Somalia’s defense minister is calling for more U.S. support and drone strikes in the fight against al-Shabab because without more backing, the counter-terror effort is doomed.
Local al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab controls about 30 percent of Somalia’s territory, and international military efforts in recent years to rid the country of Islamic extremism haven’t produced any real results.
For Mohamed Ali Haga, Somalia’s defense minister, U.S. support will make or break anti-al-Shabab operations, and drone strikes are a particularly effective mode of support.
“If we don’t have the support of the Americans, we cannot stand on our own feet,” Somali Defense Minister Mohamed Ali Haga told The Wall Street Journal. “The Somali security sector is still disorganized. And we need more drone strikes because a drone can strike the snake in the head.”
Current military aid for the United Nations-backed Somali government from local sources amounts to about 22,000 African Union (AU) troops from nearby African countries, but that force has shrunk after taking serious hits from al-Shabab militants. About 1,000 troops will leave by the end of 2017, and the entire AU force is set to leave by 2020.
The U.S. has in the meantime dramatically scaled up its efforts in Somalia as part of a renewed focus from the Trump administration. According to recent Pentagon releases, there are more than 500 U.S. troops now operating in Somalia, and the U.S. has also intensified the number of drone strikes against militants.
A recent drone strike in late November obliterated more than 100 al-Shabab militants northwest of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, although the group mostly operates in the central and southern parts of the country.
The U.S. has also elected to fund a new Somali National Army, which is about 27,000-men strong.
But as in Afghanistan, U.S.-funded efforts to run a local army have run into near insurmountable problems. U.S. officials have admitted that many Somalis part of the Somali National Army simply don’t show up when called for duty. These troops aren’t as well trained as al-Shabab and often have to make do with inferior military equipment.
“Al-Shabaab are better trained and got whatever they need while the SNA is neither armed nor trained nor paid properly,” Jawahir Abdi, a lawmaker from Somalia’s South West state, told The Wall Street Journal. “At the moment, the government is not winning at all.”
Moreover, corruption in the Somali National Army has become so bad that the U.S. has now decided to suspend food and fuel aid to the force, according to a State Department official who spoke with Reuters last week. The U.S. is also suspending a program providing $100 a month to local soldiers, as the payroll is full of ghost soldiers who don’t exist or are dead but still receive payments through their families. While the U.S. is still willing to provide assistance, that assistance will mostly focus on training and advising small Somali special forces units.