By Harun Maruf*
Somali State Minister for Defense Mohamed Ali Haga has confirmed to VOA Somali for the first time that the Turkish government has recently supplied weapons to the Somali army.
In an interview with VOA Somali, Haga said the Turkish government has equipped a company-sized Somali army unit which graduated from the Turkish military training camp in Mogadishu two weeks ago.
Haga said just over 400 soldiers were supplied with small weapons and machine guns allowed under a partial UN embargo on Somalia. Somalia cannot import certain heavy weaponry.
Turkish media report that the weapons exported to Somalia are the MPT-76, a Turkish-made rifle. Haga confirmed this to VOA Somali.
“They have been equipped with Turkish-made rifles,” he said. “When the soldiers were coming for the training they did not have weapons, Turkey equipped them, and Turkey promised to equip every soldier who is being trained at the camp.”
The pledge by Turkey to arm Somali troops will be seen as a massive boost in Mogadishu at a time when the Somali army is in a difficult transitional period – struggling to get trained, preparing to take over from African Union forces, working to protect the government and fighting Al-Shabab, all at the same time.
A recent “Operational Readiness Assessment” conducted by the Somali government found that approximately 30 percent of the soldiers in the bases do not have weapons. The same assessment also found that some of the weapons used by government troops are privately owned by clans. The evaluators said some units also lack medium and heavy weaponry, and some units are “undermanned.”
The Turkish military base in Mogadishu was opened on September 30. Turkey plans to train as many as 10,000 soldiers according to Somali officials.
The first company to receive the training was selected from current members of the army and graduated on December 23. The second company is to start training soon.
In addition, military officers are also given training on command control and leadership skills, Haga said.
“Turkey military is advanced, their training is NATO training,” Haga said. “This is a brotherly country which came to help Somalia at time of need in terms of humanitarian assistance as well as military.”
Weapons from other countries
Apart from Turkey, several other countries have provided training to Somali soldiers. The United States has trained a 500-strong special forces known as Danab or “lightening”, and the United Arab Emirates. UK, EU, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda have also provided training over the years.
Somali officials say training at Turkish training base in Mogadishu will harmonize all the training given to Somali soldiers to produce an organized force.
Haga, who also chairs the army integration committee, says the training provided at the Turkish base is also part of the army integrating process for soldiers who were selected from different divisions and regions.