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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid