Somalia Threatens to Expel Ethiopian Troops

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Somalia’s government says it plans to expel thousands of Ethiopian troops unless Addis Ababa renounces its port deal with Somaliland, a senior Somali official declared. The move, warned security experts and foreign diplomats, could escalate Somalia’s instability, leaving a security void exploited by Al Shabaab, which recently escalated attacks against Mogadishu. 

Somalia’s national security adviser, Hussein Sheikh-Ali, cautioned, “unless Ethiopia revoked its dealings with Somaliland by the end of June or the mission’s new mandate is decided, all Ethiopian troops, including those under bilateral arrangements, will be ousted”. This ultimatum comes amid the already scheduled full withdrawal of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) by 2024’s end.

Ethiopian troops first entered Somalia to combat al-Shabaab in December 2006, as part of Operation Restore Hope, a joint effort with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia aimed at stabilizing the country and combating militant groups. Soon after, AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) was established in January 2007 by the African Union and the UN Security Council to support the transitional government of Somalia in its efforts to restore stability and fight against militant groups. AMISOM has since been replaced by yet another international security commitment ATMIS (African Union Transition Mission in Somalia).

Currently around 3,000 Ethiopian soldiers remain in Somalia in support the African Union peacekeeping mission. Outside of this multilateral commitment, the country has an additional 9,000 troops stationed under a bilateral agreement. Security experts agree Ethiopia provided the core of the international effort to help secure Somalia over the years.

The task of ATMIS slated to end in 2023 was extended at the request of Mogadishu, which needed the protection against increasing attacks by Al Shabab. Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) have overseen the most difficult sectors of Somalia, where Al Shabab has the strongest presence. These areas include sector 3, Bakool and Bay centered on the town of Baidoa. The withdrawal of these forces, which is set for December 2024 was a decision made back in 2022. It could leave a security vacuum, which Al Shabab will certainly take advantage of.

At the beginning of 2024, relations between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa soured due to Ethiopia’s pact to recognize Somaliland as an independent country in exchange for a naval plus commercial port, a move that was quickly opposed by Mogadishu, which claims sovereignty over Somaliland. Despite this, Somalilanders vehemently oppose association with Somalia, preferring to make their own foreign policy.

But there remain divisions about the viability of this ultimatum. The Ministry of Internal Security for Southwest Somalia, a region that has been a hotbed of Al Shabab activity stated, Ethiopian troops are working hard, and we will be grateful for their continued contribution”. The region fears an Al Shabab takeover, as has happened numerous times before when ENDF troop drawdown was enacted. 

Facing battlefield setbacks, Somalia is now seeking a slower troop withdrawal, comprising forces from Burundi, Djibouti, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Plans for a new, smaller peacekeeping mission and one that excludes Ethiopia, reflecting current political tensions, will be difficult to manage. 

Withdrawing troops from Somalia has popular support in Ethiopia, where people have grown weary of a seemingly endless military commitment, but the threat of Al Shabab terrorist encroachment is a concern that Addis Ababa cannot completely discount. 

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