Somalia government asks African peacekeepers to slow withdrawal

A Somali security officer stands guard near the scene of a terror attack in Mogadishu. (Reuters file photo)
A Somali security officer stands guard near the scene of a terror attack in Mogadishu. (Reuters file photo)
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Updated 20 June 2024
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Somalia government asks African peacekeepers to slow withdrawal

A Somali security officer stands guard near the scene of a terror attack in Mogadishu. (Reuters file photo)
  • Warning on potential security vacuum
  • US, EU concerned about long-term financing

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s government is seeking to slow the withdrawal of African peacekeepers and warning of a potential security vacuum, documents seen by Reuters show, with neighboring countries fretting that resurgent Al-Shabab extremists could seize power.

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, a peacekeeping force, is committed to withdrawing by Dec. 31, when a smaller new force is expected to replace it.
However, in a letter last month to the acting chair of the African Union Peace and Security Council, the government asked to delay until September the withdrawal of half the 4,000 troops due to leave by the end of June. The letter has not been reported before.

BACKGROUND

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia — a peacekeeping force — is committed to withdrawing by Dec. 31, when a smaller new force is expected to replace it.

The government had previously recommended, in a joint assessment with the AU in March, reviewed by Reuters, that the overall withdrawal timeline be adjusted “based on the actual readiness and capabilities” of Somali forces.
The joint assessment, mandated by the UN Security Council, warned that a “hasty drawdown of ATMIS personnel will contribute to a security vacuum.”
“I’ve never been more concerned about the direction of my home country,” said Mursal Khalif, an independent member of the defense committee in parliament.
The EU and US, the top funders of the AU force in Somalia, have sought to reduce the peacekeeping operation due to concerns about long-term financing and sustainability, four diplomatic sources and a senior Ugandan official said.
Three of the diplomatic sources said that negotiations about a new force have proven complicated, with the AU initially pushing for a more robust mandate than Somalia wanted. A heated political dispute could lead Ethiopia to pull out some of the most battle-hardened troops.
Somalia’s presidency and prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Mohammed El-Amine Souef, AU special representative to Somalia and head of ATMIS, said there was no definitive timeline for concluding negotiations but that all parties were committed to an agreement that helps achieve sustainable peace and security.
“The AU and Somalia’s government have emphasized the importance of a conditions-based drawdown to prevent any security vacuum,” he said.
The Peace and Security Council was due to discuss the drawdown and follow-up mission.
With 5,000 of around 18,500 troops leaving last year, the government has projected confidence as the drawdown proceeds.
It has said the new force should not exceed 10,000 and should be limited to tasks like securing major population centers.
The call for a smaller force likely reflects views of nationalists who oppose a heavy foreign presence in Somalia, said Rashid Abdi, an analyst with Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank focused on the Horn of Africa.
Uganda and Kenya, which contributed troops to the departing mission, are also worried.
Henry Okello Oryem, Uganda’s state minister of foreign affairs, said that despite intensive training efforts, Somali troops could not sustain a long-term military confrontation.
“We do not want to get into a situation where we are fleeing, the kind of thing that we saw in Afghanistan,” he told Reuters.
Oryem said Kenya accepted the drawdown requested by the US and EU but that countries’ concerns with forces in Somalia should be heard.
Kenyan President William Ruto said in Washington last month that a withdrawal that did not account for conditions on the ground would mean “the terrorists will take over Somalia.”
In response to questions, an EU spokesperson said it was focused on building domestic security capacities and supported, in principle, a Somali government proposal for a new mission with a reduced size and scope.
A US State Department spokesperson said the force should be large enough to prevent a security vacuum.
The spokesperson said that Washington has supported all requests submitted by the AU to the UN Security Council to modify the drawdown timeline.
In response to a question about Ethiopian forces, the spokesperson said it was critical to avoid security gaps or unnecessary expenses “incurred by swapping out existing troop contributors.”
Two years ago, an army offensive in central Somalia initially seized large swathes of territory from Al-Shabab. In August, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed declared his intention to “eliminate” the powerful Al-Qaeda offshoot within five months.
But just a few days later, Al-Shabab counter-attacked, retaking the town of Cowsweyne.
They killed scores of soldiers and beheaded several civilians accused of supporting the army, according to a soldier, an allied militiaman, and a resident.
“This broke the hearts of Somalis but gave courage to Al-Shabab,” Ahmed Abdulle, the militiaman from a clan in central Somalia, said in an interview in April.
The Somali government has never publicly provided a death toll for the Cowsweyne battle and didn’t respond to a request for a toll for this story.
“There were enough troops in Cowsweyne, over a battalion, but they were not organized well,” said a soldier named Issa, who fought in the battle there last August.
Issa said car bombs had blasted through the gates of the Cowsweyne army camp on the day of the attack, citing a shortage of defensive outposts to protect bases from such attacks.
Ten soldiers, militiamen from local clans, and residents in areas targeted by the military campaign reported that there had been no army operations in the past two months following additional battlefield setbacks.
Reuters could not independently establish the extent of the territorial losses to Al-Shabab.
On X this week, Somalia’s National Security Adviser said that the army had held most of its gains.
The peacekeepers’ withdrawal could make it more difficult to hold territory.
While analysts estimate Somalia’s army to be around 32,000 soldiers, the government acknowledged, in the assessment with the AU, a shortage of some 11,000 trained personnel due to “high operational tempo” and “attrition.”
The government has said its soldiers can confront Al-Shabab with limited external support.
Somalia has defied gloomy predictions and expanded its security forces in recent years.
Residents of the seaside capital Mogadishu — whose ubiquitous blast walls testify to the threat of Shabab suicide bombers and mortars — say security has improved.
Once-quiet streets bustle with traffic, and upscale restaurants and supermarkets are opening.
An assessment published in April by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy said an Afghanistan-like collapse was unlikely, helped by ongoing external support.
The US, for instance, has about 450 troops in Somalia to train and advise local forces and conduct regular drone attacks against suspected militants.
But the assessment’s author, Paul D. Williams, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, said the militants’ estimated 7,000-12,000 fighters would be “slightly militarily stronger” than Somali forces because of superior cohesion and force employment.
Foreign resources have underwritten Somalia’s security since Ethiopia invaded in 2006, toppling an extremist-led administration but galvanizing an insurgency that has since killed tens of thousands of people.
According to a study by Brown University, the US has spent more than $2.5 billion on counterterrorism assistance since 2007. That number does not include undisclosed military and intelligence spending on activities like drone strikes and deployments of American ground troops.
The EU says it has provided about $2.8 billion to ATMIS and its predecessor since 2007.
Middle Eastern countries also provide security assistance.
But resources are under strain. Four diplomatic sources said that the EU, which pays for most of ATMIS’s roughly $100 million annual budget, is shifting toward bilateral support to reduce its overall contributions in the medium term.
Two diplomats interviewed by Reuters said the US and EU want to scale back peacekeeping operations because of competing spending priorities, including Ukraine and Gaza, and a sense Somalia should take responsibility for its security.
The four diplomatic sources said that some European countries would like to see the new mission financed through assessed contributions of UN member states, which would increase the financial burden on the US and China.
The State Department spokesperson said that the US did not believe such a system could be implemented by next year but that there was strong international consensus to support the follow-on mission.
The EU did not address questions about the financing of the replacement mission
Financing for the new mission can only be formally addressed once Somalia and the AU agree on a proposed size and mandate.

