinate the Mission’s mitigation, preparedness and early action. However, it will require extensive resources to limit the negative impact of El Nino, he said, calling on the Council to continue supporting humanitarian action in Somalia.
Turning to the Government’s request for a “technical pause” of the ATMIS Phase 2 drawdown of 3,000 troops, he said the African Union Peace and Security Council agreed to support that request in accordance with its Communiqué 1177 (2023) and based on Somalia’s operational realities. Voicing hope that the Council will endorse that Communiqué, he said “it remains vital that the drawdown of ATMIS troops be informed and guided by a careful assessment of the prevailing security situation and the Somalia security forces capability.” The UN Security Council “should, as a first step in November, consider lifting the current arms embargo on Somalia”, he added, noting the important progress made by the country in meeting the conditions for lifting the arms embargo. He highlighted that the technical pause of the Phase 2 drawdown will now provide Somalia, ATMIS and key partners the opportunity to secure the collective gains made in Somalia. The pause will allow a reassessment of the operational needs of the SNA to defeat Al-Shabaab. The Council, in endorsing the technical pause, must address the growing financial deficit faced by ATMIS as the Mission prepares to exit in December 2024. The ongoing efforts to transfer security responsibilities to the Somali security forces (SSF) must be matched with sustainable, predictable and adequate funding through a consideration of assessed contributions for ATMIS and similar African Union Peace Support Operations, he said, affirming the bloc’s commitment to burden sharing, including through the allocation of funds from the Peace Fund to support ATMIS operations.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) noted an impending crunch point in the security transition, with 2024 seeing the continuation of the transition from ATMIS to Somali-led security, amid that country’s ongoing offensive operations against Al-Shabaab. In this context, he called on Member States to step up their financial support to ATMIS and Somalia, pointing out that his country has contributed over $60 million to ATMIS and over $10 million to the Somalia Trust Fund. The United Kingdom welcomes the positive collaboration between the Government and ATMIS on the recent joint technical assessment to ensure that the security transition is successful. He commended the Somalia Government for its commitment to establishing inclusive political processes, underlining that clarity on the electoral model and the constitutional review will underpin medium- to long-term stability. As well, he commended its progress through the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, through which it is on track to benefit from debt relief, including from the United Kingdom.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) was encouraged by the Government of Somalia and the African Union’s ongoing efforts for peace and stability in the country and East Africa by addressing the threat posed by Al-Shabaab. He congratulated the Government of Somalia on efforts on a national security architecture and national justice framework. Some security setbacks highlighted capacity and command and control challenges among Somali security forces (SSF), he said. He added there is an urgent need to finalize a security transition plan, with timelines and support requirements. He said the United States is committed to supporting Somalia and the African Union to build up Mogadishu’s security capacity, and that this also needs improved international coordination. The potential for violence in and around Las Anod concerned him and he urged all sides to agree to an immediate ceasefire and dialogue. He called for a greater commitment to the monitoring of human rights violations in and around Las Anod and highlighted the need to address the dire impacts of Somalia’s severe drought.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), speaking also on behalf of Gabon and Mozambique, commended Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud for his efforts in advancing Mogadishu’s key priorities and State-building through a consultative and inclusive political dialogue. He encouraged Somalia and “Somaliland” to continue to continue their engagement in initiatives to resolve conflicts and promote dialogue between them and urged all stakeholders to actively participate as well to achieve a peaceful and mutually beneficial resolution. Voicing deep concern over the recent conflict in Las Anod and the surrounding areas, he called on the Somaliland administration and the Dhulbahante clan elders to engage in meaningful communication and mediation efforts. Further voicing concern about the tense security situation in Somalia, also considering the ongoing phased withdrawal of ATMIS, he highlighted the urgent need for sustained support in addressing the security challenges faced by the country.
He expressed support for Somalia’s justification for the technical pause of the drawdown and encouraged the Council to endorse this as well. It is important to continue to provide support to the Government of Somalia to preserve the hard-fought gains made over the year in stabilizing the country, especially during the implementation of the technical pause, he stressed. He called on all stakeholders, particularly the Council, the private sector, donors and Somalia’s bilateral partners, to help mobilize the necessary resources for the successful implementation of the three-month pause for the concerned ATMIS personnel, as well as for the smooth transition of the relevant security responsibility to SSF. He also urged the lifting of the arms embargo to help combat the threats in the country.
