News / Africa

US-Trained Somali Commandos Fight Al-Shabab

Gaashaan soldiers shortly after re-taking control of the Somali parliament building from al-Shabab fighters in on May 24, 2014. (Somalia Handout Photo)
Gaashaan soldiers shortly after re-taking control of the Somali parliament building from al-Shabab fighters in on May 24, 2014. (Somalia Handout Photo)
Dan JosephHarun Maruf

Of all the ways the United States is helping Somalia's fledgling national government, none may be more important than training the country's first rapid reaction force, known as "Gaashaan," or "the shield.”

When al-Shabab militants stormed the Somali parliament building on May 24, Gaashaan soldiers were quickly sent from their base at the Mogadishu airport to reinforce African Union troops.  According to witnesses, the Gaashaan team fought the gunmen at the main gates and a key staircase, and helped to clear the building room by room.

When the fighting was over, eight attackers and a total of 10 Somali and AU soldiers lay dead, but the country’s legislature remained in government hands.

It was a promising sign that the Somali government, long dependent on the AU mission AMISOM for security, may be developing an armed force capable of fighting Islamist insurgents on its own.

Recently, Somali officials have begun talking about the previously secretive Gaashaan, which they characterize as a U.S.-trained counter-terrorism commando force.

Gaashaan comprises two units adding up to 120 men in total, according to officials very close to the Somali National Intelligence Agency, which commands the force.

The first unit, Alpha group, consists of about 40 men and three officers who were selected from 190 special soldiers within the Somali national army.  Somali defense officials tell VOA that this group was flown to the U.S. for training that took place in late 2009 and early 2010.

They were trained and armed with modern military hardware, including guns with night-vision scopes.
 
 

Gaashaan rapid reaction force. (Somalia Handout Photo)
Gaashaan rapid reaction force. (Somalia Handout Photo)

Trained to react quickly

“Alpha group has been trained with what I call direct action or counter-insurgency, counter-terror operation, executive-protecting - like VIPs - and in a quick reaction force to any kind of attack that al-Shabab brings to the city of Mogadishu,” explained  Derek Gannon, a U.S. anti-terrorism expert who has written about this group.

A second counter-terrorism unit, Bravo group, was trained at Mogadishu’s airport in 2011.

U.S. personnel are now training another commando unit, known as Danab, or “lightning.”  The group is based on a U.S. Ranger prototype and is comprised of soldiers selected from security forces in different parts of the country.

The existence of the unit was confirmed last month by U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman in a speech at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.  Separately, Defense Department officials have confirmed the presence of U.S. military advisers in Somalia.

The chief of the Somali National Army, General Dahir Aden Elmi, tells VOA that the U.S. will have trained 570 soldiers for the Danab force by the end of this year.  The first unit of 150 completed training that began in October 2013, while training the second unit is currently under way, he said.

“They are receiving special training for fighting in the jungle and in the city," he said.  "They can conduct any kind of operations in modern warfare, [including] guerrilla type."

Former Somali defense minister Abdihakim Mohamud Fiqi tells VOA the soldiers are also being trained for rescue operations and to collect intelligence.

The future of Somalia's government may depend in large part on the cohesion and fighting ability of these units.  After being pushed out of Mogadishu and most other major Somali cities over the past four years, al-Shabab has regained strength and has attacked parliament and the presidential palace twice apiece this year.

Gaashaan has become a symbol of the security forces’ new capability.  After the parliament attack in May, Somali leaders hailed them as heroes. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud awarded them with medals, which unit members accepted while wearing masks to hide their identities.

Danab commando unit. (Somalia Handout Photo)
Danab commando unit. (Somalia Handout Photo)

Gaashaan, Danab and the Somali army

Decades ago, Somalia had one of the best armies in Africa, largely trained by the Soviet Union.  But the army infrastructure and government institutions collapsed in 1991 after warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohammed Siad Barre.

Today, the U.N.-backed government is trying to rebuild the armed forces in the midst of a fierce war against al-Shabab, which seeks to impose its harsh form of Islamic law on the country.

For the most part, the government still relies on the Ugandan, Burundian, Kenyan and Ethiopian troops in AMISOM to hold the militants at bay.  The Somali National Army has about 11,000 personnel overall, most of them trained in neighboring countries, but has had difficulty fighting al-Shabab without AMISOM support.  

In a rare example of the army fighting alone, Somali forces on July 19th attacked an al-Shabab base in Tosweyne, an area of southwestern Somalia where villagers had asked for help after the militants imposed taxes on their homes and farms.  The attack set off heavy fighting that lasted all day, with soldiers initially unable to seize the base and suffering at least five fatalities.

Finally, Ethiopian troops were deployed from a large AMISOM base in Bardale, 20 kilometers away.  The reinforcements tipped the balance, forcing al-Shabab to retreat, but the outcome did little to build confidence in the Somali army.

Derek Gannon says the Gaashaan force could eventually lead to more money and resources for the rest of Somalia’s armed forces.

“I could see the military looking at Gaashaan as a skeleton - not so much a model - but a very loose skeleton of how they can build a national army,” he says.  “With the success of Gaashaan, that will bring further money from the U.S., and you will see more military advisers for the army in Somalia, to get them on the scale of large military forces.”

“I think what we are looking at," he adds, "is the U.S. military specifically getting involved in Somalia because we need to get a footprint, we are trying to prep the battle space, and we are trying to be more overt with our support to the Somali government.”
 

You May Like

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
August 01, 2014 2:24 AM
Wondering if these trained forces are exclusively from one clan only. If so, Somalis will remain in deep trouble with itself for many more years to come.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid