Tag Archives: Somalia

New Reports Suggest U.S. Had Military Precense in Somalia Since 2007

Last week, Reuters reported that rotations of military advisors have been deploying to Somalia since at least 2007. The news agency quoted anonymous US government officials. These revelations come after the Pentagon admitted to a formal advisory mission at the beginning of the year. The official statement was that only three military personnel were in Moghadishu and had been there since October 2013, when they had established a Military Coordination Cell to liaise with Somali authorities and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

AMISOM troops stand on top of a WZ551 armored personnel carrier on the outskirts of Burubow in the Gedo region of Somalia in March, shortly after it was liberated from Al Shabaab control.

AMISOM troops stand on top of a WZ551 armored personnel carrier on the outskirts of Burubow in the Gedo region of Somalia in March 2014, shortly after it was liberated from Al Shabaab control.

These newly uncovered deployments consisted of up to one hundred and twenty special operations forces at a time and were timed to provide a persistent presence, according to Reuters. If these details are correct, these special operators might have participated in the targeting process for a string of air strikes and drone attacks, as well as various commando raids since 2007. US Africa Command (AFRICOM), which is currently responsible for operations in Somalia, disputed this, saying that the deployments were smaller and apparently only for specific missions.

The Central Intelligence Agency was largely believed to be in charge of US supported paramilitary activity inside of Somalia until recently. It appears that the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and specifically the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), may have also been directly involved in this covert effort. The Pentagon and AFRICOM have also clearly stepped up their overt activities in the restive east African nation since the beginning of 2013. AFRICOM has declined requests to elaborate on these missions beyond saying they are working closely with the Somali government and other African partners to combat the militant group Al Shabaab.

Al Shabaab came into existence in 2007 after Ethiopian troops and Somali militia routed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a fundamentalist Islamist organization that had taken control of significant portions of the country. Al Shabaab, formed from the remnants of the ICU’s military wing, has continued to fight pro-government forces and international peacekeepers, now operating under the AMISOM title. Al Shabaab assassinated Somali parliamentarian Ahmed Mohamud ‘Hayd’ just last week and killed four people with a car bomb outside the parliament building in Mogadishu yesterday. These attacks are simply the latest in a string of increasingly aggressive responses to AMISOM’s latest offensive. The situation in the country remains complex and fluid.

Somali, AU Troops Take Towns from Al Shabaab in Renewed Offensive

Somali government troops and peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have reportedly taken control of a number of towns from the militant group Al Shabaab. This includes the town of Burdhubo in the southern part of the country, which is described a a major stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked group. These advances are part of a renewed AMISOM offensive against Al Shabaab, the planning for which had been alluded to last December.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  Note that the green areas are simply listed as "pro-government," indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

A number of changes have been made to AMISOM this year already to help in the fight against Al Shabaab. Most notable was the decision to formally integrate Ethiopian forces into AMISOM. Ethiopian forces had already been engaged in operations along the border with Somalia, which sometimes resulted in them crossing over. Now, over four thousand Ethiopian troops are operating with AMISOM in the country. When the decision was announced in January, AMISOM said that they hoped the influx of Ethiopian troops would free up other peacekeepers to fight militants in the country’s south.

In February, Kenya also announced that it was planning on reducing its presence in the southern port town of Kismayo. The move had been made after the Somali authorities complained Kenyan forces were an impediment to exercise central government control in the region. Kenya has supported nominally pro-government warlords in southern Somalia for some time. In 2011, some of these groups declared a semi-autonomous region, called Jubaland. Somalia’s many semi-autonomous actors are a major roadblock to establishing a functional state.

International partners are also looking to step up their involvement in the country. In January, it was reported that the US military would be sending military personnel to the country, the first official military presence there in decades. In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), Army General David M. Rodriguez said the military coordination cell in the capital Moghadishu numbered three people, who were working to “coordinate with UN and other partnered forces to disrupt and contain al-Shabaab forces and expand areas under the control of the nominal government.” General Rodriguez also acknowledged that “Precise partnered and unilateral operations [conducted by special operations forces] continue to play limited but important roles in weakening al-Shabaab.” European nations, such as Germany, are also sending additional military personnel to help train and advise Somali government forces.

