Somali soldiers patrol in a pickup truck in Mogadishu. (Mohamed Abdiwahab, AFP)
Kampala – Uganda, the largest contributor to an African Union mission fighting jihadists in Somalia, will pull out its troops from next year, the head of the military said on Thursday.
Uganda was the first country to send soldiers to Somalia, spearheading the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in March 2007 to fight Shabaab insurgents and protect the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.
Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya have since joined up and the 22,100-strong mission has 6 200 Ugandan soldiers.
“We plan to disengage from Somalia beginning December 2017,” said chief of defence forces General Katumba Wamala.
“It’s a decision Uganda is taking and the key actors are informed on the way forward,” he said.
Last month army spokesperson Paddy Ankunda said Uganda was “reviewing… involvement in Amisom”.
Wamala declined to give specific reasons for the planned withdrawal saying only: “There comes a time when a man must come home.”
The announcement comes in the wake of European Union funding cuts to Amisom and amid negotiations ahead of an expected renewal of the Amisom mandate by the UN Security Council next month.
In January the EU, a major donor to the Somalia mission, cut its funding by 20% saying African countries must bear more of the burden of soldier salaries.
Soon afterwards Kenya threatened to withdraw its 3 700 troops in protest.
In late May, the UN approved an extension of the Amisom mandate until July 8 when a full renewal will be discussed.
Uganda has made similar threats in the past. In 2012 it failed to follow through on a threat to pull out of all peacekeeping missions after UN investigators accused it of backing rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.