Skyborne shield: Somalia’s Bell 412s rise against Al-Shabab

Mogadishu (Caasimada Online) – The Somali government recently welcomed a significant boost to its counter-insurgency arsenal with the receipt of Bell 412 helicopters and additional weaponry to strengthen its efforts against the Al-Shabab terrorist group.

Military sources indicate that two of these twin-engine helicopters, known for their versatility and reliability, arrived in Mogadishu in July, with another three set for imminent delivery.

The Bell 412 is a multipurpose helicopter employed worldwide for troop transport, medical evacuation, and search and rescue missions.

Its ability to operate in harsh environments makes it a fitting addition for Somalia, a nation endeavoring to stabilize and secure its territory under challenging conditions.

Operational prospects

“The helicopters, currently utilized for casualty evacuation, can also play an active role in combat operations,” stated a military official, emphasizing these aircraft’s dual role.

By rapidly deploying troops and supplies to remote areas and providing medical evacuations for wounded soldiers, these helicopters are poised to become central assets in Somalia’s ongoing struggle against Al-Shabab.

While details about the funding for these helicopters remain unclear, the overall pattern of international support for Somalia’s military is unmistakable.

In addition to these helicopters, recent months have seen the arrival of 120mm mortars, Zu-23 anti-aircraft guns, and other heavy weaponry donated by allied nations, including a substantial pledge of $9 million in military aid from the United States earlier this year.

Beyond hardware, extensive human resource development is underway. Somali news outlets report that the country’s military pilots, technicians, and Special Forces have completed training in Turkey, specifically on the Bell 412s.

This comes on the heels of Turkey’s previous donation of twelve Kirpi armored vehicles and twelve utility trucks to Somalia in 2020, part of a broader bilateral military and financial cooperation agreement.

Facing challenges head-on

Despite notable progress, the Somali government continues to grapple with substantial challenges.

“The arrival of the Bell 412 helicopters is a major boost for the government’s efforts,” said a local analyst, “it signals that the international community is committed to helping Somalia achieve peace.”

The security context in which these helicopters arrive is dynamic. The African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) has begun a phased withdrawal in compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2628 and 2670.

Approximately 2,000 troops were withdrawn on June 30, with an additional 3,000 expected to leave in September. The resolution mandates that ATMIS hand over security responsibilities to Somali security forces in agreed areas.

U.S. involvement

This equipment arrives at a crucial juncture for Somalia, coinciding with a resurgence of direct U.S. military support, including President Joe Biden’s authorization last year to deploy hundreds of Special Operations forces inside Somalia.

In July 2021, the United States African Command (AFRICOM) delivered six Puma M36 Mk 6 armored vehicles to support Somali security forces in their fight against Al-Shabab.

The U.S. is also set to deliver at least 100 light combat vehicles to Somalia, ostensibly to aid the war against Al-Shabab but also perceived by some as an effort to counterbalance Turkey’s growing influence.

In summary, acquiring Bell 412 helicopters is a salient symbol of the Somali government’s determination to defeat Al-Shabab and the international community’s commitment to supporting these efforts within an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape.