Africa Defense Forum
Wednesday April 3, 2019
When military forces from Africa, Europe and the United States
conducted the seventh Cutlass Express maritime exercise in 2018, they
were joined by the Somali Maritime Police — the first time in nearly 30
years that Somalia had participated in any security exercise outside its
Participation in a military training exercise is a significant step
for Somalia. The country has yet to fully defeat al-Shabaab extremists,
and it relies on 22,000 African Union Mission in Somalia peacekeepers
from six other African countries. In August 2018, the United Nations
Security Council extended the mission until May 2019.
Somali Minister of Internal Security Mohamed Moalin Hassan
acknowledged his country’s problems during the opening of the exercise
“In a way, our participation here in Cutlass Express is a recognition
of how far Somalia has developed over the past few years,” he said.
“But this must also be balanced by the equal recognition of how far we
are yet to grow before our own rights and security architecture is fully
A stable Somalia is key to security in the region and beyond. The
country has mainland Africa’s longest coastline at 3,000 kilometers, and
it connects East Africa to the Middle East. Despite threats of piracy,
billions of dollars in cargo pass through its waters each year. The
country’s abundant resources, including iron, copper and uranium, have
been largely untapped, and scientists believe it has huge amounts of
The country has a proud military past. In the first years after the
British Somaliland protectorate and the U.N.-administered Italian
Somaliland colony unified and became a country in 1960, Somalia was
stable and relatively prosperous. Before the civil war broke out, it had
one of the largest armies on the continent.
“As politicians stoked nationalist sentiment in the name of a Greater
Somalia, the country sought to build a formidable army, known locally
as ‘The Lions of Africa,’” wrote journalist Amanda Sperber for
foreignpolicy.com. “At the time, military academies in the country were
so well resourced, they had tanks to spare for practical training.”
The country later lapsed into decades of military dictatorship, civil
war and now, armed insurgency. In recent years, some Somalis have
turned to piracy.
Oceans Beyond Piracy’s “The State of Maritime Piracy 2017” report
said that East Africa had the highest total economic loss from piracy in
the world, at $1.4 billion, down from $1.7 billion in 2016. “The threat
is posed by hijacked vessels, more than in the other regions where the
nature of incidents is more related to kidnapping for ransom, or the
kidnapping of cargos and yachts,” the report said.
The United Nations said that Somalia’s lack of a stable government has contributed to the piracy problem.
“Somalia continues to have a reputation as the launching point for
terrorism, piracy, people trafficking and smuggling operations which
obstructs efforts to commercialize Somali marine resources,” the United
Nations reported. “Meanwhile, the inability of Somalia to successfully
do this is consistently seen as one of the underlying causes of
The Somali National Army now has about 12,000 active Soldiers, with
another 24,000 in reserve. Its equipment includes 140 tanks and 430
armored fighting vehicles. Its Air Force has been slowly rebuilding
since 2012. The current budget for the country’s entire armed forces is
$58 million. Somali leaders say they need to build an army of 28,000
professional Soldiers in addition to a police force of 12,000.
The country’s Armed Forces are getting training and assistance from all over the world:
Instructors from the United States have helped train a rapid-reaction
force known as Gaashaan, which translates to “the shield.” The force
can operate under difficult circumstances, such as fighting inside enemy
lines. U.S. forces help plan Somali military raids against al-Shabaab
and provide helicopters that carry Somali troops to their targets.
The United Nations has provided in-country maritime law enforcement,
engineering and communications mentors who have trained Somali Maritime
Police and Coast Guard units. Somali Maritime Police also have benefited
from advanced training in the Seychelles on visit, board, search and
seizure operations. U.N. mentors routinely review security conditions at
Somali prisons to reduce the risk of escape or mistreatment, especially
for prisoners in the Piracy Prisoners Transfer Program.
In 2010, the United Nations established a trust fund to support
initiatives in countries fighting piracy off Somalia. In 2017, the
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime gave three new patrol boats to
the Maritime Police Unit. The skiffs are better-suited to the rough seas
off Mogadishu than the dhows they replaced, the U.N. said. The
versatile boats now patrol around Mogadishu 365 days a year, after 20
years without regular patrols.
In 2014, Somalia signed military cooperation agreements with Italy and the United Arab Emirates.
In 2016, Turkey started building a new military camp in Mogadishu.
The base will be used to train Somali Soldiers. About 200 Turkish
Soldiers will train Somalis. Turkey also plans to build a military
In March 2018, the European Union Training Mission Somalia conducted a
live-fire training exercise with the Somali Maritime Police Unit to
help the unit patrol. Somali officers learned rifle handling and
shooting range procedures. The Maritime Police Unit also trained with
the European Union in September 2017, working on patrolling and boarding
vessels. Trainers said the goal was to help Somalia protect its
principal port in Mogadishu, along with its approaches.
In his book, Modern Maritime Piracy: Genesis, Evolution and
Responses, author Robert C. McCabe wrote that a European Union aid
program, mandated until the end of 2018, “reflects the evolution beyond
piracy to a more holistic effort to reconstruct and develop indigenous
Somali security capacity.”
“The expanded mission prioritizes the development of civilian
maritime law enforcement capacity to carry out fisheries inspections and
counter narcotic smuggling and piracy,” wrote McCabe. “In addition, it
aims to clarify legislation for the Somali Maritime Police Unit and
Coast Guard through training and mentoring programs in the ‘criminal
justice chain’ — arrest, investigation and prosecution — alongside the
procurement of light equipment. This work is supported through training
workshops, mock trials and the development of a regional network of law
drafters and prosecutors.”
Somalis Impress Trainers During Cutlass Express
Somalia’s participation in Cutlass Express 2018 in Djibouti and the
Seychelles showed its commitment to improving East Africa’s combined
maritime law enforcement, and promoting national and regional security.
“Having Somalia be part of this is absolutely phenomenal,” said U.S.
Rear Adm. Shawn E. Duane. “It’s the first time they’ve been able to
participate outside their borders in a multinational exercise. … It
shows a lot of progress, and that’s the kind of success that Cutlass
The U.S. Coast Guard and Turkish military in Djibouti provided Somali
participants hands-on training for visit, board, search and seizure
missions in addition to pier-side and at-sea vessel boarding. The
exercise lasted eight days and included an in-port preparatory phase,
five days of drills, and workshops in the Seychelles and Djibouti.
“We have learned these techniques in classes in Somalia, so Cutlass
Express gives us the opportunity to learn tactical application from our
partners,” said Somali Military Police Capt. Abdulkadir Muktar.
“Applying what we have learned will help us improve our goal of maritime
Instructors said the Somalis were quick learners and showed what they could do in the final boarding exercise.
Somalia had already announced that it would participate in Cutlass Express 2019.
Cutlass Express is one of three Africa-focused regional Express
series exercises sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and facilitated by
U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. The exercise falls under
Africa Partnership Station, the umbrella program for the Express series
of exercises and other outreach and capacity-building initiatives
Nations participating in Cutlass Express 2018 were Australia, Canada,
Comoros, Denmark, Djibouti, France, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius,
Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Seychelles, South Africa, Turkey
and the United States.
“Criminal activities pose a big threat to the security of Africa’s
maritime environment,” said Melanie Zimmerman of the U.S. Embassy in
Mauritius and the Seychelles. “These are challenges that no single
nation can overcome on its own, but, if we work together, overcoming
those challenges becomes achievable.”
Written by Africa Defense Forum and republished with permission. The original article can be found here.