Strengthening Danab: A Positive Move, Yet Somalia Requires Coordinated Security Assistance
EDITORIAL | Somalia this week ensured continuity in the training of its special forces, often known as the Danab Brigade, after a deal between the Federal government and the US. The capacity-building agreement was witnessed by Defence Minister Abdikadir Mohamed Nur and US Ambassador to Somalia Larry André Jr. From the outset, this means that the special unit, created in 2014 to combat various extremist groups and insurgencies, especially the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, will continue its work.
Somalia's Danab forces have been instrumental in contributing to the relative stability the country enjoys today, even though, in actual sense, the continuing collaboration with other like-minded partners has helped as well. Danab became the first elite unit in Somalia after years of institutional collapse, and the US has contributed greatly, including specialized training, equipment, and intelligence sharing; three key factors that ensure a stronger security force of any kind.
In fact, this has already been evident. Since President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared total war on Al-Shabaab last year, Danab forces have been deployed in various operations across Somalia, targeting militant strongholds, conducting counterterrorism missions, and securing areas liberated from extremist control. Their effectiveness cannot be gainsaid.
However, Danab also reflects a problem that needs to be urgently addressed. Specialized in dealing with extremist groups, Danab has been the crème de la crème of the country's defense systems. Yet, Somalia receives all manner of security training support and other forms of security training from partners abroad. It is logical to see that the US cannot train all our forces, which explains the need for other partners to come in. But there are no common syllabi used in these training sessions.
As such, US-trained forces can be very efficient or even have a different modus operandi compared to those specialized on syllabi from other countries. While each of these units proclaims to tackle the common enemy – anything dangerous to ordinary folk – the different backgrounds may create a future problem in the command structure.
Indeed, Somalia's current security problems can be traced back 30 years when the country's government and institutions, including the army, collapsed. Rebuilding it wasn't going to be a walk in the park. But what happens when a country rebuilds an army by seeking training from different countries? Some may say many countries already send their troops for varied training in different places. The difference with Somalia is that it hasn't had an institutional memory strong enough to align graduates with one line of thinking.
This is because different countries may have varying military doctrines, tactics, and training methods. Will this lead to confusion, inconsistency, and reduced effectiveness of the national army? We shouldn't wait to see what happens.
Danab's success also means Somalia must consistently pursue lifting the arms embargo. Having a military arrangement means Somalia now enjoys strong ties with the US. The question is, why can't the federal government ride Washington's coattails to have the UN Security Council's arms embargo lifted?
When it was imposed in the early 1990s, the sanction regime aimed to prevent warlords from arming their militias. That problem has since morphed into Al-Shabaab militants. Today, the arms embargo has been largely ineffective, as porous borders and unguarded seas, as well as corrupt officials, ensure arms reach militants with ease.
We believe that specialized training for the Somali National Army is a good and welcome idea. But Somali forces will need the freedom to acquire arms and continue equipping themselves long after Washington's budget for it dries up.
It is a great idea to build specialized teams. But having those teams depend on the goodwill of Washington or some other donor may bring problems with allegiance.
When multiple countries train and arm units of an army, how can the country rely on their loyalty? We see the danger of interference in the future. Foreign countries training a national army may have their own geopolitical interests and agendas, leading to undue influence in internal affairs.
There is a final danger of undue rivalry. Somalia's opening up to foreign military training bases has led to multiple foreign trainers establishing centers of influence. Somalia needs a guarantee that command structures, channels of communication, and loyalty will not be compromised by these parallel capacity-building missions.
Somalia needs all the support it can get to rebuild its army. However, Mogadishu must have the freedom to decide who arms the forces and at what cost.