The prospect of AMISOM forces leaving Somalia in the coming years depends on the capacity of the country’s regional and federal military forces to finally cooperate and unite under a Somali National Army that looks much differently than the current one.
The number of armed forces in Somalia — particularly those allied against al-Shabaab — has been growing steadily in overall number, but the lack of coordination between them has been a major reason why al-Shabaab has been allowed to remain resilient against these groups and 22,000+ foreign forces assisting them.
Regional administrations like the Interim Jubba Administration (IJA) in the Jubba region and Puntland, as well as the international community, have much to contribute towards an integrated Somali National Army (SNA) if a proper discussion can be started among key stakeholders in Somalia.
But to date, the political will among all parties to bring the discussion to the table — much less compromise — has been virtually absent as the fundamental powers, resources, and responsibilities in the country are at stake under the federalism process.
In the meantime, it appears that the Somali government and regional administrations will continue embarking on their own plans to grow their military forces mostly through their respective allies — making the prospect of integration more difficult in the future.
Interim Jubba Administration leader Ahmed Madobe has appeared to be making significant strides in training hundreds of forces that ostensibly would be directly under his control.
For example, in early October 2014, Madobe attended a training site in Qandal (20km southwest of Kismayo) where approximately 600 soldiers were being trained under the direction of IJA Security and Internal Affairs Minister General Maxamed Faarax “Darwiish.”
Just days later, Madobe visited Dhobley where some 500 IJA troops were being trained at a military camp with Kenyan and Sierra Leone military forces.
Of course, all these new forces need weapons to become effective on the ground, and relatedly, the United Nations Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group claimed in its most recent report that the IJA “imported 3,000 light weapons, 30 heavy weapons and military uniforms and communication equipment,” allegedly violating the UNSC arms embargo in the process.
The IJA — and the eventual Federal Member State that forms out of it — clearly should have a security apparatus that can support it and help to defeat al-Shabaab, which still controls large swaths of the Jubba region.
But there should be some urgency to reach agreements and processes to integrate disparate militias that are already at loggerheads with the IJA over attempts to disarm them or due to perceptions that IJA forces are targeting certain communities.
A continued build-up of IJA forces — especially with the support of Kenya or other neighbors — in the absence a broader consensus with other militias and communities in the region and the SFG could contribute to perceptions that IJA forces are non-inclusive and in part are representing the interests of outside countries.
The Future of Puntland Troops in a National Army
Puntland’s plethora of security forces — including regular police and an army, Darwish units, an intelligence branch, and the foreign-supported Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) — have been some of the most successful in the country, despite concerns over periodically unpaid salaries and difficulties in accepting changes in its command structure.
Though former Transitional Federal Government President (and ex-Puntland head) Abdullahi Yusuf once deployed hundreds of Puntland troops to fight insurgents in south central Somalia, the Somali National Army (SNA) and Puntland forces exist as segregated forces today.
Many observers have found optimism in a provision of the recent (and controversial) cooperation agreement between the Somali government and Puntland that states they will work together toward a inclusive and united national military.
However, the track record for militia integration recently in Somalia has fallen short on most occasions as key leaders have agreed to provisional terms but have failed to implement them:
- The SFG and IJA agreed for Jubba region forces to be integrated into the SNA in August 2013 but have not made any headway on a process to do so;
- ASWJ’s faction in Galgaduud expressed deep doubts about militia integration, citing the SFG’s “unfulfilled promises“;
- Ahmed Madobe rival and Jubaland rebel Barre Hiiraale provisionally agreed to integrate his troops into regulated units but eventually backed out after citing Madobe’s monopolization of the time and format of the recent reconciliation conference in Kismayo.
The march toward Puntland and other regional forces becoming a part of the Somali National Army is part of a broader task of integration that requires a serious modification of the military’s current structure and leadership.
This inherently has implications for the division of power between clans, regional political actors, warlord-turned-army commanders, and the Somali government — which would require all parts reconciliation and political accommodation.
As a result, the Somali government cannot avoid convening a credible and representative national discussion accepted by all regional political actors on how to actually create a national military.
Equally important, the continued ad hoc and under-coordinated training and support of Somali forces by the international community — while often advantageous to the individual interests of contributing countries– must be reformed and harmonized across the board if a united Somali military is indeed the goal.
Building a consensus between the SFG and the regions on how to harness international military training and support can counter perceptions that international assistance is only beneficial toward certain communities while ignoring others.
In recent years, the U.S. has trained Somali Special Forces while AMISOM and EUTM have trained entry-level privates and others. Turkey is currently training Air Force and Navy Cadets.
In one way, Somalia is getting an upgrade of different components that comprise a modern military. One the other hand, these elements are not optimally useful until the existing core leadership of the military — dotted with individuals who have questionable qualifications — is reformed.
For example, senior SNA commanders generally have not been held sufficiently accountable for “inciting clan violence” or letting weapons leak out of the military’s possession. But strangely, Colonel Osman Elmi Guure was recently arrested on the order of Army chief General Dahir Adan “Indo Qarshe” for writing a poem entitled “Message to the Nation” that criticized unpaid salaries and corruption in the military.
Holding officers, commanders, and political leadership accountable to their mistakes — rather than punishing those that point them out — is the kind of bold and difficult reform that can only occur when the integrity of the institution is allowed to outweigh all other considerations.
The prospect of a truly national military — the subject of a many aspirations about Somalia’s future — has been defined mostly by “talking about talks” for now.
For Somalia’s neighbors like Kenya and Ethiopia, integration could mean partially losing its grip on Somali forces that are allied with its interests.
However, until the Somali government and regional political administrations find some mutual ground — and define what the “national” character of the nation looks like — nationalism as defined by the military may be no more than a patch on a fatigue.