Wrong time to cut international military assistance to Somalia – UM

Somali PM's recent visit to the Pentagon photo/Google

Mogadishu (UM) – The news that the US government is cutting aid to some Somali military units amid allegations of misuse of funds and corruption by the Somali military, as claimed by the State Department, is shocking but not surprising.

According to the State Department, military assistance will continue to Somali military units that are mentored directly by US military advisers or are actively engaged in fighting al- Shabaab and other extremist groups like Danab.

The US Military is now more involved than ever before in the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia on the ground and from the air. US Military personnel train, mentor and advise the Somali National Army and there are credible reports that they also join them in active operations. There have been confirmed reports in the past that an American Navy Seal lost his life and two were wounded while on active duty in the front line in Somalia undertaking a raid to track down an al-Shabaab senior member. More controversially, US drones, operated from US Africa Command in Djibouti, continue to carry out strikes against al-Shabaab positions to weaken their operations and allow the Somali ground forces and AMISOM to defeat them more effectively. These attacks have become controversial because of the current ongoing investigation by US Africa Command into the civilian casualties during airstrikes.

As the fight against international terrorism intensifies, the US is increasingly relying on the Somali National Army and AMISOM to take the fight to al-Shabaab to defeat them both in Somalia and the wider region. However, as thousands of troops from AMISOM plan to withdraw by the end of 2020, the only real partner the US has on the ground is the Somali National Army.

The US decision to cut military assistance is not permanent as the State Department made clear in their statement. The State Department official stressed that military assistance will resume after revisions by the Somali government, which the official admitted understood the need to change how it handled the assistance. However, this sudden decision, however good the reason, is damaging to both the Somali Federal Government and the National Army.

The Somali National Army Readiness Assessment (ORA) finally completed this year makes clear the great operational, financial logistical and human resources challenges the Somali National Army faces to be fit for purpose. The ORA report is an honest assessment which the US welcomed and should assist with rather than cutting assistance.

Transparency and accountability have been a real challenge in the security sector in Somalia. Until the first group of soldiers were registered biometrically for direct payment last week by the Ministry of Defence and Finance, senior military officials used to distribute cash to soldiers by hand. This clearly provided great room for corruption, manipulation and Personnel inflation. Had the decision to halt US assistance to the majority of the Army come before the biometric registration process had started, it would have been easily justifiable because the US Government had made clear in the past that transparency and accountability had to improve for them to continue the assistance. However, the decision occurred when the reforms began which will hurt morale and undermine the Somali Government efforts to complete the reforms required including the biometric registration and national troop integration.

The US is no doubt supporting Somalia in diverse ways and this will strengthen when the agreed nearly $300 million USAID assistance for Public services, economic development and Governance agreed during the Somali Partnership Forum meeting last week in Mogadishu is realised. However, these crucial development enablers are pointless without security. The US is a world leader in the field of security and its assistance to Somalia both financially and operationally will go a long way towards defeating international terrorism which threatens the entire world. The defeat of al-Shabaab in Somalia will be a crushing blow to international terrorists which are now more connected than ever and seeking to destabilise the world.  On the other hand, US Government contradictions in security and development support, will only embolden terrorists and weaken the central Government which the US supports, while decimating Army morale and capabilities.

On their part, the Somali Federal Government must speed up security sector reforms. These have been dragging on for over 4 years and this can no longer be tolerated by the Somali people and international partners who have been generous in their support. The Somali Government must also raise the adequate revenue to finance its own defence and security forces.

In fairness, all partners, including the EU, are concerned by the slow progress of the security sector reforms alongside the US. If the EU’s decision to cut 20% of funding to AMISOM was difficult, the US direct support suspension of the Somali National Army will be more painful.

The Somali Federal Government needs to quickly revisit the Operational Readiness Assessment report and take effective action. On their part, the international community, including the US and EU, must be more patient and not abandon the fight against international terrorism now when it seems we are more likely to win.