Decades of war and strife have left Somalia’s formal economy and infrastructure, with the country divided into areas under the rule of various entities, and the population on the verge of famine as a result of the global climate change.
The humanitarian crisis in Somalia is considered one of the most complex in the world. The country is experiencing both armed conflict and worsening climatic crises, a combination that has fuelled massive displacements, both within Somalia and across its borders.
Somalia has experienced armed conflict for nearly three decades.
In recent years, non-state and sub-state armed groups have carried out bombings, suicide attacks, armed assaults, and kidnappings. At the same time, military operations have resulted in the sporadic death, injury, and displacement of civilian populations.
In response, the international community’s political and security intervention in Somalia over the last decade and a half has been mostly focused on two key areas;
First, the international community supported reconciliation and state-building efforts, aimed at achieving a political settlement among competing political elites and establishing legitimate federal and state government authority.
Secondly, an African Union (AU) and internationally-backed military offensive aimed at weakening al-Shabaab and other militant Islamist groups and transferring territorial control to legitimate government authorities.
In this context, Somalia has successfully transitioned from being a ‘failed’ to a ‘fragile’ state, albeit slowly and painstakingly. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made in establishing federal and state institutions, although the political transition is still underway.
This May, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud became the first person to be elected president twice in Somalia’s nascent democracy after a landslide victory against the incumbent Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.
Somalia remains, however, an extremely fragile political and security environment. Although al-Shabaab, the main non-state armed group in the country has been substantially weakened, it still retains control in large areas of central and southern Somalia and is capable of carrying out terrorist attacks.
Despite progress in building Somalia’s security architecture, the government continues to depend heavily on AU and other international forces to maintain security.
Also, the country’s political landscape is still fragile, and the relationship between the federal government and federal member states remains unresolved. Furthermore, government infrastructure, institutions, and services are still in their infancy, and international agencies continue to provide many basic services.
With the country’s location in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean vital to global trade, essential institutions such as the military and civil service are strong and credible.
Although substantially weakened, al-Shabaab retains control of many rural areas in southern Somalia and is still a credible threat. The group continues to launch terrorist attacks within Somalia and surrounding countries, including truck bombings in Mogadishu in 2017 and 2019, an attack on a Nairobi hotel in 2019, and hundreds of improvised explosive attacks targeting civilians within Somalia.
Also, other militant groups are still present in the area, and continually challenge state authority and pose a security risk. One of such is Abnaa ul-Calipha (Islamic State in Somalia) splintered from al-Shabaab in 2015 and was recognized as an official province by the Islamic State in 2017. The group which has an estimated 300 to 500 active fighters operate primarily in Mogadishu the capital, and in the Puntland. IS in Somalia are. continually engaged in frequent clashes with al-Shabaab.
In 2017 and 2019 the UN Security Council withdrew about one thousand soldiers attached to the African Union intervention forces, as part of a transition of security responsibilities to the Somali government. With hopes that Somali forces can handle the country’s security by 2021.
However, Turkey, the US, British, and AU forces continue to support the Somali National Army to combat al-Shabaab and other Islamist militant groups and capture territory controlled by them, by providing training, equipment, and intelligence services, and sometimes air support.
Thus, today, the Somali military and civil service are now relying on this assistance particularly the support of Ankara, as the country lays a new foundation for its military capabilities.
In 2017, Turkey established and has continued to maintain a training facility in Mogadishu called “TURKSOM” where regular deliveries of equipment and small arms have been issued to Somalian cadets.
The base commenced operations in September 2017 in the capital Mogadishu, which is Turkey’s largest oversea base in history. The construction of the base cost about USD 50 million and can train more than 500 soldiers at a time.
A separate training program for Somali law enforcement also includes complete armament and kit supplied by Turkey.
Last year, the Turkish army began providing commando and counter-terrorism training to 150 Somali National Army soldiers in terms of the defence and security cooperation agreement between Ankara and Mogadishu. Turkey has trained at least four SNA battalions which translates to at least 2000 men. Turkey has committed itself to train and equipping at least 5000 special forces to strengthen the 16 000-men strong SNA.
Turkey is reconstituting the Somali National Army (SNA) the usual cheap small arms and pickup trucks. Ankara has supplied the SNA with Turkish-made MPT-76 battle rifle, the H&K G3 battle rifle (probably the Turkish MKEK variant), and the M2 Browning heavy machine gun.
The MPT-76 is the new standard rifle of the Turkish army with production shared between the state-owned manufacturer MKEK and other privately-owned enterprises. It’s an AR-pattern small arm chambered for 7.62x51mm ammunition and fed by a polymer box magazine.
Aside from basic infantry small arms Turkish armored vehicles have also been supplied to Somalia. Ankara delivered hundreds of its indigenous Kirpi armored vehicle and utility trucks to Somalia as part of bilateral military and financial cooperation agreements. The Kirpi vehicles were Somalia’s first armored vehicles.
These activities are part of Turkey’s drive to increase its influence in the region dominated by the United States and China.
And Somalia could become a solid prospect for Turkey’s defence industry in the future, rivaling the United States and China. Likewise, following Somalia’s invitation to Turkey to explore for oil in its seas last October, Recep Tayyip has set his sight on the Horn of Africa, hoping to benefit from Somalia’s potential energy reserves.