PENTAGON - When dozens of American soldiers deployed to Mogadishu back in April, their presence marked the first American military forces in Somalia, except for a small unit of counterterrorism advisers, since March 1994.
VOA broke the story of their arrival, and now, VOA has learned more about their train-and-equip mission in Mogadishu.
Soldiers sent to Somalia with the 101st Airborne are primarily training truck drivers for the Somali military, Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington, the commander of U.S. Army Africa, told VOA in an exclusive interview.
“They are training Somalis how to drive to keep their logistics going,” Harrington said.
The general was able to see the training-and-equipping course first-hand when he visited Somalia in June. He said the Army was pleased with the results so far, adding that he would “absolutely” continue the training throughout his tenure as commander.
When asked whether the training would be expanded to include other goals in the future, Harrington said he was sending people to Somalia to assess the needs there, in order to better understand how to help the Somali national army effectively secures its population.
U.S. Army Africa works closely with the U.S. State Department to improve African partners’ military professionalism as part of an overall strategy to strengthen African governments so they can better serve their citizens.
“There is some bad history going back years in Africa [in] that they were afraid of their own soldiers,” Harrington explained. Working with them on a regular basis and watching the evolution since a lot of those things happened years ago, it’s very encouraging to see where those armies have come.”
Harrington said his soldiers conduct about 300 activities and exercises with African partners in anywhere from 40 to 45 countries each year.
Troops from the 101st Airborne Division in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, arrived in Mogadishu on April 2 at the request of the Somali government.
The team is the first significant U.S. military presence in the country, aside from a small counterterrorism cell, since March 1994, when the U.S. pulled out of the U.N. intervention operation in the war-torn state. Five months earlier, in October 1993, 18 U.S. special forces personnel were killed in a battle with Somali militiamen that inspired the movie Black Hawk Down.
The goal of the current operation in Somalia is to build partner capacity while helping to improve the logistics of local forces battling the extremist military group al-Shabab, official have told VOA.