Al Shabaab remains a significant threat however. The group carried out a bombing in Moghadishu at the end of February that killed twelve people and wounded numerous others near the headquarters of the country’s intelligence service. The fluidity of Somalia’s clan-based political scene is also a significant issue. The UN recently decided to maintain a partial arms embargo against the country after reports that arms shipments were being diverted to Al Shabaab linked groups. It was not clear, however, whether or not the government was simply trying to sway local warlords to their side.

A recent work published by Special Operations Command’s Joint Special Operations University on Somalia and the Al Shabaab insurgency noted that “Somalis are highly pragmatic people, prepared to switch allegiances if it gains them an advantage.” The authors suggest that “Trying to play politics within this unbelievably complex world..will only lead to outsiders being badly manipulated and inadvertently making enemies.”

UN Concerns About Somalia Weapons Purchases as Bomb Explodes in Capital

Yesterday, six people were killed in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu after a car bomb exploded.  Three Somali soldiers were killed in the attack.  The attack, near the city’s airport, appeared to target a United Nations convoy. The militant group Al Shabaab, linked to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  Note that the green areas are simply listed as "pro-government," indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

The bomb came as Reuters reported that it had obtained a confidential UN report regarding diversion of arms from official purchases by Somalia’s central government.  The report comes after the decision was made to ease the arms embargo against the country last March, in an attempt to improve its ability to fight Al Shabaab.

However, the report suggests that some of the arms shipments were diverted to various militias, including those aligned with Al Shabaab.  This serves to reinforce existing concerns about the strength of the central government in Somalia’s complex, clan-based social structure.

For instance, while some diversions could be traced to Al Shabaab-linked militias, the reason behind the diversions seemed to be more linked to clan loyalties.  The report mentioned the planning of arms deliveries to “Al Shabaab leader Sheikh Yusuf Isse,” who is a member of the Abgaal clan.  Somalia’s current president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is also a member of the Abgaal clan, as are many of his advisors.

President Mohamud had called on the UN to extend the easing of restrictions just last month.  According to Reuters, the new UN report recommends either restoring the full embargo or otherwise improving mechanisms to track arms shipments.

It is quite possible that President Mohamud could have been attempting to sway Sheikh Isse to switch sides with the deliveries.  Somalia’s central government relies heavily on warlords only nominally under its control to provide security in much of the country.  Other countries, like Kenya and the United States, have also been reportedly supporting such groups in an attempt to prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold there.

These parallel forces remain a significant impediment to the credibility of the central government, but are also critical in many ways to the providing of basic security in many places.  UN operations in the country in the 1990s were plagued by the same problems, as the UN struggled to find ways to disarm and demobilize militias, while at the same time finding it necessary to work with them to protect the distribution of vital humanitarian aid.  Finding a lasting solution to this ongoing problem will likely be critical to the establishment of a functional Somali state.

Security Assistance News from the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea, and North Africa

Providing assistance to national security forces has long been one of the key elements of international assistance to developing nations broadly.  The basic concept is that professional militaries and police forces can help instill a sense of confidence in governments, making them more stable as a result.  The stability in turn promotes development in other areas.  Essentially, more security equals more stability, when in turn equals more development.


This is definitely the goal behind the announcement last year to work on the development of a so-called “General Purpose Force” in Libya, where the central government has been largely ineffectual following the ouster and killing of the country’s former leader, Moammar Gadhafi, in 2011.  The various militias in the country that helped overthrow the previous regime continue to hold significant power, especially at the local level, and act with relatively impunity.  In addition, the lack of a functional national security apparatus has meant that much of the country has slipped into what might be described as an under-governed state.  Concerns about terrorists using these regions to establish bases of operation have been voiced by Libya’s neighbors, as well as partners farther afield.

Last week, Libya’s interm Prime Minister Ali Zidan said that almost eight hundred personnel had either been sent to Europe recently or were on their way as part of the new General Purpose Force effort.  Four hundred had already deployed to Turkey, and another four hundred were to go soon to Italy.  Another four hundred are scheduled to eventually travel to Britain.  In total, some eight thousand Libyan personnel are expected to go through twenty-four week training programs in Europe, with additional support provided by the United States.  Zidan also said that there are currently some five thousand Libyan personnel around the world receiving training.  Countries providing training for Libyan forces were said to include Algeria, Britain, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Persian Gulf states, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States.

