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EDITORIAL: Why Somalia National Army will need institutional memory


EDITORIAL | Reports this week have suggested that the Commander of Somalia National Army’s elite force, Danab Brigade, has been changed in the latest shuffling of the specially trained troops.

Major Ismail Abdimalik may have been the shortest-serving of the six commanders of the special forces replaced in 7 years. Nevertheless, the changes now warrant a discussion on the nature of operations of the Somali National Army [SNA].

Danab, which could loosely mean ‘Lightning’ is a group of about 850 soldiers specially trained by the US government to tackle the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab. Created in 2013 during the administration of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Danab became Somalia’s first real attempt at creating a local solution against Al-Shabaab.

Their training is special, mentored by US troops under the US Africa Command, and funding for their operations comes directly to them from the US government. This has allowed their swift enactment of programs such as deployment, increase in size, scheduling of training as well as any urgent responses.

Except there is one problem: The commanders of these special forces hardly last a year since the unit was created. The names can run as many as the years it has existed: Col. Hassan 'Commandos' [2013-2014], Lt. Col. Yaqub Ahmed Siad [2014-2015], Col. Ahmed Abdullahi [2016-2019], Maj. Abdirahman Omar 'Jeeniqaar' [2019-2020] and Maj. Ismail Abdi Maalik [2020-2020]. They have all come and gone.

It is true that in a situation like Somalia, where Al-Shabaab attempt to filter through every segment of government, constant movement and changes should be the norm. It is also possible that the shift in leadership is for the better: new brooms sweeping better than old strokes.

Al-Shabaab, the US Africa Command admitted last month, are Africa’s most formidable terrorist group and must be attacked every day from wherever they are. That essentially means that the Somali National army and partners must constantly be Al-Shabaab’s moving target while aiming at the militants’ heads.

For Danab, however, there is an element of making the special forces a model for the future SNA. The US government had indicated in the past it could continue training this elite group at least until 2027 when it could have as many as 3,000 soldiers under its label.

The specifics, training, and equipping the groups receives are the envy of the entire SNA. To be fair, the SNA is a nascent force that may need as much as a decade to be fully equipped. That could also depend on whether Somalia is eventually allowed by the UN to start fetching the best equipment in the market. As it is, the Somali National Army depends on well-wishers and mentors to help it modernize.

Which is why the Danab model has to be stable. The structure and leadership of the elite forces could be a model for the SNA of the future. We do not suggest their commanders last for a lifetime, but the leaders must live by a certain tenure.

In some jurisdictions around the world, military leaders take positions knowing their terms last in a definite structure. Is there such a thing at Danab? Or will the forces' leadership continue to serve in uncertainty? And what happens to Commanders who are abruptly changed?

It is true that Danab, like any other disciplined force, lives by its discipline, and any member of it violating the code deserves the penalty. The modus operandi set by Danab could be the textbook for the SNA of the future.

Although the re-establishment of the national army is not in line with the Federal System due to the failure of previous and current governments to deliver on their promises to implement the 2017 deal on the National Security Architecture, Garowe Online welcomes a structure to be in place to ensure the building of institutional memory for the nascent military and the reviving of SNA to fight the extremists who pose a threat to security and the country's state-building efforts.