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AFRICOM Chief’s Nuanced Response on Somalia’s Anti-Al-Shabaab Commitment in Wide-Ranging Security Briefing

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U.S. Marine Corps General Michael Langley, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), offered a comprehensive assessment of Africa’s security landscape, with a particular focus on Somalia, during a briefing following the African Chiefs of Defense Conference held in Botswana.

Fresh from a visit to Somalia, General Langley presented a nuanced view of the country’s ongoing struggle against al-Shabaab. Despite reports of the militant group’s resurgence and territorial gains, he expressed measured optimism about the Somali government’s counterinsurgency efforts. “President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud shared with me their way forward,” Langley stated, acknowledging the fluctuating control in regions where the government had previously made progress. He emphasized the Somali leader’s commitment to a comprehensive strategy that extends beyond military action, incorporating federal member-states and local communities in a “whole-of-government approach.”

The general’s comments come at a critical juncture for Somalia as it navigates the complex transition from the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) to full control by Somali national forces. “Any transition is challenging,” Langley admitted, “but they’re meeting that with solutions and building out their Somali National Army.” He outlined a measured, phased withdrawal of ATMIS forces, coordinated closely with the expansion of Somali military capabilities. However, he also warned that al-Shabaab is likely to test these evolving security arrangements, potentially through increased attacks in Mogadishu and other key areas.

Langley emphasized the importance of a multi-pronged strategy in Somalia, highlighting recent successes in disrupting al-Shabaab’s operations. “Our joint operations have been instrumental in weakening al-Shabaab’s grip on several regions,” he said, noting the collaborative efforts between AFRICOM and Somali forces in capturing key al-Shabaab leaders and dismantling militant networks.

The briefing also brought to light regional complexities beyond the immediate fight against al-Shabaab. A pointed question from the Somaliland Chronicle addressed the Somali government’s focus on the game-changing Somaliland-Ethiopia memorandum of understanding (MoU), in relation to its anti-al-Shabaab efforts. The MoU, signed on January 1st, aims to provide maritime access to landlocked Ethiopia and potential formal recognition for Somaliland, among other security and economic ties.

General Langley carefully sidestepped a direct response on this sensitive issue and particularly on the level of commitment of the Somali government to combat Al-Shabaab. Instead, he emphasized the broader security strategy, stating, “The Somali government is working on a comprehensive approach, involving federal and regional cooperation and engaging civil society.” He reiterated the importance of a coordinated effort to maintain stability and counter the insurgency effectively.

The briefing highlighted that the Somali government has invested significant efforts to stop the MoU and admitted to a major role in trying to destabilize Somaliland. In today’s cabinet meeting, the Office of the Prime Minister elevated what it referred to as “secessionism” to one of the highest threats facing Somalia, second only to terrorism. This signals a potential shift from Somalia’s efforts to diplomatically isolate Somaliland to a more direct and kinetic approach.

General Langley’s briefing also touched on broader regional security concerns, including the growing threat of extremism in the Sahel and West Africa. He noted the increased activity of various extremist groups and the potential for these threats to spill over into coastal West African countries, underscoring the interconnected nature of security challenges across the continent and the need for coordinated, multinational responses.

Throughout the briefing, General Langley repeatedly emphasized AFRICOM’s commitment to an “African-led and U.S.-enabled” approach to addressing security challenges on the continent. This phrase, used multiple times by the General, encapsulates AFRICOM’s current strategic vision for engagement in Africa. It underscores a shift away from direct U.S. military intervention towards a more collaborative model that prioritizes local ownership and leadership. By positioning the United States as an enabler rather than a primary actor, this approach aims to build sustainable security solutions deeply rooted in African contexts and capabilities.

As AFRICOM continues to support counterterrorism efforts in Somalia and across Africa, General Langley’s briefing illuminates the complex interplay of military strategy, political reconciliation, and regional diplomacy that characterizes the security landscape in East Africa all against the backdrop of growing Chinese and Russian influence in the continent. With the planned withdrawal of ATMIS forces on the horizon, the coming months will be crucial in determining whether Somalia’s government can keep Al-Shabaab at bay or risk turning Somalia into Afghanistan 2.0 undermining the security of the region and further damage the United States’ interest and influence in the Horn of Africa.

The general’s careful navigation of sensitive regional issues, coupled with his emphasis on African-led solutions, reflects AFRICOM’s evolving approach to engagement on the continent. As Africa grapples with multifaceted security threats, the success of this strategy may well determine the trajectory of stability and development across multiple regions in the years to come.

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