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Why US Re-Entry Won't Solve Somalia's Security Problem & How Russia Can Save the Day

© AFP 2023 / ABDURASHID ABIKARSomali government forces run to the front line in Mogadishu (File)
Somali government forces run to the front line in Mogadishu (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.08.2022
Fighters from the al-Shabaab armed group launched a gun-and-bomb assault on the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, on August 19, which claimed the lives of over 20 people and left many more injured. Security forces took 30 hours to retake the building from the Islamists. The Mogadishu assault has prompted new concerns about the country's security.
Three months before the deadly Mogadishu siege, US President Joe Biden pledged to provide a "persistent presence" in Somalia of up to 500 soldiers, reversing his predecessor's decision to withdraw US troops from the country. The new Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, praised the White House's move, calling the US "a reliable partner" in Somalia's effort to thwart the al-Shabaab Islamist terror activities.
"In recent years, the security situation in Somalia had deteriorated substantially, and the US Africa Command had to recognize that fact," explained Professor Vladimir Batyuk, head of the Political and Military Research Center at the Institute for the US and Canadian Studies. "That is the reason why they are taking up steps to change that trend and to strengthen the position of the Somali government and the African Union mission in Somalia."
Islamic insurgency group al-Shabaab, meaning “the Youth,” was founded in 2006 originally as a militia affiliated to the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a federation of local and clan-based Islamic courts. The ICU took control of Mogadishu in June 2006 and re-branded itself the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SSICC). The SSICC win considerably strengthened al-Shabaab. The US-backed 2006 international intervention in Somalia resulted in reconciliation and a power-sharing deal between the SSICC and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2008, but failed to stop al-Shabaab which has been expanding its influence in the country and beyond since – in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya.
The main peril of ensuring security in Somalia despite the efforts by federal authorities and the African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) stems from the government's failure to shield locals, according to Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen, associate professor and leader of the international relations program at the Norwegian University of Life Science.
"What we often see is that we build up institutions that are more concerned with receiving money and also support than actually protecting the local Somalis," explained the professor, one of the world's leading experts on Islamists and author of "Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group." We see a police that cannot really protect the local citizens; that at times it doesn't seem to have the interest in protecting the local citizens. That means that al-Shabaab can extract money from locals. It means that the al-Shabaab also at times can set up courts that the locals can go to solve pressing criminal issues that the police won't handle. So, if you don't secure the Somali countryside for the Somalis, then this will go on and on and on for a long time."
Even though al-Shabaab does not hold as much territory as it did in 2009, the insurgency group has become richer than ever, the Norwegian professor pointed out.
© AP Photo / Farah Abdi WarsamehFILE---In this file photo of Thursday, Feb.17, 2011, Hundreds of newly trained Shabaab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area some 18 km south of Mogadishu, Somalia
FILE---In this file photo of  Thursday, Feb.17, 2011, Hundreds of newly trained Shabaab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area some 18 km south of Mogadishu, Somalia - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.08.2022
FILE---In this file photo of Thursday, Feb.17, 2011, Hundreds of newly trained Shabaab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area some 18 km south of Mogadishu, Somalia

