News / Africa

Building Somalia's Army in the Middle of War

A handout picture released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team shows an armed man squatting at a beach during a demonstration by a local militia, formed in order to provide security in the town of Marka, April 30, 2014.
A handout picture released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team shows an armed man squatting at a beach during a demonstration by a local militia, formed in order to provide security in the town of Marka, April 30, 2014.
Gabe Joselow
— The future of Somalia may very well hinge on its national army. Forming a unified professional force has proven an enormous challenge for the government and an obstacle to peace.
 
At an African Union training center along the shores of the capital, soldiers from the Somali National Army assemble their weapons.
 
Sitting on the concrete floor under the watch of a Hungarian military trainer, they are clumsy at first with the sliding mechanisms of the PKM, belt-fed machine guns.
 
One trainee, Corporal Hassan Osman said he has now got the hang of it. "I know how to handle AK's and PK's," he said, "how to clean them, how to fight with them - all aspects of handling the weaponry."
 
The AU peacekeeping force AMISOM, working with European military trainers, is taking on the difficult but crucial task of building the capacity of the Somali National Army - the SNA - a force of about 20,000 soldiers desperately lacking in equipment and leadership.
 
The head of the European Union Training Mission in Somalia, Spanish Colonel Jesus Gonzalez, said a history of war and deep clan divisions in the country makes it difficult to harmonize the force.  "This generation grew up during the war, so it's not easy for them and the challenges are there. They have a background of working for a clan, for a militia, but don't have this spirit of unity, of country, yet," he stated.
 
Gonzalez said military training is, in part about nation-building, and that soldiers here get courses on the constitution and the national anthem, as they are taught to fight for one country.
 
He said he is seeing signs of improvement.  "There is something there that lets me understand that they are willing, that things are changing here, slowly of course, because this is Somalia, but quicker than I thought at the beginning when I arrived here. I see a little progress," Gonzalez said.
 
When finished with training, these soldiers will return to the frontlines of an ongoing battle with the al-Qaida linked militant group al-Shabab with new skills like weapons handling, bomb detection and first aid.
 
But a lack of resources remains one of the biggest challenges in the field.
 
SNA soldiers have worked alongside AMISOM troops in clearing al-Shabab from territory across the country with the intention of securing newly reclaimed towns once operations are complete.
 
But AMISOM officials say when the fighting is over, often the SNA troops disappear.
 
While discipline is one problem, AMISOM Force Commander Silas Ntigurirwa said another is that the SNA has not set up appropriate housing for its soldiers in areas of operation.  "This is a very big challenge for the Somali National Army. I think they need the military barracks in order to, when they finish the operation they must have somewhere to go. Not for everyone to go back to their own homes," Ntiguriwa stated.
 
The United Nations monitoring group for Somalia has flagged concerns that weapons being commissioned for the SNA are being diverted along clan lines into the hands of militants and other armed groups operating outside the official security forces.
 
UN special representative for Somalia Nick Kay said arms diversion is a serious concern for the international community.
 
He said forming a "truly national Somali army" will take time.  "A country that suffered 23 years of state failure, fragmentation of power, a lot of local militia and local clan-based militia have formed and it takes a while, particularly whilst the conflict still continues, to be able to shape a new model army," said Kay.
 
As AMISOM plans future operations to wrest control of the remaining territories under militant control, the SNA will be vital to re-establishing federal control.
 
And while AMISOM does not plan to stay in the country forever, its eventual departure will very much depend on a national force being ready to take its place.

You May Like

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid