Uganda's military has begun withdrawing dozens of its troops from a regional force in Somalia, a military official said Thursday, marking the beginning of the end of an African Union team that has battled violent Islamic extremists.
Uganda's phased withdrawal of its peacekeepers from the 22,000 strong regional force is in compliance with the African Union and United Nations approved reduction of 1,000 uniformed personnel of AMISOM by the December 31 deadline.
Some 20,000 soldiers are now serving as part of the UN-backed fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Uganda, which first sent troops to the country in 2007, is the biggest contributor with more than 6,000 soldiers in the force.
The withdrawal is being carried out under UN Security Council plans for troop-contributing countries to replace military units with police.
AMISOM is comprised of troops drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
The combined forces had managed to clear the capital Mogadishu, and large swathes of the countryside of Al Shabaab, but over the past year or so the group has managed to resume large-scale attacks targeting the government, military and civilians, culminating in the more than 500 people killed in the capital in October during a twin bombing.
Al Shabaab's resurging strength has been attributed to the use of more home-made and sophisticated explosives, the political fallout between the federal government and state governors and a split in the intelligence services.
In an endeavour to support Somali forces, the USA has increased its troop numbers in the country to more than 500 and has increased its air strikes on the militants.