Security pact signed to beef up Somali army

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Somalia’s government and its foreign backers signed a security pact they present as a road map towards building a functional national army capable of taking on the fight against al Shabaab militants.

The al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group has lost much of the territory it once controlled in Somalia, including Mogadishu, but its deadly attacks remain one of the main obstacles to stability in the chaotic Horn of Africa country.

A London conference on Somalia heard the United Nations was increasing its appeal for the country by $900 million to a total of $1.5 billion to allow aid agencies to cope with a severe drought causing a humanitarian crisis.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said extra funding was needed because more than six million Somalis — about half the country’s population — were in need of assistance. He said 275,000 malnourished children were at risk of starvation.

The conference this week tackled a wide range of issues, from Somalia’s requests for debt relief to calls for easier access to the international banking system, but British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the security pact was the main achievement.

The pact, a 17-page document released at the end of the conference, follows a detailed agreement reached in April between Somalia’s fledgling federal government and its member states on how to unify disparate forces into a national army and police force.
“What the international community want to do now is to back that security architecture and the stronger and more robust it is … then the more the international community will be able to come in with support,” Johnson told reporters.

As matters stand, an African Union force made up of soldiers from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti is doing most of the fighting against al Shabaab insurgents, but it wants to start withdrawing from Somalia in 2018.

The AU force has clawed back control of most of Somalia’s main towns and cities since the militants were driven out of Mogadishu, but it is over-stretched and funding is a constant challenge.

SEEKING BETTER GUNS

Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who took office in February after a complex Western-backed electoral process, called for a lifting of the arms embargo on Somalia to give his armed forces an advantage over al Shabaab fighters.
“Al Shabaab has AK-47s and the Somali national force has the same equipment, the same weapons and that’s why this war has been lingering for 10 years. And if we don’t have more sophisticated and better weaponry definitely this war will continue for another 10 years,” he told a news conference.

Mohamed said he was not asking for that now, but rather when Somalia had achieved some milestones set out in the security pact. He spoke about a period of eight months or more.

Johnson said now was not the time to consider lifting the arms embargo.
“We shouldn’t be thinking of doing it that way round. The priority has got to be to help the Somali forces to get to a condition … where they are able to take on al Shaabab,” he said.

Somalia has been mired in violent chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre and then turned against each other.

Analysts say the national army is poorly equipped and underfunded, with troops sometimes going unpaid for months.

Partly as a result of that, a range of regional forces including clan militias, the Ethiopia-backed Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamea militia, the US-supported Puntland forces and a regional force in Jubaland have been reluctant to join a centralised force.



The April agreement between the federal government and member states and Thursday’s security pact are aimed at overcoming these difficulties.