Turning to the economic front, he commended the Government for the progress made under the heavily indebted poor countries initiative and encouraged all partners to expedite debt relief agreements. Voicing concern about the current humanitarian situation, particularly due to the significant funding shortfall for the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, he urged the donor community to help bridge the funding gap to alleviate the suffering of the Somali people.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta) welcomed intensified efforts to advance political dialogue on key national priorities and commended the Federal Government of Somalia’s leadership in this regard. While Malta is encouraged by recent agreements on the constitutional review process and electoral preparations at the federal level, it remains concerned that Puntland is disengaged from this crucial exercise. “We are disappointed at the limited political participation of women in decision-making and commend the efforts of women civil society organizations to ensure that the voices of women are not only heard but included,” she added. Malta welcomes the intensified efforts by Somalia to root out Al-Shabaab. “We condemn, in the strongest terms, all offensives carried out by Al-Shabaab, and we place our trust in a Somali-led concerted effort,” she said. Malta is also concerned about the stark increase in grave violations committed against children, in particular the abduction of 263 children for forced recruitment and use.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) voiced hope that progress is made in dialogue and consensus, underscoring the importance of an inclusive constitutional review and preparation for upcoming elections. He underscored efforts undertaken by UNSOM and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to improve capacity in drafting gender legislation, echoing the Secretary-General’s observation on the disheartening levels of political participation of Somali women. Ecuador reiterates that exclusive political processes endanger lasting peace and security. On the security front, he voiced concern over the threat posed by Al-Shabaab in the country and region, noting the incidence of serious human rights violations, the majority by that group. Emphasizing the need to prioritize the rights of children, he said that those with supposed links to armed groups must be treated as victims, not combatants, under international humanitarian law. On food security, with the El Niño phenomenon poised to blight the region, he called on the international community to support preventive action to respond to humanitarian needs.
ARIAN SPASSE (Albania), welcoming efforts to promote women’s participation in public life, also said that legal frameworks against conflict-related sexual violence require strengthening. Albania is deeply concerned about the reported restrictions on freedom of expression, journalists and the media, and calls on the Somali Government to take steps to create a safe and inclusive civic space. Albania recognizes the many challenges faced, particularly with Al-Shabaab’s continued use of improvised explosive devices. Stabilization efforts remain critical to ensuring gains are consolidated and avoiding a security vacuum in liberated areas. Coordination and planning between ATMIS and Somalia is critical to preparing the country for a security handover. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said that although famine has been averted, recurring climate shocks and conflict continue to exacerbate humanitarian needs, disproportionately affecting women and children.
DAI BING (China) said the drawdown plan must be carried out in a smooth, orderly and responsible manner based on a comprehensive assessment of the security situation to avoid a security vacuum. He voiced support for the holding of a national consultative conference between the Somalia federation and its member states to promote political dialogue and discuss major issues, such as elections, counter-terrorism and reconciliation. Noting the renewal of UNSOM’s mandate, which is currently under Council discussion, he voiced hope that UNSOM will focus on its core mandate and make dedicated efforts to help Somalia address the root causes of the conflict and take more practical measures to promote humanitarian assistance and poverty eradication, among others. Recalling the Somali authorities’ repeated calls for the lifting of the arms embargo, he said the Council must respond to those concerns and adjust the sanctions measures in light of the security situation on the ground.