Somalia Disunited

To complicate matters further, Somalia remains scarcely united which adds to the federal government's incapability to thwart insurgency and terrorist activities.
"As the country recovers from the mayhem of the civil war, yet a new conflict (center-periphery) has started," said Anwar Abdifatah Bashir, senior lecturer at the Somali National University and Horn of Africa affairs analyst. "Currently, there are six federal member states including Somaliland, Puntland, Jubbaland, SouthWest, Galmudug and Hirshabelle states. Though Somaliland is a restive region, Mogadishu considers Somaliland as a part and parcel of Somalia. Somalia had different reconciliations, but never had a true reconciliation."
The Somali reconciliation process is hampered by its 100-year past, which cannot be resolved in 10, 20, or 30 years of the progressive economic development of this country, according to Stanislav Mezentsev, senior research fellow at the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and vice president of the Asian and African Development Assistance Foundation.
While the strategic port city of Mogadishu is protected by the Turkish fleet and private military companies from all over the world, the rest of the country is ruled by various military clan groups, who rob and kill each other, the researcher noted.
He highlighted that Somalia has never been united, even before Europeans colonized the Eastern African region. Following the era of the colonial division of Africa, Somalia found itself in the midst of the fight between two ideologies in the 20th century; currently the country has become a battleground for geostrategic and political influence, trade and logistics, he pointed out.
Civilians walk along a street in Mogadishu, Somalia. (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.08.2022
One Million People Internally Displaced Due to Protracted Drought in Somalia: UNHCR
Stability in Somalia is of utmost relevance not only for the country itself and its neighbors, but also for the international community, because the Eastern African state sits on a strategically important transport artery, stressed Mezentsev.
"Eight hundred billion dollars' worth of valuable cargo, including oil and gas, from the Arabian Peninsula and from China is moving through Suez in this direction," he said. "This is a powerful logistical transition for the global economy. Therefore, naturally, the stability of Somalia is difficult to overestimate."
However, external players are trying to solve their own geopolitical problems at the expense of the Eastern African state, exacerbating the situation even further, according to the researcher.
"Today, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates backed by Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United States of America are pursuing their interests in the Greater Horn of Africa, and especially in Somalia," said Mezentsev. "On the other hand, there is China and even small Japan [in the region]… The international community should be forced to stop interfering in internal affairs [of Somalia]."
© AFP 2023 / TINA SMOLEUgandan soldiers of African Union's peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) patrol in Merka, Southern Coastal Somalia, on September 19, 2019
Ugandan soldiers of African Union's peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) patrol in Merka, Southern Coastal Somalia, on September 19, 2019 - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.08.2022
Ugandan soldiers of African Union's peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) patrol in Merka, Southern Coastal Somalia, on September 19, 2019

Biden's Re-Entry Into Somalia

The US return to Somalia has not been prompted by a sudden dramatic deterioration in the security situation, argued Hansen. In fact, Somalia’s security landscape has not changed much since the US pullout under Trump, according to him.
The timing of Biden's announcement, which came immediately after Hassan Sheikh Mohamud assumed office on May 23, 2022, suggests that Washington was waiting for the election of a pro-US president to make a military comeback. Joe Biden and other ex-Obama officials in his administration are familiar with Hassan, who served as the country's eighth president between September 2012 and February 2017.
The capital of Somalia Mogadishu - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.08.2022
Several Believed Dead After Al-Shabaab Militants Storm Mogadishu Hotel, Fight Somali Security Forces
According to Hansen, Washington is returning to "business as usual" in the African state despite Biden's election promise to end the era of perpetual wars on terror.
While Biden's decision to redeploy US troops in Somalia appears to be a positive development, it depends on how far they can contribute to the country's stability and "how they will make a difference compare to the previous futile meddling," explained Bashir.
The US is taking counter-productive decisions by supporting Somalia’s troops, while maintaining a UN arms embargo on the country at the same time, argued the scholar. Even though the embargo has some exemptions to allow arms supplies to Somali government forces, these supplies are still limited in scope. Training without equipping the Somali military with sophisticated weapons is meaningless, insisted Bashir.
To complicate matters further, US strikes have often been reckless and resulted in civilian casualties on multiple occasions, informed Bashir. According to an online tracker by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US strikes killed up to 1,410 people in Somalia between 2004, when the bureau began recording data, and now. Up to 97 of them are believed to be civilians including 13 children. However, reports of civilian casualties vary, suggesting that many more Somali citizens were killed in the fog of war on terror. Airwars estimates that up to 153 civilians have been killed, including 23 children and 13 women.
Civilian casualties in US strikes could further fan radicalization and enhance local recruitment by terrorist groups, contributing to a vicious cycle of violence, warned Hansen.
"Mainly, the US has been focusing on al-Shabaab and they have inflicted wounds on al-Shabaab, but not enough to change the strategic situation in Somalia," the Norwegian scholar opined. "I don't think [the US involvement] will influence that much, almost nothing, to be frank. Somalis will not win the war against al-Shabab because of this reentry. That's for sure."
French peacekeeping soldiers patrol the city of Bangui, Central African Republic (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.08.2022
Russia to Send More Military Instructors to CAR at Request of Authorities, Head of OUIS Says

