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News, 2/23/2018

Finland helps to build Somalia’s Armed Forces

While recovering from a long civil war, Somalia is building security piece by piece. Finland gives support by providing education and training to Somalia’s armed forces and the Ministry of Defence.

The sun is blazing down from a cloudless sky on a military garrison. In Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, the temperature rises above 40 degrees in the afternoon.  Men in military uniforms throw themselves on the ground and start to crawl; they are doing the last exercises before the afternoon break. A Finnish soldier is supervising the exercise and guides the trainers of the army.

“Today we trained urban fighting, how to attack buildings, protect doors and windows, and how to pass through gates”, says 27-year-old soldier Nuur Daud Alow.

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27-year-old Nuur Daud Alow receives training in Mogadishu by the EU to work as a soldier. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu

He woke up at six in the morning. After breakfast the soldiers trained only until midday because in the afternoon the heat becomes unbearable.

“I want to defend my native country and contribute to building its future”, says Alow.

Finland has supported the EU Training Mission in Somalia since 2010. By training the officials of the Somali armed forces, the general headquarters and soldiers the EU wants to ensure that the African Union troops who have been monitoring security in Somalia would leave the country within a few years. Somalia’s armed forces would then take over responsibility for security. A maximum of seven Finnish soldiers at any one time have served in training duties in Mogadishu.

Lieutenant Colonel Ensio Palosaari, Senior National Representative of the Finnish contingent, estimates that the biggest threat in Somalia is the terrorist organisation al-Shabaab.

“The organisation carries out strikes in Mogadishu on a daily basis: car bombs, roadside bombs, attacks with small arms, killings. Al-Shabaab has captured extensive areas in the central and southern parts of the country”, explains Lieutenant Colonel Palosaari in the EU’s military headquarters in Mogadishu.

In October 2017, Al-Shabaab organised in Mogadishu a bomb attack that was one of the deadliest ever carried out: about 600 people died and 350 sustained injuries or disappeared after a truck loaded with explosives was blown up in the centre of the city. Palosaari estimates that, in addition to al-Shabaab, there is evidence of ISIL’s presence in Somalia. Conflicts between clans also occur regularly.

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The Finnish Defence Forces takes part in the EU’s crisis management operation EUTM which trains Somalia’s national army. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu

Plastic weapons in daily trainings

“I want to defend my country and its people, that’s why I plan to continue to work in the military also in the future”, says 45-year-old Maxamed Braali Ali.

Since Ali serves in the armed forces, he is trained a longer time than regular soldiers because he will train them in the future.

“The training is really useful. We learn military discipline, first aid and how to destroy the enemy.”

Somalia’s armed forces should be able to train their own soldiers in the future; the EU’s role is only to support the training of trainers and headquarters staff. Up till now, the armed forces has not been able to take on the overall training responsibility because the number of staff, competence and equipment are inadequate.

Soldiers In the garrison yard are aiming at the target with their blue uncharged plastic weapons. They do not get real weapons for training purposes because these are limited in number in the training area. Weapons are under close guard so that they will not fall into the wrong hands, for example to terrorist organisations through the black market.

“From time to time we can also train with real weapons whereas before we only had wooden sticks. We learn how to handle and fire the weapon”, Nuur Daus Alow says thankfully.

Focus on equality

If measured by western standards, equality is not implemented in conservative Somalia. It is therefore important to educate soldiers in equality and human rights.  Attention is paid to equality, starting with everyday situations.  In Mogadishu alone there are dozens of checkpoints through which people pass on their way to different residential areas, offices and public buildings. Soldiers are learning how to take women into consideration at the checkpoints. There should be female employees at each checkpoint to carry out bodily searches.

“A female captain from Somalia’s armed forces gives the training in human rights. This inspires respect in the soldiers”, says Ensio Palosaari.

Minttu-Maaria Partanen

The author of the article is a freelance journalist

The Somalian Armed Forces is trained by the EU’s support

  • The European Union has strengthened security in Somalia since 2010.

  • The EU gives training in the Ministry of Defence, at the national army headquarters and to soldiers.   The training was started in Uganda. Since 2014, training has been given in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. So far more than 6000 soldiers have received training.

  • Finland has participated since the very beginning. A maximum of seven Finnish soldiers at any one time have been involved in training duties in Somalia. Finland finances the work from crisis management assets.

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