14th December, 2017
The U.S. is suspending food and fuel aid for most of Somalia’s armed forces over corruption concerns, a blow to the military as African peacekeepers start to withdraw.
African Union (AU) troops landed in Mogadishu a decade ago to fight al Shabaab Islamist militants and Somali forces are supposed to eventually take over their duties.
The U.S., which also funds the 22,000-strong peacekeeping force, has grown frustrated that successive governments have failed to build a viable national army.
Diplomats worry that without strong Somali forces, al Shabaab could be reinvigorated, destabilize the region and offer a safe haven to other al Qaeda-linked militants or Islamic State fighters.
The U.S. suspension of aid came after the Somali military repeatedly failed to account for food and fuel, according to private correspondence between the U.S. and Somali governments seen by Reuters.
“During recent discussions between the U.S. and the Federal Government of Somalia, both sides agreed that the Somali National Army had failed to meet the standards for accountability for Washington’s assistance,” a State Department official told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.
“We are adjusting U.S. assistance to SNA units, with the exception of units receiving some form of mentorship, to ensure that U.S. assistance is being used effectively and for its intended purpose,” the official said.
The U.S. suspension comes at a sensitive time.
The AU force, with troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, is scheduled to leave by 2020.
The first 1,000 soldiers will go by the end of 2017.
The State Department official said Washington would continue to support small, Somali special forces units mentored by U.S. personnel and would work with the Somali government to agree criteria that could restore support to other units.
“It is true that some concerns have been raised on how support was utilized and distributed. The federal government is working to address these,” Somali Minister of Defence Mohamed Mursal told Reuters.
Documents sent from the U.S. Mission to Somalia to the Somali government show U.S. officials are increasingly frustrated that the military is unable to account for its aid.
The documents paint a stark picture of a military hollowed out by corruption, unable to feed, pay or arm its soldiers, in spite of hundreds of millions of dollars of support.
Between May and June, a team of U.S. and Somali officials visited nine army bases to assess whether the men were receiving food the U.S. provides for 5,000 soldiers.
“We did not find the expected large quantities of food at any location … there was no evidence of consumption (except at two bases),” the U.S. team wrote to the Somali government.
At one base, less than a fifth of the soldiers listed by Somali commanders were present.
The best-staffed base had 160 soldiers out of 550. Only 60 had weapons.
“Many appeared to be wearing brand new uniforms. This implied they were assembled merely to improve appearances,” the letter, seen by Reuters, said.
An ongoing assessment of the Somali military this year by the Somali government, AU and UN drew similar conclusions.
The joint report seen by Reuters said many soldiers lacked guns, uniforms, food, vehicles or tents.
Troops relied on support from AU forces or local militias to survive.
“The SNA is a fragile force with extremely weak command and control,” the report said.
“They are incapable of conducting effective operations or sustaining themselves.”
Most units don’t have radios, leaving soldiers to rely on runners to get help whpercente networks go down, the report said.
Troops lacked paper to write reports, toilets, boots and medical equipment such as tourniquets. Many slept under trees.
SNA units were at 62 per cent of their authorized strength on average.
The report said only 70 per cent of them had weapons.
Although the report was deeply critical, diplomats praised the government for trying to quantify the scope of the problem.
“The government deserves massive praise for doing it and being willing to talk about it,” Michael Keating, the UN’s top official in Somalia, told Reuters.
The U.S. also suspended a program paying soldiers $100 monthly stipends in June after the federal government refused to share responsibility for receiving the payments with regional forces fighting al Shabaab.
Washington has spent 66 million dollars on stipends over the past seven years but has halted the programme several times, concerned the money was not going to frontline soldiers.
One Somali document seen by Reuters showed members of a 259-strong ceremonial brass band were receiving stipends this year meant for soldiers fighting militants.
The State Department’s watchdog said in a report published in October there were insufficient checks on the program and U.S. stipends could fund forces that commit abuses – or even support insurgents.
Diplomats said, officially, Somalia’s military is 26,000 strong, but the payroll is stuffed with ghost soldiers, pensioners and the dead, whose families may be receiving their payments.