Remodeling the national security system is what Somalia needs

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By: Abdulmajid Farah

The return of Somali citizens to Lido Beach was a significant sign of restoration of civil order and stability in Mogadishu. However, analysts say the attack on the beach as well as attacks on hotels is meant to instill further fear in Somalia. Specifically, to ensure Somalia does not hold credible elections this year and Somalis in diaspora discouraged to return.

The convoy of armoured vehicles makes its way from Mogadishu’s “green corner,” a fortified security zone in the capital of Somalia to a police station in the centre of town. As the convoy grinds to an abrupt halt, a lean squadron commander jumps out, heading straight to the police report office.

At the report office, the Ugandan squadron commander receives a brief from the top Federal Police chief on the status of security. At this point, the Squadron Commander, a lance corporal, gives a report on the “assets” under his control, including all the guns carried on this mission. It launches an overnight patrol destined to hold ground at Kilometre Four (K4), Mogadishu’s most strategic location.

The armoured vehicles each park strategically at each corner of the series of roundabouts, as the Formed Police Unit of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) gets down to work. Their military transport squadron momentarily instructs visitors on the convoy to stay close to the armoured vehicles.

This particular formed police unit, made of Nigerian, Ugandan and Somali trainees, is aiding the Somali police to carry out routine patrols, cordon and search operations around the city of Mogadishu.

The area around K4 appeared headed towards miraculous recovery since the city was liberated from the Al Shabaab. These days, boys brave the night for a game of football and businesses stay open for longer.

“The Al Shabaab does not sleep. The Federal government too cannot afford to sleep,” said the Hodan District Commissioner, joining the night patrol to motivate the patrol team.

In 2012, a suicide bomber hoodwinked security forces into believing she was a pregnant woman before detonating the bomb near a theatre where the Somali Prime Minister was having a national event some time back.  Still, the latest series of terror attacks, including the attack on Sahafi Hotel late last year, and the series of attacks around the location, demonstrate the volatility of Mogadishu’s security progress.

“The AMISOM combat force remains unreliable. It is combat-ineffective. The Burundi army which makes a big part of the force has fallen apart and now lacks the technical capacity,” said Andrew Franklin, Managing Director of Franklin Management Consultants, a security advisory firm based in Nairobi.

Somalia is heading towards a new round of General Elections. The polls include the selection of Members of lower house and the senate who would in turn elect the President.

“…in order to have any meaningful impact on the security situation, the air strikes conducted by AMISOM’s strategic partners, notably, the Kenya Defence Forces and the U.S. Pentagon, should be coordinated and strategic, rather than retaliatory and punitive reaction to the Al Shabaab’s offensive.” Andrew Franklin, Managing Director of Franklin Management Consultants.

To prepare Somalia to handle the national security challenges at hand, Franklin, a former U.S. marine who spent his youthful days in the U.S. Marine mentoring young officers on the security threat levels in Africa as an Army Major, says a massive increase in the number of AMISOM troops is required.

Ahead of the presidential elections in Somalia, security experts propose a wide-ranging security sector reform plan, with key focus on arming and equipping the Somali security agencies, empowering the regional states to act as security watchdogs and creating security forces modeled alongside clan militias as well as devolving security operations to allow each member state to secure its jurisdiction.

“The will to fight and defeat the Al Shabaab is disappearing,” Franklin said. “We have never had a war this long. Somalia is more unsafe compared to amount of money spent on securing the country.”

In an apparent response to Mogadishu’s slow security progress, the European Union (EU), which has been funding the AMISOM’s 360 million Euros annual budget, recently announced a 20 per cent budget slash, which infuriated the countries contributing troops to the mission.

Security experts familiar with the goings on within AMISOM, decry the lack of strategic direction in the deployment of the military assets in the efforts to stabilize Somalia.

For starters, critics worry that AMISOM has more staff officers than necessary. Secondly, the AMISOM Force Commanders are not effectively trained in control of the troops in the “theatre of operations.”

The result of this imbalance in the distribution of the troops is such that out of the 22,000 troops, including the police and civilian components, only 60 per cent (5,000/16,000) troops are currently fighting some 7,000/6,000 Al Shabaab fighters inside Somalia, according to an estimate by Franklin.

Franklin said the Somali forces are subjected to 18-months of strict military training but are not given the supporting arms to make them much more effective.

Franklin said in order to have any meaningful impact on the security situation, the air strikes conducted by AMISOM’s strategic partners, notably, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and the U.S. Pentagon, should be coordinated and strategic, rather than retaliatory and punitive reaction to the Al Shabaab’s offensive.

To consolidate the national security situation in Somalia, Franklin and a number of regional security analysts agree that a review of the AMISOM mandate is necessary to give the troops a fair fighting chance to defeat the Al Shabaab. There is also the need for more profound and coordinated investments in securing the Somalia regional states and arming them accordingly to be able to hold and secure their territories.

Mehari Taddele Maru, a Regional Security Analyst, said Somalia regional member states should be empowered by private security forces. These private security agencies, according to Dr Mehari, could be under the control of the regional states, equally empowered to scrutinize the activities of the regional army.

“For now, the most important security sector investment is training of militia and armies of the regional member states,” Dr Mehari said. “Without the regional states, Somalia would likely fail to achieve any level of stability and order. More so there is a big demand for the training of the private security firms and armies which could provide transnational security. There is need for training and equipping these regional member state armies,” added Mehari.

In the past few months, the Al Shabaab has intensified its attacks against AMISOM troops. The insurgents attempted to blow an airline in Mogadishu, put bombs of vehicles as well as intensified cross-border attacks into the Kenyan territory as well as an attack on landmark targets in Mogadishu, including Lido Beach.

The return of Somali citizens to Lido Beach was a significant sign of restoration of civil order and stability in Mogadishu. However, analysts say the attack on the beach as well as attacks on hotels is meant to instill further fear in Somalia. Specifically, to ensure Somalia does not hold credible elections this year and diaspora discouraged to return.

Franklin supports the Somali regional member states should be recognized in the national security set-up to secure Somalia for posterity.

Franklin proposes that Somalia should embark on creating local security units, modeled alongside the General Service Unit, a riot squad unit similar to the AMISOM’s formed police units, to work towards securing the Somali borders while also incorporating the clans into security management.

The writer is a TSIM Defense and Security Reporter