 


Residents protest over power cuts in southern Russian city

Residents protest over power cuts in southern Russian city
Updated 21 July 2024
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Residents protest over power cuts in southern Russian city

Residents protest over power cuts in southern Russian city
  • One video posted on the Baza Telegram channel appeared to show police making at least two arrests during Saturday’s protest

MOSCOW: Residents angry over recent power cuts in southern Russia staged a rare public protest on Saturday in the city of Krasnodar, posts on social media said, as the local governor blamed a heatwave for causing the blackouts.
The south of Russia has been affected by unusually hot weather that has caused mass power outages in several regions and led to the shutdown earlier this week of one of four power units at the Rostov nuclear power plant, the region’s largest.
The unit has been put back into operation since then.
“There has been abnormal heat in the Krasnodar region for a week now. The load on the energy system is colossal. I know and understand all the indignation of residents due to power outages,” Veniamin Kondratyev, the governor of Krasnodar region, said on the Telegram messaging app.
He said power capacities were not currently sufficient to meet peak demand during the hot summer months.
One video posted on the Baza Telegram channel appeared to show police making at least two arrests during Saturday’s protest.
Russian authorities have clamped down on any protest activity, especially politically laced dissent, since the start of the conflict with Ukraine in February 2022, and public protests are very rare given the risk of arrest.


