Ethiopia has handed over security duties to a Somali force, raising fears that the Horn of Africa country — already fighting an Islamic insurgency and rampant piracy — could collapse into chaos if extremists with alleged al-Qaeda links move to seize power.
The Ethiopian pullout after a two-year deployment was widely welcomed by Somalis who had viewed the troops as an occupying force, but the Ethiopians also have provided a measure of stability.
Few expect the Somali government can ensure security, even with the help of the Islamist faction with which it has agreed to share power. The government controls only pockets of the capital, Mogadishu, and Baidoa, where parliament sits — and has tried to rule without a president for weeks.
It was unclear when all the thousands of Ethiopians would have departed. They were pulling out in stages and gave no exact dates for security reasons.
“It is time Somalia stands on its own feet,” Ethiopian commander Colonel Gabre Yohannes Abate said as he handed over security operations during a ceremony at the presidential palace.
An African Union (AU) peacekeeping force of about 2,600 remains in Somalia, where it is limited to guarding the seaport, the capital’s main airport and government buildings, all in Mogadishu.
The US this week circulated a draft resolution at the UN calling for a UN peacekeeping force to be deployed to replace the AU force.