Gulf of Guinea

Also last week, Maritime professionals from West Africa, Europe, South America, and the United States met in Lagos, Nigeria to finalize the exercise plan for this year’s iteration of Obangame Express, a US maritime cooperation exercise held in the Gulf of Guinea.  Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey, and the United States will participate in Obangame Express 14, which is the fourth iteration of this exercise.

The exercise is designed to help improve regional capabilities to deter piracy and drug smuggling, as well as other maritime contingencies.  As the threat of piracy has reduced in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, attention to the problem has turned to the Gulf of Guinea, where it remains a serious issue.  Last November, the were reports of a proposal to base US Marines afloat to help address the problem.


Today, the German government announced its intention to contribute troops to the European Union training mission in Somalia.  Germany had previously been involved in the training of Somali security forces when the EU mission was located in Uganda.  When the EU moved the operation to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu last May, the Germans dropped out of the program, citing the increased risk of operating there.  The EU had relocated the program as a gesture meant to affirm its support for the central government in Somalia.

Germany, which has some five thousand personnel taking part in nine international missions, has been urged recently by other European powers, notably France, to become more involved in such efforts.  The bulk of Germany’s international commitment is its three thousand personnel in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.  Last week, Germany also announced it would be increasing the size of its contribution to international peacekeeping efforts in Mali.

These announcements potentially signal a change in German foreign policy, which has since the end of the Second World War traditionally been inclined to avoid international commitments where there is a significant potential for violence and casualties.  This month, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said earlier this month that “Germany, with all its diplomatic, military and aid capacity cannot stand by when its help is needed”.  Steinmeier is a member of the country’s Social Democrat party, which entered into coalition with the conservatives led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.  It has been suggested that this new coalition has been instrumental in these changes in German foreign policy.

Kenya to Withdraw Troop’s from Somalia’s Kismayo

It was reported today that Kenya plans to reduce its presence in the Somali port city of Kismayo in the country’s south.  About two hundred Kenyan personnel will remain, but the bulk of the peacekeeping duties there will be taken over by forces from Burundi and Sierra Leon.  All three countries are providers of forces to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  One can see the decline in areas reported to be under Al-Shabaab control.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that Kismayo and other areas in the country’s south are only described as “pro-government.”

The decision to withdraw the troops comes in response to complaints from Somali authorities that they were hindering attempts to assert central government control.  The ability of the central government to effectively assert its authority continues to be a serious issue.  Currently the top third of the country consists of semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somliland, which have had a complicated relationship with central government authority.  In 2011, warlords in the south declared another semi-autonomous region, Jubaland, with its Kismayo as its defacto capital.  The nominally supportive of the central government, the warlords in control of Jubaland are backed by Kenya and there has been the suggestion that Jubaland is effectively a buffer state against the spillover of violence from the AMISOM campaign against the Al Shabaab militant group.

Semi-autonomous regions are not the only problems the United Nations-backed Somali government has been having with regards to asserting their authority.  Today, the UN’s top envoy in Somalia voiced concern about rising tensions at a federal state-building conference in the city of Baidoa.  The conference is intended to help the process of simply establishing a federal state in the area.  Much of Somalia remains under the control of loosely aligned warlords with backing from various regional actors like Kenya and Ethiopia, and international entities, like the US Central Intelligence Agency.  The US recently deployed military advisors to work on training the central government’s actual security forces.  The US has also worked on training forces for deployment in support of AMISOM and has also launched targeted strikes against Al Shabaab leadership figures, including one just this week.  Given all this, the UN has been pushing recently for a new and cohesive strategy to support Somali peace and security and the development of its institutions.

African Nations Increasingly Involved in Interventions on the Continent

Already well noted elsewhere, African nations are becoming increasingly more willing and able to engage in military interventions to respond to crises on the continent.  This is especially true when talking about neighboring countries, who may fear spillover of refugees, violence, and other negative effects. In keeping this trend, the African Union announced today that Ethiopian forces will formally become a part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  The four thousand Ethiopian troops will be responsible for the regions of Gedo, Bay, and Bakool in the southwestern portion of the country and will help AMISOM reach its new mandated size of twenty-two thousand personnel.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  One can see the decline in areas reported to be under Al-Shabaab control.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.

