Somalia progresses in rebuilding armed forces, but challenges remain

Somalia progresses in rebuilding armed forces, but challenges remain

By Abdi Moalim in Mogadishu

At his inauguration last September, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said rebuilding Somalia’s armed forces would be one of his administration’s six pillars for restoring national stability and unity.

  • Somali National Army soldiers take part in a training exercise run by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) instructors at the Jazeera Training Camp in Mogadishu on March 28th. [Tobin Jones/AFP/AU-UN IST] Somali National Army soldiers take part in a training exercise run by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) instructors at the Jazeera Training Camp in Mogadishu on March 28th. [Tobin Jones/AFP/AU-UN IST]

As the Somali government undertakes that challenge, it is taking a comprehensive strategy to recruit, train and equip members of the armed forces.

In February, the government launched operations to remove squatters and rehabilitate old military training centres.

In March, security forces dispersed around Mogadishu were relocated and consolidated into designated training facilities, Somalia’s Defence Minister Abdihakim Haji Mohamud Fiqi told reporters on March 6th.

Securing illegal weapons has been a major concern. “We are collecting the illegal weapons possessed by civilians in the city, and we will strictly secure and monitor warehouses used to store them so that [illegal] weapons do not fall in the hands of civilians or criminals again,” Fiqi said.

The year-long easing of a United Nations Security Council arms embargo on Somalia is also expected to help the government strengthen the Somali National Army and other security branches by allowing it to better equip troops with light weapons in their fight against al-Shabaab.

The Somali government also is working to decrease its reliance on receiving military training overseas, according to African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) spokesman Colonel Ali Aden Humud.

During the month of April, about 100 Somali National Army soldiers, including 28 officers, were set to complete training at the Jazeera Training Camp, Humud told reporters on March 28th.

In the months after Mohamud’s inaugural speech, the Somali armed forces, backed by AMISOM and regional troops, scored some military successes and territorial gains, which elevated the troops’ standing in the public eye.

Most recently, the armed forces liberated swathes of territory from al-Shabaab, expanding the government’s control from Mogadishu to Baidoa in the west, Marka in the south and Jowhar in the north.

However, observers say, poor training and inter-tribal tensions have undermined the federal government’s efforts to re-build the nation’s armed forces, which collapsed 22 years ago with the fall of the Mohamed Siad Barre regime.

Tribal loyalties

Despite the recent successes, some citizens feel that members of the security services and armed forces have yet to earn the Somali public’s full trust, according to Mogadishu traditional elder Mohamed Hassan Had.

Instead of feeling protected by the armed forces, some citizens fear them, he said. In addition, the government’s failure to pay soldiers in a consistent manner diminishes their loyalty to the federal government and fuels tribalism, Had said.

“The government does not take care of its armed forces,” Had told Sabahi. “It does not pay most of them and they are not under a central command. Basically, they are independent militias who can take their weapons and do as they please.”

But General Ahmed Hassan Maalin, chief of Benadir police, rejected allegations that any of his forces belong to tribal militias.

“We are police and we do not have troops organised by tribe,” he said. “The troops that are currently registered with us are mixed and represent every region [in Somalia], and they would not fight among themselves.”

Nonetheless, skirmishes fuelled by tribal loyalties have flared up among security forces. A recent example was a case of inter-tribal fighting that broke out among government forces in Marka on March 22nd, killing at least two people and injuring two others.

The armed militias that patrol some cities under the control of the federal government undermine law and order, said Hassan Mudey Abdalla, assistant director of the Mogadishu-based al-Shahid Centre for Research and Media.

Some of these militias are not affiliated with the government but wear military-style uniforms, he said, adding that private business owners and organisations hire them as security guards.

“At times it is hard to distinguish them from the government troops,” Abdalla said.

Patience is required

Re-building the army and other branches of the armed forces will take time, so people should have realistic expectations, said General Mohamed Nur Galal, a former deputy defence minister in the Barre regime.

“Rebuilding a destroyed army will not happen overnight,” he told Sabahi. “The government should be given enough time to work out any problems in building professional armed forces as well as reinforcing a sense of nationalism among troops.

This was accomplished before and can be done again, Galal said.

“The national armed forces [during the Barre regime] were mostly composed of people who did not receive elementary education. They came from the rural areas and were enlisted as troops,” he said. “They were then trained, and tribalism was erased from their psyche. Therefore, the ethics of the militia that roam around the city with weapons can be repaired.”

“If the troops are collected from different provinces and integrated, they can become proper troops that do good work,” he said. “This is the way to combat the tribalism between them.”