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AMISOM Reauthorisation

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Tomorrow (30 August), the Security Council is set to adopt a resolution reauthorising the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) until 31 May 2018. The draft resolution was put into blue on 25 August after two fairly straightforward rounds of expert-level negotiations.

The draft text reflects the recommendations of the recent joint AU-UN review of AMISOM, requested in paragraph 24 of resolution 2297 (2016), and focuses on the gradual handover of security responsibility to the Somali security forces. The draft welcomes the recommendation of the review for a gradual and phased reduction and reorganisation of AMISOM’s uniformed personnel in order to provide a greater support role to the Somali security forces as they progressively take the lead for security in Somalia. It emphasises that the long-term objective for Somalia, with the support of its international partners, is that Somali security forces assume full responsibility for the country’s security.

Accordingly, the draft resolution reauthorises AMISOM until 31 May, and decides to reduce the level of uniformed AMISOM personnel to a maximum level of 21,626 troops (a reduction of 500 from the previous authorisation) by 31 December. The draft resolution also stipulates that this figure should include a minimum of 1,040 AMISOM police personnel including five Formed Police Units. A second drawdown phase is also outlined in the resolution, which, in line with the recommendations of the joint review, calls for a further reduction to 20,626 personnel by 30 October 2018.

It seems that there was some discussion among Council members concerning the timing of the second phase of drawdown. France, supported by the US, proposed that the pace of reduction could be accelerated and suggested that the second phase be slated for April, instead of October, 2018, a suggestion that it seems was at least partly motivated by the potential cost savings. However, other members felt that the Council was not in a position to override the recommendations of the joint review, which involved extensive contacts with AMISOM, Somali security forces, the AU, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and others. The draft in blue thus retains the date recommended by the review, but stipulates that the Council can decide “to accelerate the pace of the reduction, taking into account the capabilities of the Somali security forces”.

While the previous resolution on AMISOM lists the mission’s primary strategic objective for AMISOM as reducing the threat posed by Al-Shabaab and other armed groups, the draft in blue lists as the primary objective enabling the gradual handing over of security responsibilities from AMISOM to the Somali security forces, contingent on the abilities of the Somali security forces and political and security progress in Somalia. It also decides to reconfigure the mission, as security conditions allow, in favour of police personnel within the authorised AMISOM personnel ceiling.

The draft resolution also requests the Secretary-General to conduct a comprehensive assessment of AMISOM by 15 April 2018, working closely with the AU and the Federal Government of Somalia, to take stock of the transition, including the development of Somali security institutions, and to make recommendations on the progressive transition from AMISOM to Somali security responsibility including over the electoral period. It seems that a few Council members felt that the process of conducting another time-consuming review in such a short time span would prove too cumbersome. However, the majority of members felt that such assessment will provide the Council with the information necessary for their future deliberations on the drawdown, and ultimately the language was retained.

The issue of financing for AMISOM is also raised in the draft text through language introduced by Ethiopia and supported by the other African members—Egypt and Senegal—as well as other members. The AU has called upon the Council to provide funding for the mission through UN assessed contributions, a call echoed by the African members of the Council, but not supported by the US. Ethiopia, preferring to work towards that end gradually, proposed previously-agreed language from resolution 2320 of 18 November 2016, which welcomed the AU’s efforts to create a predictable cost-sharing structure for the funding of peace support operations authorised by the Council.

Thus, using agreed language, the text “stresses the need to enhance the predictability, sustainability and flexibility of financing for AU-led peace support operations authorized by the Security Council and under the Security Council’s authority consistent with Chapter VIII of the Charter”. The resolution also urges the Secretary-General, AU and partners to explore in earnest funding arrangements for AMISOM, bearing in mind the full range of options available to the UN, AU, EU and other partners, and considering the limitations of voluntary funding, and looks forward to the Secretary-General’s report on the future funding of AMISOM by November 2017. This issue is expected to be on the agenda of the joint consultative meeting of members of the Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council on 8 September.

