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Frustrations force Uganda to consider troops withdrawal from Somalia

Wednesday, June 29, 2016
By Ronald Ssekandi

KAMPALA, June 29 (Xinhua) -- Frustrations with the international community to boost support to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have forced Uganda to consider pulling its troops out of the country before the end of next year.

Henry Okello Oryem, Uganda's minister of state for international affairs, told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday that the international community has been put on notice that Uganda will withdraw its over 6,000 troops from Somalia.

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"We went there with a view of clearing and getting rid of the terrorism in Somalia, we did not go there to be Somalis. We should re-examine the mission and the objective of the mission," Oryem said, noting that Ugandan troops have been in Somalia for over nine years.

The frustrations stem from several factors like financing of the mission, availability of military equipment and the capacity of the Somali army to protect the already captured territories from the Al-Shabaab militants.

The European Union, a major funder to AMISOM, has cut over 20 percent of the money it has been sending to the mission, arguing that there are other pressing needs elsewhere in the world that also need support.

This reduction has had an effect on the mission as the peacekeeping troops have gone without pay for several months. Observers say this could reduce the morale of the troops fighting the Al-Shabaab.

Uganda says although lack of payment is a major factor, it would not affect the troops' morale.

Oryem said Uganda has for years told the international community of the need to avail force enablers and multipliers like helicopters but nothing has been given.

He said helicopters are needed to provide aerial support to the ground troops and also the troops can be quickly moved from one point to another where there is urgent need.

"We need to be able to ferry our troops rapidly to areas where they are needed, we need weapons and other equipment in order to be able to deal with the Al-Shabaab effectively," Oryem said.

Uganda had attempted to deploy its helicopter gunships in Somalia but they crashed in neighboring Kenya en route to Somalia. Efforts to get the international community to replace the gunships have not yet yielded any fruit, according to the Ugandan military.

Uganda has also got frustrations with the Somali army which it says does not have enough capacity to protect areas that have already been rescued from the militants. Uganda argues that the international community must help build the capacity of the Somali National Army to protect its people and property.

"We need a formidable army not only to fight but also protect the country's interests. We need them on the ground so that whereas the troops are attacking the Al-Shabaab, the Somalis are in position to capture and maintain the ground we have successfully liberated," he said.

Turkey, a major humanitarian donor to Somalia, early last month urged the international community not to backtrack on its support to the horn of African country.

"Leaving alone such a country fighting against terrorism at such an extent would be a big mistake," said visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He was in Uganda on June 1 for a state visit.

Uganda provides the bulk of the AMISOM troops, contributing over 6,000 troops of the 22,000-strong force. Other African countries like Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti also have their troops in Somalia.

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