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Somali Soldiers Deserting, Hinting of Trouble Ahead of Gov’t Offensive

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Somali Soldiers Deserting, Hinting of Trouble Ahead of Gov’t Offensive

Posted by Laura Heaton on May 5, 2010

Somali Soldiers Deserting, Hinting of Trouble Ahead of Gov’t Offensive

Mere weeks before the Somali army reportedly plans to launch a major offensive aimed at recapturing the capital and weakening the government’s main opponents, Somali soldiers are deserting over lack of pay. Some are joining the insurgency, the Associated Press reported.

This story highlights a problem that so often plagues efforts to combat Somalia’s well-armed opposition groups and bolster the fragile Transitional Federal Government, whose own conduct in the conflict has also been cause for concern. Assistance is often provided with only limited oversight, creating new challenges exacerbated by a lack of follow-through. In the case of the deserting soldiers, it seems, funds provided by the U.S. and the European Union to conduct military trainings for Somali soldiers in Djibouti and Uganda ran out – or were siphoned off by senior officials – before they made it into the hands of soldiers in the promised $100 monthly increments. Out of desperation, “some gave up the army and returned to their ordinary life and others joined the rebels,” said Col. Ahmed Aden Dhayow.

In a country notorious for corruption, and where the government’s authority doesn’t extend far beyond the blocks surrounding the presidential palace in the capital, methods for providing payments to the Somali army are complicated and can easily be manipulated. Unsurprisingly, donors are often wary. From AP:

[T]he Somali government is forced to rely on donor nations that are often slow to pay, undercutting soldiers’ confidence in regular paychecks, and feeding desertions and corruption. There are few signs Somalia’s government will ever be able to deliver social services, shape military strategy and pay its army on its own.

Siyad said the success of the multimillion-dollar training programs funded by American and European taxpayers is completely dependent on being able to pay the graduates.

"If this is not done, then we shouldn’t even start. Otherwise the soldiers will just join the opposition," he said.

The story seems part and parcel of a daunting trend in Somalia that has seen both food aid and arms fall into the hands of the adversaries of the U.N.-backed government. Last year, in response to allegations that U.N. food aid was being directed to al-Shabaab, the U.S. announced it would suspend delivery of an unspecified portion of its food aid contribution to Somalia, despite the dire implications of this decision in the context of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

But contrary to where this story may seem to be heading, the U.S. is reportedly gearing up to back a major offensive starting this month to wrest control from the anti-government forces, which could involve conducting airstrikes and sending in American covert forces, according to a plans leaked to The New York Times. U.S. officials have not openly acknowledged the plan. If indeed the U.S. is ramping up direct military support to the Somali army, recent wayward trends in the distribution of American assistance to Somalia suggest that without proper oversight, the only thing U.S. aid is assisting is sustained conflict.  


Photo: Anti-government fighter in Mogadishu (AP)