Regarding the responsibilities of the government, the draft resolution recognises that the primary responsibility for security lies with the Somali people and institutions, and welcomes the historic political agreement on the National Security Architecture by the Federal Government of Somalia and the Federal Member States on 17 April 2017, underlining the importance of its swift implementation. Recognising that Al-Shabaab will not be defeated by military means alone, the draft resolution encourages the Federal Government of Somalia, with the support of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), to continue to take a comprehensive approach to security, in line with the Security Pact and the New Partnership Agreement for Somalia, and to implement Somalia’s National Strategy and Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism in order to strengthen Somalia’s capacity to prevent and counter terrorism.

Concerning international cooperation, the draft resolution welcomes the commitment of international partners to provide additional and more effective support through the implementation mechanisms agreed at the London Somalia Conference held in May, including more coordinated delivery of mentoring, training, equipment, capacity building, and remuneration of police and military forces, consistent with the Security Pact agreed at the London Conference. It also emphasises the important role of UNSOM in assisting the government in coordinating international donor support for security sector assistance.

Briefing Room

UPDATE: Somali authorities say troops rescue 32 children from “terrorist school”

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MOGADISHU, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Somali authorities said troops stormed a school run by al Shabaab on Thursday night and rescued 32 children who had been taken as recruits by the Islamist militant group.

“The 32 children are safe and the government is looking after them. It is unfortunate that terrorists are recruiting children to their twisted ideology,” Abdirahman Omar Osman, information minister for the Somali federal government, told Reuters on Friday.

“It showed how desperate the terrorists are, as they are losing the war and people are rejecting terror.”

Al Shabaab said government forces, accompanied by drones, had attacked the school in Middle Shabelle region. It said four children and a teacher were killed.

The Somali government said no children were killed in the rescue.

“They kidnapped the rest of the students,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military spokesman.

“Human Rights Watch is responsible for the deaths of the students and their teacher because it pointed fingers at them,” he added.

In a report this week, the New York-based rights group said that since September 2017, al Shabaab had ordered village elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and rural communities to hand over hundreds of children as young as eight.

The U.S. Africa Command said it had carried out an air strike on Thursday against al Shabaab targets 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Somalia’s port city of Kismayo, killing four militants. U.S. forces regularly launch such aerial assaults.

The al Shabaab militia, linked to al Qaeda, is fighting to topple the U.N.-backed Somali government and establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.

Somalia has been plagued by conflict since the early 1990s, when clan-based warlords overthrew authoritarian ruler Mohamed Siad Barre then turned on each other.

In recent years, regional administrations headed by the Mogadishu-based federal government have emerged, and African Union peacekeepers supporting Somali troops have gradually clawed back territory from the Islamist insurgents.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Briefing Room

Somalia welcomes 41 nationals released from Indian jails, more to follow

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The Federal Government of Somalia on Friday welcomed home forty-one nationals who had been in Indian jails for piracy related offences.

The returnees were welcomed at the Mogadishu International Airport by Prime Minister Ali Hassan Khayre and other government officials.

A Voice of America journalist, Harun Maruf said the former detainees were released after negotiations between the two countries.

He added that: “They were part of 120 Somalis arrested by India navy after being suspected of involvement in piracy acts, some have served their jail terms.” Two of them are said to have died in prison.

The Prime Minister later wrote on Twitter that the government will continue to do all it takes to return Somalis languishing in jails outside the country. Reports indicate that 77 others will be freed in the coming months.

The Somali government in 2017 secured the release of over twenty of its nationals held in neighbouring Ethiopia’s jails.

The government was also instrumental in the release of a top Somali journalist who was jailed in Ethiopia.

The Mohammed Abdullahi Farmaajo government, however, attracted public outrage by handing over a Somali national to the Ethiopian government.

A move that was slammed by Somalis and by human rights groups who claimed Mogadishu had virtually handed him over to be tortured.

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Briefing Room

US wary of Islamic extremism growth in Africa

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PENTAGON — With the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate almost completely retaken in Iraq and Syria, many American leaders are concerned the group might try to create a new hub elsewhere.

Islamic extremism creeps up in impoverished, politically disillusioned populations with masses of young, unemployed Muslims, and these conditions can be seen across the African continent.

“Africa is going to be the spot; it’s going to be the hot spot,” Congressman Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a hearing last month.