Nigeria fines Meta $220m for ‘violations’

Nigeria fines Meta $220m for ‘violations’
Updated 21 July 2024
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Nigeria fines Meta $220m for ‘violations’

Nigeria fines Meta $220m for ‘violations’
  • Meta’s platforms — WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram — are among the most popular social media in the country.

LAGOS: Nigeria has issued a $220 million fine against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and WhatsApp, for “multiple and repeated” violations.
The country’s Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) on Friday accused Meta of violating the country’s data protection and consumer rights laws on Facebook and WhatsApp.
The FCCPC’s chief executive officer Adamu Abdullahi said the investigations the commission carried out in conjunction with the Nigeria Data Protection Commission between May 2021 and December 2023 showed that it engaged in “invasive practices against data subjects/consumers in Nigeria.”
Abdullahi accused Meta of discriminatory practices, abuse of market dominance, sharing Nigerians’ personal data without authorization and denying Nigerians the right to determine how their data are used.
Apart from the hefty fine, the FCCPC boss insisted that Meta must “comply with prevailing law and cease the exploitation of Nigerian consumers and their market abuse.”
It ordered the company to “desist from future similar or other conduct/practices that do not meet nationally applicable standards.”
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for a response to the fine. But the FCCPC said the company was aware of its 38-month investigation.
About three quarters of the 200 million people in Africa’s most populous country are younger than 24 — a generation that is also hyper-connected to social media.
The country had some 164.3 million Internet subscriptions as of March, according to the figures published by the National Communication Commission (NCC) on its website.
Meta’s platforms — WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram — are among the most popular social media in the country.
The minister for communication and the digital economy, Bosun Tijani, said in December that there were “over 51 million WhatsApp users in Nigeria.”
The European Union (EU) accused Meta at the beginning of July of breaching the bloc’s digital rules, paving the way for potential fines worth billions of euros.
The EU said Meta’s new ad-free subscription model for Facebook and Instagram “forced millions of users” in the bloc to pay to avoid data collection or agree to share their data with Facebook and Instagram to keep using the platforms for free.


Poland calls on EU to stress ties with US to counter Russian ‘disinformation’

Poland calls on EU to stress ties with US to counter Russian ‘disinformation’
Updated 21 July 2024
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Poland calls on EU to stress ties with US to counter Russian ‘disinformation’

Poland calls on EU to stress ties with US to counter Russian ‘disinformation’
  • Poland calls for positive action ahead of the US presidential election
  • The Kremlin has said it would not meddle in the November US election

BRUSSELS: Poland wants the European Union to launch a campaign in the United States to raise awareness with the American public about the importance of the joint relationship.
In a paper prepared for an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday, Poland calls for positive action ahead of the US presidential election on Nov. 5 to counter what it describes as Russian “disinformation” aimed at sowing division between the EU and Washington.
“At this critical moment in history, it is imperative that we collectively take swift and robust action to strengthen the transatlantic relations through strategic communication about the EU in the US,” the paper, seen by Reuters, says.
It adds: “This means scaling up our de-bunking and, even more importantly, pre-bunking of Russian disinformation and launching campaigns which set the record straight about where Europe stands today and about the benefits of diplomacy, collective security and open society.”
The Kremlin has said it would not meddle in the November US election. It has also dismissed US allegations that it orchestrated campaigns to sway the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections.
Poland’s paper said Russian state media and online accounts tied to the Kremlin were spreading and amplifying misleading content about US immigration and border security, misstating the impact of immigration, highlighting stories about crimes committed by immigrants, and warning of dire consequences if the US does not crack down at its border with Mexico.
“We should expect much more is to come, as eroding support for Ukraine remains Russia’s top priority. We need to remind the American public, especially the younger generation of the deliverables our decades-long partnership has brought to the US economy,” the paper said.
Poland has said it has been the target of numerous Russian attempts at destabilization and election interference because of its role in supplying military aid to its neighbor Ukraine, allegations Russia has dismissed.
“We should raise awareness among the American public about the size of European aid to Ukraine and how that effort helps save Ukrainian lives,” the Polish paper said in reference to claims by US presidential candidate Donald Trump that European aid to Ukraine was much smaller than that of the US
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the EU has provided 107 billion euros ($116.38 billion) to Ukraine and has agreed on a further 50 billion euros for the next four years.
The US Council on Foreign Relations estimates US support for Ukraine at $107 billion.


