Nairobi - The African Union said it plans to pull its soldiers out of Somalia where they are fighting jihadists by December 2020, according to a statement issued Wednesday.
The "exit strategy" formulated by the AU's Peace and Security Council calls for the staggered withdrawal of 22 000 troops in the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to begin in October 2018 and be completed by the end of 2020.
The plan was made public this week, following a meeting held in Addis Ababa on June 29.
The AU said "transfer of security responsibilities" would then be handed over to "a capable, inclusive and effective" Somali national army.
Currently the bloated and largely ineffective Somali army is more a collection of clan militias, with various international military forces providing poorly co-ordinated training to different units.
AMISOM troops deployed to Somalia in 2007 to defend the internationally-backed government against attacks by the Shabaab, a Somali-led al-Qaeda affiliate still carrying out attacks on civilian, military and government targets in the capital Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia and the region.
Last month Uganda - the largest contributor to AMISOM with 6 200 soldiers - threatened to withdraw its troops by the end of 2017, but has since backtracked.
Kenya also threatened this year to pull out its 3 700 troops after the European Union, a major donor to the mission, cut funding by 20% saying African countries must bear more of the burden of soldier salaries.
Somalia was supposed to hold national elections this year but is instead going to hold what diplomats call a "limited franchise election" in which ordinary citizens do not participate. The UN now hopes a one-person-one-vote election will be possible in 2020.