KIMIHIRO ISHIKANE (Japan) said that the completion of the first phase of the ATMIS drawdown illustrates the strong political will of Somalia’s Federal Government to implement the planned security transition. “It is a daunting task to continue effective offensive operations against the strongholds of Al-Shabaab in remote areas while, at the same time, consolidating the Government’s security control in newly liberated areas,” he added. Degrading Al-Shabaab and preventing any recurrence of its intrusion into Somali society requires a long-term endeavour based on the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. This is especially true given that the country is being battered by multiple challenges including severe climate shocks. “We must also focus on socioeconomic development through capacity-building, especially to provide the Somali youth with future prospects that can keep them from becoming involved with armed groups and illegal activities,” he added. For its part, Japan has provided support to local organizations that help young entrepreneurs to explore business opportunities.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) said that over the past two decades, and against many odds, Somalia has proven to be a great example of resilience and of the potential of regional and international partnerships. The country’s stabilization continues apace and efforts to address terrorism have been effective. There is, however, still much to be done. Just on 16 October, the killing of a journalist by Al-Shabaab during a suicide attack was yet another reminder of the need to remain vigilant. There is a need for a coordinated strategy that sustains the ongoing military offensive to protect Somalis while also helping the Government of Somalia stabilize its territorial gains. The United Arab Emirates believes that the current situation necessitates the lifting of the arms embargo on the Federal Government of Somalia. It also supports Somalia’s call for a three-month pause to the withdrawal ATMIS, she added.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) said the National Consultative Council is an important step towards strengthening national unity. She encouraged all Somali stakeholders to participate, saying involvement of women, young people and marginalized communities is essential. She welcomed the commitment and successes of Somalia, as well as the ATMIS troop-contributing countries in combating Al-Shabaab. But she warned that the situation remains fragile, with frequent Al-Shabaab attacks targeting civilians, causing casualties and internally displaced people. She was concerned about clashes in Las Anod, saying: “We would encourage all stakeholders to prioritize dialogue to find a solution to this conflict.” The security situation has a humanitarian and environmental risk and can cause food insecurity, she said, urging unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid. She added that the means of future support for Somalia’s management of its own security must be discussed right now, as ATMIS is committed to a withdrawal process. She welcomed the President of Somalia’s initiative to organize a conference on security in Somalia in New York on 12 December.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) noted that Somalia is at the epicentre of climate change, leading to an already dramatic humanitarian situation likely to worsen due to rainfall linked to the El Niño phenomenon. In this context, he welcomed the Somali Disaster Management Agency’s initiative to convene a committee to enable better preparedness and crisis management for the expected floods. Turning to the transition, he noted that, while it is important for Somalia to be able to take charge of its own security in the medium term, it must not be rushed to avoid negative repercussions on the security and humanitarian situation on the ground. On worrying gaps in involvement of women, he noted his country’s support for local partners, from Mogadishu to Hargeisa, bolstering their efforts to empower women to participate in decision-making and to set up inclusive political processes. On the security front, he deplored continuing attacks by Al-Shabaab and other armed groups and their forced recruitment of children, observing an alarming increase in the number of serious violations against children in the country.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), noting an increase in the work of the National Consultative Council, voiced concern about Puntland and Somaliland’s lack of participation and urged all participants in the Somali political process to continue their joint work to establish a sustainable federative model in the country while maintaining Somalia’s territorial integrity and unity. She noted that, as ATMIS remains vital to containing extremist and other unlawful actions in the country, reducing the Mission’s troop numbers should depend on the situation on the ground. She agreed with the Government’s request, as supported by the African Union, to push back the completion of the second stage of ATMIS’ withdrawal by three months, and said she trusts that that the Council will soon be able to approve that request. Her delegation also shares Mogadishu’s concerns regarding the arms embargo and will be involved in substantive discussion on that matter in November, she added.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil), Council President for October, speaking in his national capacity, said that by resuming long-term State-building processes in the liberated communities, the Federal Government of Somalia and the federal member states have unprecedented opportunities to promote local ownership and sustain peace. Despite the remarkable progress, Somalia faces significant challenges ahead. Al-Shabaab continues to pose the most dangerous threat. Despite the UN special political mission’s vital mediation efforts, the conflict in Las Anod remains unsolved. Dialogue facilitated by mediation is the best option available to reach an agreement. He welcomed the African Union Peace and Security Council’s efforts to operationalize the three-month technical pause requested by the Federal Government of Somalia. By improving its security and stability, Somalia will free a significant share of its people’s precious time, energy and money to pursue their ambitions and dreams, he said.
ABUKAR DAHIR OSMAN (Somalia) noted that National Consultative Council meetings between federal member states had led to agreements on fiscal policies, electoral processes and security arrangements, that reconciliation efforts in Galmudug and South-West State have “resulted in a renewed spirit of cooperation and unity”, and that since August 2022 over 600 kilometres of ground has been liberated from Al-Shabaab. Ahead of the next drawdown phase by the Somali armed forces, comprehensive security planning for the population centres surrounding the forward operating bases slated for collapse or handover is imperative, he said, with planning tailored to suit the distinctive security dynamics of each area, ensuring a seamless security transition.
He said it needs to be acknowledged that Somalia is different from the country it was in 1992 and called for the lifting of the arms embargo in place since then, which “restricts Somali Armed Forces’ capabilities”. As the armed forces increases its responsibilities there is more demand for logistical support, which currently falls short due to the escalated operational tempo in countering Al-Shabaab. The Government, with its partners, shall conduct a comprehensive reassessment of the operational needs of the national armed forces, so that it can eventually have the financial and logistical resources it needs to effectively pursue its transition priorities. It is imperative that the UNSOM transition to the United Nations country team presence aligns with the reality of Somalia today and assists with the Government’s long-term development priorities.