US to take ‘hard look’ at fighter project, top official says

US to take ‘hard look’ at fighter project, top official says
Updated 56 min 45 sec ago
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US to take ‘hard look’ at fighter project, top official says

US to take ‘hard look’ at fighter project, top official says
  • Kendall: The idea of using drones or Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) will remain part of the proposed initiatives
  • The Air Force faces heavy costs for renewing its land-based nuclear deterrent and developing the B-21 bomber.

RAF FAIRFORD, England: The US will closely dissect its plans for a Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) platform — a future family of fighters and drones — before deciding whether to go ahead, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said on Saturday.
The cost of the future F-22 replacement has come under scrutiny after topping $300 million each, three times the cost of an F-35. But Kendall also highlighted evolving threats, in an apparent reference to rapidly arming China.
The idea of using drones or Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) will remain part of the proposed initiatives, he said.
“Before we make the commitment that we are close to making, we want to make sure we have got the right design concept,” Kendall said at Britain’s Royal International Air Tattoo, the world’s largest military air show.
“NGAD was conceived before a number of things: before the threat became so severe, before CCAs were introduced into the equation and before we had some issues with affordability that we are currently facing,” Kendall told reporters.
“So we are going to take a hard look at NGAD before moving forward, but the family of systems which includes a crewed platform and CCAs and weapon systems and communications ... is still very much the concept that we are pursuing.”
The Air Force faces heavy costs for renewing its land-based nuclear deterrent and developing the B-21 bomber.
“Before we commit to the 2026 budget, we want to be sure we are on the right path,” Kendall told reporters.
Analysts attending the air show said the depth of the review suggested the Air Force wanted to refresh its view on whether NGAD remained well adapted to threats posed by China as its schedule slips into the 2030s.
“NGAD is a whole series of programs under the umbrella of capabilities that the Air Force wants in order both to better deter China and to fight and win if necessary,” said Vago Muradian, editor of Defense & Aerospace Report.
“The Chinese are changing how they’re going to fight. So the question that a budget-constrained Air Force is asking is whether the tens of billions of dollars is the right investment, or are there better ways of achieving some of these same aims.”
Boeing and Lockheed Martin are widely seen as competing to win the core fighter part of the project.
The rethink has captured attention in Europe where Britain’s crewed-uncrewed GCAP project, in partnership with Japan and Italy, may face scrutiny in an upcoming UK defense review and France, Germany and Spain are working on the FCAS/SCAF project.
Partners in GCAP are expected to give an update at the opening of the Farnborough International Airshow on Monday.


Trump’s former physician gives new details on gunshot wound

Trump’s former physician gives new details on gunshot wound
Updated 21 July 2024
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Trump’s former physician gives new details on gunshot wound

Trump’s former physician gives new details on gunshot wound

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s former physician Ronny Jackson said on Saturday that the former president is recovering as expected from a gunshot wound to his ear that he suffered last week, but noted intermittent bleeding and said Trump may require a hearing exam.
The bullet fired by a would-be assassin at a July 13 Trump rally in Pennsylvania came “less than a quarter of an inch from entering his head” before striking the top of Trump’s right ear, said Jackson, a Republican congressman from Texas who served as physician to Presidents Trump and Barack Obama.
Five days after narrowly escaping assassination, Trump on Thursday accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination for the Nov. 5 election.
Jackson, providing what appeared to be the first public description by a medical professional of Trump’s gunshot wound, said in a letter posted on social media Saturday that “the bullet track produced a 2 (centimeter) wide wound that extended down to the cartilaginous surface of the ear.”
“There was initially significant bleeding, followed by marked swelling of the entire upper ear. The swelling has since resolved, and the wound is beginning to granulate and heal properly,” he wrote.
Jackson said he had provided daily evaluation and treatment of Trump’s wound since the shooting. He said no sutures were required, but noted that due to the “highly vascular nature of the ear, there is still intermittent bleeding requiring a dressing to be in place.”
“He will have further evaluations, including a comprehensive hearing exam, as needed,” Jackson added.
Trump recounted the assassination attempt to a rapt audience on Thursday at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, saying that he was only there “by the grace of Almighty God.”
“I heard a loud whizzing sound and felt something hit me really, really hard on my right ear,” he said, a thick bandage still covering his ear. “I said to myself, ‘Wow, what was that? It can only be a bullet.’”