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Dec 7, 5:00 AM EST

Dozens of Ugandan troops withdrawn from Somalia duty



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KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- 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.

Some 281 troops will leave Somalia by Dec. 31, said Lt. Col. Deo Akiiki, deputy spokesman for the Ugandan military.

Uganda was the first country to deploy troops to Somalia in 2007 to back a weak federal government in Mogadishu against an insurgency by the extremist group al-Shabab, which is responsible for many deadly attacks in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.

Under an agreement between the African Union and the U.N. Security Council the number of all African peacekeepers in Somalia will be reduced by 1,000 before the end of 2017, Akiiki said. The African Union plans to withdraw all its 22,000 forces from Somalia by the end of 2020, prompting questions about the ability of Somalia's army to fight al-Shabab on its own.

Uganda has more than 6,000 troops in Somalia as part of the multi-national African Union force. Other African countries such as Burundi and Kenya also contribute to the regional force.

The Western-backed deployments have helped to push Islamic extremists out of Mogadishu and other areas, even though the rebels still make frequent bombing attacks targeting public places. The armed group is now mostly active in the southern rural areas of Somalia.

Al-Shabab, which is allied to al-Qaida, opposes the presence of foreign troops in Somalia. The group has mounted deadly attacks in Kenya and Uganda, saying the killings were in retaliation over those countries' military involvement in Somalia.

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