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Is Somalia’s Security Sector Recovering?

Abdulkarim Abdulle

The security situation in Somalia has been slightly fluctuating but remained volatile as usual during the past eighteen months. According to the United Nations Security Council’s February report on Somalia, Al-Shabaab remains the main security challenge and continues to maintain its operational strength and capability despite ongoing ground and airstrikes across the country.

Violence in the urban areas including bombings and targeted assassinations have decreased in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period of 2019 due to the global Coronavirus pandemic and Somali security forces operations accumulated.

In order to cope up with the recent security developments in the country, Al-Shabaab is struggling to restructure its strategies and develop new mechanisms to ensure survival. The group’s leadership crisis, Somali National Army (SNA)’s aggressive operations backed by AFRICOM airstrikes are the main reasons forcing the group to reshape its tactics. However, the group has historically proved adaptable and remained a deadly rival with a range of violent tactics.

The most violence-prone areas are Lower Shabelle and Gedo regions, where Al-Shabaab still retains control of some towns and rural areas. The SNA’s operations are focused on these two regions because they are relatively important in the fight against the group. Other regions in Hirshabelle, Galmudug and Puntland states rarely experience comprehensive military operations due to, perhaps, Al-Shabaab’s comparatively dilatoriness in these regions.

in May 2017, the Somalia Security Pact (SSP) was approved by the current administration and endorsed by its international partners. The pact considers political stabilization and reconfiguration of the armed forces as the top priorities. In line with the SSP guidelines, the SNA members are almost biometrically registered, their wages rationed, and the post-AMISOM transition period is described.

The Prime Minister said in a statement last March that the “reform promotes domestic solutions for the security challenges, enables and transforms SNA into a contemporary armed force capable of defeating the terrorists”. However, the SNA is yet to deal with the security challenges without the support of AMISOM and/or AFRICOM.

Moreover, it’s worth noting that AFRICOM frequently launches controversial airstrikes against Al-Shabaab and remains the strongest effective actor against the group.

The insurgent groups had their strategic depth hidden in the public support they get from the communities. However, Al-Shabaab has been gradually losing voluntary public support since 2013 due to its internal conflicts, leadership crisis, high-rank defections, and the government’s policy of ideological fight against the group. Moreover, the group’s adherence to the strict ‘taxes’ policy has also contributed to the decrease of its public support.

The continuous change of chief commanders, failure in setting up effective promotion system and payroll methods, and less-coordination with federal member states are some of the current challenges SNA faces. Such challenges derail the efforts of stabilizing the country and preparing for post-AMISOM. Redefining the role of AMISOM and scrutiny of the Transition Plan will be also a serious challenge in the next period.

Abdulkarim Abdulle, Author

The AMISOM Factor

AMISOM is initiated to offer support to the Somalia government and train security forces to combat Al-Shabaab. The mandate of the mission has been changed frequently in accordance with the Security Council resolutions. According to the African Union’s peacekeeping history, the mission is considered the longest-running and the costliest in terms of finance and fatalities.

The mission has played a critical role in combatting and defeating the group in its early years and contributed substantially to ousting it from Mogadishu in 2011. Back in the 2010s, the mission has been the most important factor in the battle against extremist groups. However, AMISOM’s role has recently changed from an active aggressive mission to a sluggard mission that is “unlikely to engage in aggressive operations” according to a 2019 CIA Report.

In line with Somalia’s security sector reform, AMISOM is expected to transfer primary security responsibilities to SNA in mid-2021. Yet, the effectiveness of the exit plan is in question. SNA is not properly equipped with the essential weapons and facilities required to bring security under control and deal with the insurgence groups.

Somalia’s active military personnel is estimated at around 25,000 soldiers but only a few units are able to conduct sustained operations. Other units lack basic equipment and depend on AMISOM to secure its main supply routes, logistics support, and casualty evacuation. With SNA’s limited personnel and resources, tough trade-offs are necessary to ensure the smooth and persistent transfer of responsibilities.

The Turkish Factor

Turkey has been involved in Somalia since the popular 2011 humanitarian aid campaign. But, Turkey’s interest in the Somalia security sector developed even before that date. In 2009, Turkey has contributed forces to the European Union counter-piracy mission off the Somali coast, joined Somalia’s Joint Security Committee, and signed a military cooperation agreement with Somalia. Between 2009 and 2019, Turkey and Somalia signed five security and military-related agreements. These agreements prepare legal ground for potential security engagements in the future.

In September 2017, TURKSOM Military Training Base has been inaugurated in Mogadishu. The base serves as a joint military academy and Noncommissioned officers training school. The academy is expected to train approximately 10,000 Somali forces. Since its establishment, the academy has graduated at least three batches of Somali police and SNA forces.

Apart from TURKSOM academy, Turkey has also trained more than 500 members of the Somali armed forces in Turkey including police, military, navy, and air forces, among them, is the current SNA chief commander General Odowa Y. Rage.

With its security policy in Somalia, Turkey plays an indispensable role and is gradually gaining importance in the country’s security sector. The currently active and aggressive SNA units that are combating Al-Shabaab in Lower Shabelle region are composed almost of Turkish trained forces.

Additionally, these forces use Turkish made weapons including MPT-67. The planned drawdown of AMSISOM must push the Somali government to speed up rebuilding its forces. Thus, Turkey is and will remain a potential key actor in the post-AMISOM period. Turkish intelligence services’ role in freeing Silvia Romano adds to emphasize this argument.

Finally, The country’s security situation seems to recover and the militant rebels are getting strategically weakened. However, Somalia requires very tough strategies and, of course, trained and equipped army to control the security situation.  The country has been conducting an aggressive security policy since the current government came to the office yet lacks prioritization. Political stabilization, coordination with the federal member states and solid reconfiguration of the armed forces must come at the top of the priorities.

The Somali army is required to prepare itself for the direct takeover of the security when AMISOM Transition Plan comes effective in 2021. It seems now that SNA is not yet ready and there is a fear that without careful assessment of SNA will surely give Al-Shabaab an opportunity to resurge. However, the Post-AMISOM period is not likely to create a situation similar to the post-Ethiopian occupation in 2009.

The continuous change of chief commanders, failure in setting up effective promotion system and payroll methods, and less-coordination with federal member states are some of the current challenges SNA faces. Such challenges derail the efforts of stabilizing the country and preparing for post-AMISOM. Redefining the role of AMISOM and scrutiny of the Transition Plan will be also a serious challenge in the next period.

There are significant developments in the fight against Al-Shabaab, but these achievements must be supported with a solid commitment to retaining it. The National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA)’s efforts in neutralizing and hunting of Al-Shabab amniyat members inside Mogadishu increased. This is also expected to soon show positive developments in reducing violent activities inside Mogadishu.

The writer is Security Sector Analyst and can be reached at: @karimabdulle

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