The African Union Peace and Security Council have now approved a new plan of operations in Somalia that will enable peacekeepers to start liberating regions that are still held by Al Shabaab.
Known as the Concept of Operations (ConOps), the blueprint will enable the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) to start with Middle Jubba region to flush out Al-Shabaab remnants at the beginning of 2019.
The operations will be carried out jointly with the Jubbaland State Forces and the Somali National Army. The ConOps was approved by the Council on November 30 and will guide Amisom operations until 2021.
Middle Jubba, which borders Gedo, Bay, Lower Shabelle and the Indian Ocean -- is the only region entirely controlled by Al Shabaab, which has been driven out of most parts of the country.
According to Amisom spokesperson Col Richard Omwega, ConOps is part of the implementation of the Somalia Transition Plan, which involves reconfiguring the forces into new sectors in preparation for a conditional handover of security responsibility to Somalia security forces.
"Opening and securing of main supply routes in the country in a priority. It also addresses the capacity building of Somali citizens and stabilization programmes to enhance and sustain peace and security as the country readies for a general election in 2020," said Col Omwega.
The document will have to be approved by the AU and senior defense officials of troop-contributing countries -- Kenya, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Djibouti -- before it is operationalized.
Amisom deputy force commander in charge of operations, Gen Charles Tai Gituai, on December 17 led a delegation to Jubaland's capital Kismayu, to discuss the pending operations with sector commanders and Jubbaland security officials.
There have been concerns among Somalia watchers that Amisom is planning second phase of withdrawal in February 2019.
Due to reduced and irregular funding, the UN Security Council Resolution 2372 issued in 2017 had instructed Amisom to reduce its uniformed personnel to a maximum 21,626 in readiness for a full pullout in 2020. The first withdrawal of 1,040 started in December 2017.
Kenya and Uganda have been reluctant to leave Somalia before it stabilizes. Kenya fears that a premature withdrawal could re-energize Al Shabaab to resume attacks in the country after almost two years without a major attack.