Somali government secretly sends thousands of army recruits abroad for training

Mogadishu (Caasimada Online) – The Somali government has secretly sent thousands of new military recruits to nearby countries for training to strengthen its army in its war against the al-Shabab militants; a senior official has told VOA News.

According to Hussein Sheikh-Ali, the national security adviser for the Somali president, Somalia has sent 3,000 soldiers each to Eritrea and Uganda, and 6,000 more recruits will be sent to Ethiopia and Egypt. 

The goal is to have 15,000 soldiers ready by 2024, as Somalia is anticipating the withdrawal of the African Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) troops from the country by the end of 2024. 

“We want to have 15,000 soldiers ready by the end of 2023,” Ali told VOA’s Harun Maruf in an interview in Washington, where he met with U.S. military officials to seek more support for Somalia.

However, a recent report by the Mogadishu-based think-tank Heritage Institute for Political Studies (HIPS) raises concerns that the government may not meet the December 2024 deadline it set to have 24,000 soldiers ready to take over the security responsibilities when ATMIS are scheduled to leave. 

The report cites financial constraints, capability and training gaps, and ongoing military operations as challenges facing the Somali army. It emphasizes the importance of affordability, given that the state cannot currently support the army it wants. 

The report also highlights two significant capability gaps for the Somali National Army (SNA), including a lack of equipment and resources and difficulties in generating and deploying “hold” forces to stabilize newly recaptured areas. 

According to the report, the Somali government requested a six-month delay for the initial reduction of 2,000 soldiers from ATMIS, from December 2022 to June 30, 2023, in November. Ali stated that this delay is because the troops anticipated to replace ATMIS are undergoing training overseas.

Despite these challenges, Ali remains optimistic and predicts that the government will defeat the al-Shabab group by next summer. He says that the primary goal is to have no al-Shabab members occupying any territory in Somalia by June or July of 2024. 

However, Brigadier General Abdi Hassan Hussein, a former intelligence officer, and former police commander, warns that the fight against al-Shabab will require support from the United Nations and other stakeholders. He says peace will be far away if the stakeholders do not play a role in this fight.

The recently approved 2023 budget of $967 million, which allocates $113 million for the national army, is dependent on external support as domestic revenue could be higher. 

The Heritage Institute for Political Studies (HIPS) report states that building an army without a budgetary plan could be unsustainable, as an army requires more than just paying salaries. 

The troops have suffered many casualties over the years from improvised explosive devices and the inequality between the well-equipped Danab (Lightning) and Gorgor (Eagle) units trained by the U.S. and Turkey and the regular army units that are only marginally better equipped than local clan militias.