The Ugandan contingent in Somalia under the African Union Peace-keeping Mission in Somalia (Amisom) has reiterated the country’s call on the UN to go slow on troop reduction in the country.
The call by the UPDF contingent commander, Brig Paul L’Okech, last Thursday came in the wake of divisions among troop-contributing countries, Somali officials and the international community , on the timetable to withdraw foreign forces.
Donors and Mogadishu want the foreign troops out to enable Somali security forces take control of the Horn of African country.
Some Somali government officials told a summit of troop contributing countries in Kampala early this year that they feel their security forces are now capable to run the country’s security.
Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa, according to one senior government official who attended the February summit at Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, quipped: “I did not know that we are no longer wanted [in Somalia].”
Uganda was the first country to deploy in Somalia in March 2007 and the UPDF, with 5,700 troops on the ground, constitute the largest contingent under the 22,000 Amisom.
In a briefing last week to Ugandan journalists, Brig L’Okech insisted said their offensive against the al-Shabaab is a noble cause to pacify a stricken Africa country and prevent the conflict effects to spill over to Uganda.
He said the main concern for insisting on staying on in Somalia for now, is to ensure the Somali National Army builds capacity to sustain current gains in the anti-al-Shabaab fight.
“Yes, they (Somalia National Army) are being prepared, but they have not reached the level where they can take on some responsibility. In some areas, they still need to be trained...and it is a process,” ,” Brig L’okech said.
“We can say today that ‘we have trained them; so, let us pull out’. We shall not have done anything for our brothers and sister in Somalia [if al-Shabaab take over],” he added.
Amisom was initially given a six-months to stabilise Somalia, starting with the Capital, Mogadishu.
However, the UN and African Union continued re-adjusting the time frame and mandate owing to al-Shabaab’s continued threat to the Federal Government of Somalia and neigbouring countries.
“Our main motive was how to help Somalis achieve peace and that’s what we are looking forward to; many were doubting our capability, with some saying the mission is dead on arrival but 10 years down the road, Mogadishu is peaceful with very many embassies operating,” Brig L’okech said.
The UN Security Council in August 2017 passed resolution 2372, demanding Amisom for a drawback in troop numbers to enable gradual handover of security to Somali security forces by 2021.
Brig L’okech saidt the withdraw of troops “should be carefully handled”, lest the situation reverts to the precarious one 10 years ago.
The militants are spread across Qoryooley, Baraawe and Marka in the Lower Shabelle region and they collect taxes from the population.
Their ever present threat is that they are embedded within the populations and only attack when chance presents itself.
Concerns over the possibility of an indiscriminate killing of civilians during a full-throttle operation has hamstrung efforts to drive out al-Shabaab, the military said.