US to construct military bases for Somali National Army

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The United States and Somalia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the construction of up to five military bases for the Somalia National Army (SNA) Danab Brigade, worth over $100 million.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee presided over the MoU signing ceremony on 15 February.

According to Assistant Secretary Phee, US support to the Danab Brigade is “a centerpiece of our ongoing security cooperation with Somalia” and the construction of the new bases “reflects our recognition of the success of our joint efforts to build a capable, professional, and accountable force.”

In 2017, the United States and Somalia reached an agreement to recruit, train, equip, and mentor 3 000 men and women from across Somalia to build an enduring light infantry capability within the larger SNA.

“Since its creation, the Danab Brigade has demonstrated its capacity to engage al-Shabaab as a quick reaction strike force in battle and has maintained a clan-neutral character,” the US Embassy in Somalia said.

The Danab (Lightning) Brigade is a US-sponsored Special Ops Force that was established in 2014. Funding for Danab initially came from the US State Department, which contracted the private security firm Bancroft Global to train and advise the unit. More recently, Danab has received funding, equipment, and training from the Department of Defence.

The publication Responsible Tradecraft reported that the MoU “is about much more than the US government’s proclaimed commitment to help Somalia defeat al-Shabaab. It is a clear indication of the growing geopolitical significance of the Horn of Africa, and comes at a time of mounting concerns (mostly attempts by Yemen’s Houthis to disrupt global shipping in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza) about securing the flow of international commerce via the Red Sea. It also coincides with a growing awareness that rising tensions in the Middle East could force the US out of Iraq.”

“The US government’s plan to train Somali security forces at newly-established military bases in five different parts of the country (Baidoa, Dhusamareb, Jowhar, Kismayo, and Mogadishu) is a back-door strategy not only to expand the US military’s presence in Somalia, but to position itself more assertively vis-à-vis other powers in the region,” Responsible Tradecraft said, referring to Turkish, Ethiopian and Emirati influence in Somalia (Turkey maintains its largest foreign military presence in Mogadishu, has trained Somali security forces, and more recently has worked closely with the Somali government in conducting drone strikes against Al-Shabaab).