Somalia’s Turkish-Trained Special Forces Are Being Politicized Ahead of Elections

As the Somali electoral crisis continues, the country’s special forces risk becoming politicized in an emerging violent conflict between the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and rival forces in Jubaland’s Gedo region.

Open source flight data from December 19 and 20 show a Turkish Air Force aircraft traveled between the capital Mogadishu and Gedo. This corresponds with a significant increase in the deployment of Turkish-trained Somali forces to the regional towns of Doolow and Beled Hawo, where the potential for armed conflict between the Somali government and local militias is growing rapidly.

Despite some belief that the aircraft was ferrying FGS troops, press photos show Turkish-trained “Gorgor” army forces arriving in Doolow on an aircraft flown by commercial company Maandeeq Air. 

There do not appear to be any photos of the Turkish Air Force flight transporting troops or weapons, but its known flight path raises suspicions about the intent of its unusual sorties.

Further Context

  • Over the last decade, Gedo has been a hotbed of opposition to Kismayo-based administrations. The FGS is leveraging that rivalry for interests often distinct from those of local communities.
  • The Somali opposition has expressed concerns that Turkey planned to deliver 1,000 G3 assault rifles and 150,000 bullets to Turkish-trained Somali special police known as Harma’ad. Notably, the Gorgor troops that arrived in Doolow were already armed with G3 rifles.
  • In addition to reconstituting electoral committees filled with FGS political allies and domestic intelligence agents, Jubaland president Ahmed Madobe has demanded all federal troops be removed from Gedo region ahead of elections. Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmaajo” has reacted to this request by increasing the number of federal troops in the region.
  • It has been eight years since the UN loosened the arms embargo to Somalia to allow for the distribution of light weapons including rifles, and the exemptions were most recently renewed in November 2020.

Other Implications

Special Forces units within Somalia’s security architecture were never intended to address broader capability gaps that must be reconciled before it can provide security without foreign assistance.  But these units were supposed to represent ideological and operational ideals that can deliver strategic victories against al-Shabaab.

The U.S. prioritized training  battalions of “Danab” special forces that were effective and rose above clan cleavages, but its departure may catalyze a period in which the FGS and its foreign allies leverage similarly trained assets as partisan tools, particularly during elections.

This month, the U.S. military began its withdrawal from Somalia, which means that oversight on the ground of Danab forces may be left largely to private contractors such as Bancroft.

The U.S. withdrawal will take away key capabilities from U.S.-trained forces, such as transport aircraft and critical backup in sensitive missions. The reduction in support could lead to a crisis of confidence in some Danab ranks, and its armed units could retreat to local militias that operate on their own terms.

Countries like Turkey could also take a greater lead over special forces in Somalia at a time where these units are becoming more politicized. Unless this is addressed, future administrations could enlist foreign support to build similarly loyal militias, further undermining public confidence in elite security squads.

Way Ahead

There is a high risk of violence in Beled Hawo due to the troop buildup.

  • In March 2020, violence occurred between Somali government troops and militias loyal to former Jubaland security minister Abdirashid Janan, who cinematically escaped a Mogadishu prison and fled to Kenya. The FGS has accused Kenya of arming Janan’s militia.

The FGS will lean on its allies in Turkey and Qatar to fund its political and military endeavors.

    • In addition to the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the European Union has reportedly suspended its budgetary support to the FGS due to its role in electoral delays, and other missteps.​ (Note: this reporting has not been significantly corroborated by multiple sources as of December 21.)

Categories: Int'l Community in Somalia

1 reply

  1. Thank you for the update. It was entirely predictable that once the US and others began training ‘elite’ forces to fight Al Shabaab that sooner or later, those forces would be politicized and turned against one segment or another of the Somali population. It is galling that we never learn these lessons – in Somalia and elsewhere.

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