Why US is Concerned About Growing Russian Influence in Africa

The US has a more weighty reason to assert its presence in the East African state, rather than thwarting al-Shabaab, according to the observers.
"I believe that they in Washington are afraid that if Americans decrease their military and political stay in Africa, then that vacuum would be filled easily by both China and Russia," said Professor Vladimir Batyuk. "And Americans already expressed this concern over the growth of Russian and Chinese presence on the African continent as well in the sphere of security."
Hassan's predecessor, ex-President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (“Farmaajo”), maintained close ties with the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea, which, for their part, were on good terms with Russia, with Moscow and Addis Ababa inking a military cooperation deal in July 2021. Even under Hassan's previous term, Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdirshad Ali Sharmake requested Russian support for his efforts to boost the Somali military’s capabilities in their fight against al-Shabaab.
Mogadishu's interest in cooperation with Moscow is hardly surprising given that Somalia and Russia had a good record of fruitful relations since Somalia gained its independence in 1960, including cultural exchanges, economic and military cooperation, said Anwar Abdifatah Bashir.
"In 1962, the late president, the then-prime minister of Somalia, his Excellency Abdirashid Sharmarke had signed a military agreement where Russia had trained Somali cadets which enabled Somalia to resist Ethiopia’s troops in 1964."
Mogadishu broke with Moscow in 1977. "I believe that was a political suicide," argued Bashir. "I think again Russia and Somalia would have a better relationship and commendable cooperation in terms of security, trade and people to people movement."
© AFP 2023 / YASUYOSHI CHIBAMen lead skinny camels on a street in Baidoa, Somalia, on February 15, 2022
Men lead skinny camels on a street in Baidoa, Somalia, on February 15, 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.08.2022
Men lead skinny camels on a street in Baidoa, Somalia, on February 15, 2022
Indeed, Russia could offer Mogadishu a solution to the security problem, according to Mezentsev.
"We now have a good export product, which is called a 'security export'," the Russian scholar said. "In this regard, Russia is demonstrating good results in the Central African Republic (CAR), in Mali, expanding its presence in the Sahara-Sahel zone. The result is positive, for example, in the Sahel zone, in the Central African Republic, in Mali and below; we forced the French to leave, because they simply turned out to be uncompetitive."
For instance, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra turned to Russia in 2017 after growing disenchanted with UN peacekeepers to ensure security in the country. Once the UN Security Council approved an exemption to the arms embargo on the country, Moscow provided the CAR with military assistance and instructors which helped Touadéra stabilize the situation.
The same can be done in Somalia, as Russia has opportunities, skills, necessary forces and the means to help Mogadishu solve the security dilemma, Mezentsev alleged. Presently, Turkey and the US are maintaining a physical presence on the ground in Somalia, the researcher admitted. However, if the Somali authorities request Russia's help it would share its experience and best practices with them without meddling in the country's current political equilibrium.
When it comes to political security, it can be achieved only by political means and only by the purposeful restoration of Somali statehood, he emphasized. To that end, Mogadishu needs to create a viable internal security force – the task that neither the US nor AMISOM, lately replaced by the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), has proven capable of accomplishing, according to Mezentsev.
"If one wants to create a viable security force inside Somalia, one needs to build a tight system of control over their proper funding," the Russian researcher claimed. "Due to the fact that there has been no watchdog to control how funds are spent for 30 years, everything is very non-transparent, it is very difficult to build security forces. But this is possible. This requires purposeful, calm work to recreate the institutions of state power."
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