Kenya to withdraw all its soldiers in Atmis by December 2024
Kenya said on Wednesday its last troops in Somalia under the African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (Atmis) will leave by December 2024.
The statement by Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale confirms that Kenya is sticking to the UN-established schedule in spite of recent requests by Somalia to delay scheduled September drawdowns by 3 months.
Kenya says it supports the 3-month delay, as have other troop contributors Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Djibouti. But they have all asked for resources to sustain the troops. Duale said that more than 4,000 Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) troops under Atmis will leave the neighbouring country by December next year.
Duale, who appeared before the Senate on Wednesday to answer questions on his ministry, said the withdrawal of Atmis, formerly the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), is already underway and will be done in phases.
Read: Talks start on second phase of Atmis drawdown from Somalia
He said KDF officers are serving under Atmis through the AU Peace and Security Council with the approval of the United Nations Security Council.
Duale however declined to reveal the number of KDF soldiers who lost their lives during the mission, which began in 2012, although he said the government had put in place compensation packages for affected families.
He said the drawdown of troops began in April last year and the plan will end on December 31, 2024 as part of the ongoing Atmis phase-out strategy, which aims to gradually transfer security responsibilities to the Somali Security Forces under the Somalia Transition Plan.
“The last troops are expected to leave Somalia on December 31, 2024 as per the AU and UN Security Council resolution and plan,” said Duale.
He noted that the decision of Kenyan troops to leave Somalia depends on several factors, including the progress of the Atmis mandate as well as the prevailing security and political conditions in Somalia.
Read: Kenyan soldiers deny hiding during Shabaab attack
He further said the first phase of the drawdown had already been completed, with a total of 2,000 Atmis troops leaving in June 2023.
This included 400 troops each from Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, 600 from Burundi and 200 from Djibouti.
He said the second phase of the plan to withdraw 3,000 troops was scheduled for 30 September, when Kenya was to withdraw 754 security officers, including 600 KDF and 154 other officers serving in various categories.
However, the plan has been technically paused pending a decision by the AU and UN on a request by the Somali Federal Government for a three-month extension, which Duale said would only be granted if the AU or UN councils agreed.
“This extension is because the Somali government and its security forces are currently engaged in a serious war with Al Shabaab in the central part of their country,” he said.
Read: Somalia ‘willing’ to extend peacekeepers’ stay
Duale said the third phase of the drawdown strategy would begin on October 1 and last until June 2024, when a total of 4,000 KDF troops would be withdrawn.
He explained that the last phase, which is the final withdrawal, will take place between July 1, 2024 and December 31, 2024.
Duale further explained that during the fourth phase, all remaining Atmis troops from Kenya and other troop-contributing countries will leave Somalia.
“If there is a change of plan, it is not Kenya’s decision but the decision of the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council,” he said.
However, Duale warned that Kenya’s complete withdrawal from Somalia would depend on the country’s national security interests.
“We will analyse the post-Atmis withdrawal keeping in mind the national security interest of our country. Any decision to withdraw KDF from Somalia should be in the best interest of the country as far as our national security interest is concerned,” he said.
He explained that Atmis’ mandate is guided by AU and UN Security Council resolutions and aims to reduce the threat posed by Al Shabaab and other armed groups and to ensure a secure environment in Somalia.
Read: Region rallies to Somalia’s defence
“We ended up in Somalia primarily because our national security interest was threatened by Al Shabaab and other terrorist groups that have found sanctuary in Somalia and the Horn of Africa,” he said.
The CS said Kenya’s involvement in Atmis was twofold: a commitment to protect national security interests and to participate in regional peace, security and stability as Kenya is an anchor state in the region.
He said the benefits accrued include combating Al Shabaab and terrorist groups to stabilise Somalia and ensure a safe and secure region, with KDF officers contributing to the reduction of terrorist infrastructure within Kenya’s borders and the region.
“Our national security interest compels us to stabilise Somalia so that the 800-kilometre border with Somalia is safe and secure,” he said.
Duale said Kenya’s tourism sector was dying on the coast and trade through the Indian Ocean was severely affected by maritime piracy, leading to the country’s invasion of Somalia in 2012.
“We wanted to protect our country, our citizens and our economy. In order for us to have sustainable economic growth, we have to have security. Promoting regional stability was important because a stable Somalia is critical for the development of the region and the greater Horn of Africa,” said the CS.
However, he acknowledged that such operations have unintended consequences, including deaths, injuries and destruction of property.
Duale said the KDF and Kenyans had suffered casualties over the years, including loss of life, but the government could not release the exact number of injuries and deaths for security reasons.
“I would ask that I do not provide statistics on casualties and injuries for publication, as our main concern is that this will be used as a propaganda tool by our enemies and terrorists,” he said.
On compensation, support and welfare for the affected soldiers and their survivors, the CS said the families who lost their loved ones are entitled to a compensation package that includes financial support, which is paid promptly within three weeks.
Read: $200m payout for Somalia mission casualties
“Each soldier gets Ksh4 million ($26,954) over and above his pension, which includes the death gratuity. However, if you served in Atmis, the AU and UN give $50,000 on top of the Ksh4 million from the government,” he said.
The CS, however, says there are delays when families don’t agree on who should get the compensation, with the disputes making the compensation take longer.
In addition, he said there is support for families, focusing on widows, orphans, dependants and disabled service personnel.
There is also extensive counselling and psychological support to help service personnel and families cope with loss and grief, as well as the establishment of a comprehensive network of welfare centres staffed by trained social workers and counsellors.
“Every person who loses their life in the service is honoured and accorded military burial rites, memorial services are held, and medals of honour are awarded posthumously as appropriate,” Duale said.