A new strategy must be sought Death, destruction, mayhem and human suffering continue unabated in Somalia. Not a day goes by in Mogadishu without people being killed with mortars, suicide bombs, improvised explosive devises, car bombs and assassinations.
Few days ago, a huge truck loaded with explosive was detonated in middle of one of the busiest junctions in Mogadishu; Zope. No one knows the exact number of people killed, but the best estimate available today is that more than four hundred people were killed and close to a thousand wounded. By all accounts, this was the worse terrorist attack in Somalia’s violent recent history. The economic and social cost of that catastrophic terrorist act will take months to figure out.
More than twenty members of the federal parliament were assassinated in the last four years. Several government ministers and seniors officials were assassinated in the same period. Yet, despite the frequent change of ministers, governments and presidents nothing seems to change. Hence, the tragedy, chaos, political and economic insecurities continues unabated.
Emboldened by failure of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security forces, Al Shabab staged several spectacular and deadly attacks on AMISOM military barracks, Kulbiyow, El Wak, Bullo Hawo, El Adde and Leego, Barawe, and most recently, Barrire.
Afgoye town, which is less than thirty kilometers from Mogadishu and surrounded by AMISOM and SNA soldiers, Al Shabab comes in and out, as they like. Neither AMISOM nor SNA has managed to stop them thus far. It is worth noting that Al Shabab fighters carry light-arms against Tanks, Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and heavy artillery operated by AMISOM forces.
The United Nations personnel and the special representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nation, Mr. Michael Keating and his team are holed up in the Airport and can hardly go outside the security perimeter of the airport. In the UN premises in the airport itself, the security perimeters created are like onion rings with multiple layers and check points. Regrettably, what those layers shows is not necessarily the persistent security threat that exist in the country but the utter failure of those who are entrusted to do something about it.
More than two billion U.S. dollars are spent annually on the security sector in Somalia. By official accounts, there are more than twenty two thousand AMISOM soldiers with tanks and heavy artillery in Somalia.
The Somali federal government records show that there are about twenty five thousand Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers, twelve thousand armed police officers, roughly three thousand National Security and Intelligence Agency (NISA) soldiers (under cover agents are not included), two thousand custodial officers, and about three hundred Somali Navy cadets. In addition, Puntland claims that they have about ten thousand soldiers including highly trained maritime police and counterterrorism special operations teams. Furthermore, Jubbaland has on the books five thousand armed soldiers including the former “Ras Kamboni Brigade”.
The Southwest state has probably less than three thousand soldiers under their control. This means that there are over seventy thousand strong and armed soldiers of all sorts in Somalia. The Somali soldiers under trained the UAE government are not battle ready yet. Hence, they are omitted from this count but they are estimated to be about three thousand.
Nevertheless, Mogadishu with little more than a million inhabitants cannot be secured. AMISOM is asking for more funds, four thousand soldiers more and several more helicopter gunships. Yet, according to most western intelligence agencies and military analysts, Al Shabab has 5000-7000 fighters. And most of them are not battle ready at all times. Recently reports show that their numbers have declined.
A multi-national effort of over twenty years and billions of dollars spent on reconstituting the Somali security apparatus has achieved nothing thus far and the end result is a colossal failure and much needed resources wasted. Not to mention the lost of human life as a result. The basic blueprint and tools required for reconstructing a viable security system in Somalia are not there yet. There is no security architecture, no coherent national security and defense strategy in place. At the same time, several million dollars are spent each month on salaries of Somali soldiers. But where are the soldiers that are paid and what are they doing? The international security partners seem confused, out of place and above all frustrated with their Somali partners.
The Somali military exists only in the government books and on the monthly payrolls sent out for payments. It lacks the necessary and required training, discipline, command and control structures and far more importantly the ideological motivations to fight for their country. The necessary military equipment for the war are not available, however, equipment and military hardware is not necessarily the most critical factor in the Somali war theater at this time. One has to remember, Al Shabab has AK-47, few machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and low-grade mortars. The SNA has all of these and much more.
For me the most fundamental question one has to ask is; why would a soldier risk his life if he does not understand the rationale and the objective of the war he is told to fight? Are Somali leaders and military commanders giving their soldiers a reason to fight? The fact is that most Somali soldiers are more sympathetic to the enemy they are told to fight than the government that sends them to battle and the international partners that pay their salaries.
At the outset, AMISOM military strategy seems to have evolved from a “benign defense”, which meant minimizing the damage the enemy could inflict upon them, to a some kind of minimalist “forward defense” strategy which is, simply put, enlarging the distance between them and enemy. These strategies are yet to produce a decisive military victory over Al Shabab. AMISOM mandate includes training and equipping Somali security forces, primarily the military. However, AMISOM is yet to fulfill this part of its mission. By design or by sheer incompetency, Somalia will depend on foreign military force in the foreseeable future and it may end up like Afghanistan, which could not defend itself against the Taliban after the Americans troops started to withdraw.
What Somalia needs is to create a small army with three simple, clear and attainable objectives; to win the war against Al Shabab, to promote peace among Somalis and to deter future conflict. Somalia does not have an external security threat now. Hence, few thousand highly trained, highly motivated and fully equipped counterterrorism force could get the job done. It is waste of time and resources to try to created large military in Somalia now. The goal should be simple and achieveable; defeat Al Shabab.
Unfortunately, president Mohamed Abdillahi Farmaajo’s tragic-comedy of parading himself with Somali army camouflage uniform is not helping. Neither do his half-baked ideas of declaring war on Al Shabab without putting a coherent and credible security strategy first. At the very least, he must consult first with AMISOM and other security partners.
By all accounts, the project to resuscitate the Somali security systems is a colossal failure regardless of whether it is the part the Somalis is responsible to manage or the other more consequential parts that the international partners are supposed to lead. There is a need for new approach
This is a slightly edited version of an earlier article.