Somalia's army chief visits US airbase attacked by Al-Shabaab
MOGADISHU, Somalia - In a bid to cement cooperation with the US military, Somalia's army chief Gen. Odawaa Yusuf Rageh visited Ballidogle airbase in the outskirts of Mogadishu.
The US has been a key partner of the fragile federal government of Somalia, helping it to establish strong institutions for the past three decades.
Somalia has struggled to form a stable government since the ouster of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, with inter-clan conflicts and terrorist groups running the show.
But despite the inevitable challenges, international partners have invested heavily in the transitional regime for over a decade now.
The First visit to Ballidogle by the general
Wednesday's visit by General Rageh was the first since the attempted raid at the US-controlled base in September last year.
General Rageh, 33, held closed-door meetings with too US commanders from AFRICOM at the base with the war against Al-Shabaab dominating.
Both the US and the SNA are yet to release details of the meeting which lasted for a couple of hours. The base hosts troops from the two countries.
Elite Danab forces, which are trained by the Americans, thwarted the AlShabaab raid at the base last year, killing 11 militants in the process.
Why Al-Shabaab targets the airbase
In a video released by Al-Shabaab-allied media houses, top commander Ahmed Omar was seen lecturing militants who raided the base.
He said: "We shall fight the Americans until we flush them out of our land. They have killed dozens of Muslims in their retrogressive airstrikes."
The commander further said that "this raid will be a warning to these foreigners and their allies in Somalia. Ballidogle must be closed down."
Ballidogle airbase has been used by the US for decades to train and equip the Somali National Army [SNA], who are key in the fight against Al-Shabaab.
At least 500 US troops are stationed in Somalia and are tasked with logistical support such as launching airstrikes against the militants.
Rageh rapid rise in SNA
The youthful general was promoted to the highest military rank by President Mohamed Farmajo last year in a surprise move that caught many unaware.
But many analysts and colleagues related the rise to the role he played at Awdhegle during the Al-Shabaab raid last year.
Despite the presence of many troops and senior generals, Rageh led the SNA troops who managed to kill dozens of Al-Shabaab insurgents.
"He personally took his AK-47 and led the fight," said Mohamed Abukar Aweys, the mayor of Awdhegle, who was at the base that morning.
His senior commander, General Dahir Aden Elmi "Indhoqarsho," says if General Rageh had not been there, "things would have been different."
"His presence changed the morale of the soldiers, changed the fight; they fought bravely because of the commander," said General Elmi.
Strong military background
General Rageh was among 180 officers sent to Kaweweta Military Training School in Uganda in 2007 for a military course, VOA reported.
The following year, he was among 12 officers sent back to Uganda for specialized training on commanding land forces at Bihanga Military Training School.
Upon return to Somalia in 2009, Rageh was deployed to the elite presidential escort team where he actively fought Al-Shabaab
In 2012, Rageh was promoted to captain. In 2013, he was sent to Turkey for training at the National Defense University in Istanbul.
Rageh returned to Mogadishu in July 2016 after graduating with a master's degree.
He was promoted to a major and became commander of a unit in the 60th battalion in charge of the presidential palace. He was then promoted to deputy commander of the presidential guards after his predecessor was shot and killed by a soldier.
His visit to Ballidogle was strategically meant to assure Americans in their commitment towards the fight against Al-Shabaab, reports indicate.