The UN Security Council on Thursday voted unanimously for a new African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, where Al-Shabaab insurgents have been seeking to overthrow the fragile government for more than a decade.
Under the approved resolution, the new mission is projected to gradually decrease staffing levels from nearly 20,000 soldiers, police, and civilians to zero by the end of 2024.
The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) will work to enable Somali forces to take responsibility for security, replacing the current AMISOM mission, whose mandate was set to expire Thursday.
The United Arab Emirates, which holds the UN Security Council’s rotating presidency this month, announced the resolution’s adoption, noting that it was the fruit of “several months of constructive exchanges.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres earlier this month endorsed a continuation of the mission, and recommended that force reduction proceed in four phases, beginning after the end of the year.
The adopted resolution includes that framework but endorses the drawdown of 2,000 personnel this year.
Amid the ongoing diplomatic crisis due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States welcomed the “rare” opportunity “to help shape the transition of a mission.”
Richard Mills, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, in a statement praised the efforts to find a “credible, shared vision of how to more actively counter Al-Shabaab and transition the responsibility for security to the Somali security forces.”
He noted that Al-Shabaab is “Al-Qaeda’s largest and best-financed affiliate” and remains a “formidable and adaptable threat to Somalia, and to East Africa more broadly.”
Somalia has seen a spate of Al-Shabaab attacks in recent weeks as the Horn of Africa nation hobbles through a long-delayed election process.
Last week, twin attacks in the center of the country claimed 48 lives.
The United States, Somalia’s key foreign backer, has imposed travel sanctions on senior political figures for undermining the electoral process.
The lower house election was due to be completed on Thursday, paving the way for lawmakers to pick a president.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed‘s term ended in February 2021 but efforts to hold an election have failed.
The jihadists controlled Mogadishu until 2011 when they were pushed out by AMISOM troops, but still hold territory in the countryside.