The African Union (AU) has begun withdrawing its troops from Somalia and intends cutting 1,000 troops by the end of the year, AP reports.

This AU had planned to only withdraw the first troops in 2018 so the shift of security responsibility on to the Somali military comes earlier than expected – and comes at a critical time when the militant group Al Shabaab has stepped up its attacks, culminating in last month’s deadly truck bombing which killed 350 people in the capital Mogadishu.

While the continental body says that the move is no reason for concern, Al Shabaab’s renewed ability to launch increasingly deadly attacks, a result of Somalia’s fractured security services and the Islamist group’s ability to attain more sophisticated explosives, is indeed worrying.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed recently declared a war on the group after touring the region for support in a large-scale military effort to defeat the organisation.

Ethiopian troops and tanks crossed into Somalia last week in support of Abdullahi.

The 22,000-strong African Union force in Somalia is expected to fully withdraw by the end of 2020.

The United States military and others have expressed concern that Somalia’s security forces will not be ready by then.

- African News Agency (ANA)