Ethiopia has a long history of military confrontation with Somalia, notably the war over the status of the Ogaden region.  Fearing spillover from a rise in violence in the early 2000s, Ethiopia intervened in 2006 on behalf of the UN-backed Somali government to curb the rise of the Supreme Islamic Courts Union.  Ethiopian forces, along with warlords nominally supporting the UN-backed Somali government, dispersed the ICU.  This in turn led to the rise of the Al-Shabaab militant group, who began a concerted campaign against Ethiopian forces, eventually leading to their withdrawal and replacement with AMISOM.

However, border skirmishing continued and Ethiopia has conducted cross border operations with the tacit support of the Somali government.  Ethiopia has also reportedly provided a base for US unmanned aerial vehicle operations over Somalia.  The integration of Ethiopian forces into AMISOM in many ways represents a formalization of the existing situation and gives them a mandate for increased operations.  This, it is hoped, will allow other AMISOM peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi, the opportunity to refocus their operations against Al Shabaab.  Concerns exist, however, about whether traditional enmity between Ethiopians and Somalis may lead the formal intervention to be used as a recruitment tool for anti-government militants.

Whatever the case, Ethiopia’s new large scale intervention in Somalia is just the most recent in a series of moves by African powers to intervene in regional crises in recent weeks.  Yesterday, the US military reported that it continues to assist in the deployment of Rwandan peacekeepers to support the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA).  Last week, Uganda also admitted that its forces had intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government and were conducting operations against rebel forces.  Uganda has also been a key component of US operations to airlift peacekeepers into CAR and has reportedly established a rapid response center within its Army to better respond itself to regional crises.  African Nations are also picking and choosing their interventions, with Kenya, for instance, saying it would not contribute forces to the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  Kenya, a major contributor to AMISOM, said it would push for a diplomatic solution in the world’s youngest country.

US Sends Military Advisors to Somalia

The Washington Post reported today that this past October, the US military deployed advisory personnel to Somalia to assist in the development of the national security forces and coordinate with African peacekeepers currently in the country.  This represents a logical expansion of the US effort with regards to Somalia.  The United States already provides significant assistance to African forces deploying in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as part of the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program and others.  ACOTA is managed by the US Department of State with help from the Department of Defense.

However, the deployment is notable given the stand-off approach the US has favored following participation in UN peacekeeping operations in the country in the early 1990s.  The US experience in Somalia was decidedly negative, even beyond the relatively well known “Black Hawk Down” incident in October 1993. Since then, the US has preferred to use airstrikes, including strikes by AC-130 gunships and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as raids by special operations forces.  In the last decade or so, unmanned aerial vehicles operating over Somalia have said to have been based in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya.  This past October saw both a special operations raid, which was aborted, and a drone strike, both directed at the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.  In addition, it has been reported that the US Central Intelligence Agency has been funding nominally pro-government warlords and pursuing other activities to help in this effort.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  One can see the decline in areas reported to be under Al-Shabaab control.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.

The two successive UN missions provided results that were themselves inconclusive at best and did not dramatically improve the landscape for the Somali people.  Many of the same issues that complicated those missions in the 1990s remain factors for operations today as Ethiopian and Kenyan forces have learned in the last decade.  While Ethiopian troops have long since withdrawn from the country, Kenya remains one of the primary contributors to AMISOM.  There have also been reports of Kenyan support for warlords in a semi-autonomous region in the south of the country, called Jubaland.

Though Somali government and international forces had significant success against Al-Shabaab between 2012 and 2013, the group experienced a certain resurgence in the past year.  As a result violence and international attention have again shifted to the country.  In November, the UN authorized a significant expansion of the AMISOM force, which operates under a UN mandate.  AMISOM also began planning a new offensive against Al-Shabaab and just today  Kenya announced that it had conducted an airstrike against militants near the tri-border area between Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  It is likely that any new effort against Al-Shabaab in Somalia is benefiting at least in some part from US supplied intelligence, which is likely one of the main reasons for establishing a formal US military presence on the ground in the country.