UNITED NATIONS – The Security Council voted Monday to delay the reduction of troops in the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia from October to February and its target date for Somali forces to take the lead in the country's security to December 2021.
A resolution adopted unanimously by the council authorizes deployment of the force known as AMISOM until May 31, 2019, including a reduction to a maximum of 20,626 uniformed troops by Feb. 28, 2019. It pushes back Somalia's target takeover from AMISOM from 2020.
British Ambassador Karen Pierce, whose country sponsored the resolution, said: "AMISOM is providing the critical space while Somalia gets its own security forces up to capacity, and we hope that that will continue."
"The resolution allows for a delay in the transition of AMISOM precisely so that there's enough time and space for the Somalis to get their house in order on the security side," Pierce said.
Somalia, which borders restive Kenya and lies across the Gulf of Aden from conflict-wracked Yemen, began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Years of conflict and attacks by the al-Shabab Islamic extremist group, along with famine, shattered the country of some 12 million people.
It has been trying to rebuild since establishing its first functioning transitional government in 2012. Al-Shabab was pushed out of the capital, Mogadishu, and other major urban cities more than two years ago but still carries out suicide attacks across Somalia.
With a new federal government established, pressure is growing on Somalia's military to assume full responsibility for the country's security.
But Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a July 5 letter to the Security Council that a U.N. assessment of AMISOM, working closely with the AU, concluded that despite "the considerable positive developments ... progress is still reversible" and "Al-Shabab remains a potent threat."
He noted that Somalia suffered "the worst terrorist attack in its history" last Oct. 14 in Mogadishu, which killed over 500 people and left many more injured.
"The attack, attributed to Al-Shabab, underscored the deficiencies in capacity and command and control of Somali security forces," Guterres said. "It was followed by other deadly attacks by al-Shabab on civilian and military targets in Mogadishu and other parts of the country."
Guterres said the attacks "clearly demonstrate that a premature handover would be risky and that the continued presence of AMISOM is necessary during the transition as Somalia builds the capability of its security forces and institutions and prepares for elections in 2020-2021."
He stressed that the presence of AMISOM, alongside Somali forces, will be necessary during the elections, with the Somalis "expected to have attained sufficient capacity to play a lead role in providing security for the elections."
The Security Council last August had extended AMISOM's mission until May 31, 2018, and authorized a reduction of its uniformed peacekeepers from 22,126 to 21,626 by the end of last year and to 20,626 by this Oct. 30. In May, the council had extended AMISOM's mandate until July 31.
Monday's resolution delayed the troop reduction until next May 31 and kept AMISOM's police personnel at the current maximum of 1,040.