In a letter sent to congressional leaders on Monday detailing counter-extremism efforts, President Donald Trump said his administration had placed a “particular focus” on the U.S. Central and Africa Commands’ areas of responsibility.

While tens of thousands of American troops are deployed to the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where U.S. Central Command oversees military operations, the entire African continent has less than half the number of American troops deployed in the single country of Afghanistan.

But increases in terrorist activity are among the reasons why American military presence has grown rapidly on the continent, from 3,200 military personnel in 2009 to some 6,500 military personnel today.

The bulk of U.S. military personnel in Africa, some 4,000 Americans, are based in Djibouti, home to the United States’ only military base on the continent. The second-largest concentration is in the Lake Chad Basin, where some 1,300 U.S. military personnel work in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad to help strengthen local militaries and counter Boko Haram, al-Qaida, Islamic State and other extremist groups. About 500 U.S. military personnel are based in Somalia, where al-Shabaab terrorists are battling the U.N.-backed Somali government and Islamic State operates in mountainous areas of Puntland.

John Campbell, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, is critical of the United States’ policy toward Africa.

“There is African concern that the U.S. approach is becoming rather more militarized, or more concerned with military and security issues than had been the case in the past,” he told VOA.

Campbell said he believes that the main thrust of American effort on the continent should be on the “root causes” of extremism — poor governance and lack of economic development. But this effort will likely prove more difficult if the State Department’s budget is slashed, as proposed by the Trump administration.

Ripe for recruitment

Africa’s growing young, male population is ripe for recruitment, Africa Command’s senior enlisted leader, Command Chief Master Sergeant Ramon Colon-Lopez told VOA in an exclusive interview.

“When you have no options and here comes an extremist that is offering you a motorbike and a bride, what do you think you’re going to do? Your family’s starving, you can’t provide for them and somebody’s giving you an option,” he said.

The Trump administration this year changed rules governing U.Smilitary operations in the area, expanding the ability to strike al-Shabab and IS fighters in the war-torn country of Somalia. The change allowed offensive strikes against the terrorists rather than limiting attacks to defending African allies and their American advisers on the ground. This matches a similar expansion of strike authorities this year against the Taliban in Afghanistan, where under President Barack Obama, the Taliban had to be in close proximity to Afghan National Security Forces before they could be targeted.

The new authorities have led to an increase in strikes in Somalia. The latest of the more than 30 U.S. strikes across the west African country this year came on Tuesday, taking out what U.S. military officials said was an al-Shabab car bomb planned for use in an attack in the capital, Mogadishu.

Colon-Lopez said the new authorities have “definitely” helped the counter-terrorism mission in Africa.

The U.S. has also used air strikes this year to target IS militants in Libya. Just last month, the U.S. and Niger reached an agreement permitting armed American military drones for use against jihadist terrorist groups in the African nation, according to a U.S. official. It is still unclear whether the drones in Niger will be used to carry out targeted strikes or solely as a defensive measure.

Special operations forces

In the past decade, Africa has also seen a vast expansion of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF), elite military units that are specifically trained and use special weapons, and tactics.

In 2006, Special Operations Forces made up just 1 percent of U.S. military personnel. Today, there are about 1,200 Special Operations Forces deployed to Africa, or about 15 percent of the total deployed force, a U.S. military official told VOA on the condition of anonymity.

Their jobs range from short-term training to long-term partnering with African military units that place American troops in potentially dangerous locations.

That’s what happened in Niger in October, when four American soldiers died in an IS ambush, and in May, when a U.S. Navy SEAL died aiding Somali security forces against al-Shabaab.

“I worry about the outposts that have U.S. military members that are getting after this threat,” Colon-Lopez said. “I worry about them because we can see what happened out there when the enemy decides to overpower the United States of America.”

The number of times that U.S. troops are exposed to danger in Africa are rare, a U.S. military official told VOA, adding that Special Operations Forces limit their involvement with local partners because of the strong desire to find “African solutions to African problems.”

“Our role is more like preventative medicine in Africa than emergency surgery,” the military official said.

However, if the security need grows in the coming months, more Americans troops could find themselves in dangerous situations across the continent.

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