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Somalia approves defense agreement with Turkey

By Harun Maruf
Thursday February 22, 2024

Somalia's executive and legislative branches have approved a crucial 10-year defense and economic cooperation agreement with Turkey, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has announced.

Following a meeting in Mogadishu, Somalia's Cabinet approved the "Defense and Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement." Shortly after the Cabinet approval, the two houses of Somalia's parliament voted to endorse the pact in a 213-3 vote.

Under the agreement, Turkey will build, train and equip the Somali navy, said Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, addressing members of the cabinet.

Barre said the agreement will help to remove "any fears of terrorism, piracy, illegal fishing, toxic dumping and any external violations or threats" to Somalia's sea coast. Somalia has Africa's longest coastline.

He described Turkey as a "true and reliable brother."

President Mohamud, who also spoke to the media, noted Turkey is already helping Somalia with humanitarian assistance, budgetary support and the training of security forces.

The new agreement comes amid increasing tension between Somalia and Ethiopia, sparked by the signing of a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, between Ethiopia and Somalia's breakaway Somaliland region.

Under the MOU, Somaliland would lease to landlocked Ethiopia about 20 kilometers of coastline along the Gulf of Aden, allowing access to the Red Sea. Somaliland said that in exchange, Ethiopia would recognize Somaliland as an independent country. Ethiopia has not yet officially confirmed it will recognize Somaliland.

Somalia's federal government, which considers Somaliland part of its own territory, sees the deal as a violation of sovereignty and is demanding its cancellation.

Mohamud said the agreement with Turkey is not aimed against Ethiopia.

"We asked for the support not to fight Ethiopia or invade another country," he said. "It's to support us in defending our country. That is the origin of the agreement we have entered with Turkey."

A Somali official who spoke to VOA Somali on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to discuss the subject with media said the agreement includes deployment of Turkish warships in Somalia's waters. It also includes "tapping marine resources for Somalia."

The agreement was signed in Turkey on February 8 by Somalia Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur and Turkey Minister of National Defense Yasar Guler.

Guler said at the time he believes the deal will lead to the further development of "our bilateral military relations."

Mohamud said Somalia has been looking for a country to enter with a bilateral agreement on building a navy. He said Turkey was the first country ready to help.

Asked whether the deal between Somaliland and Ethiopia prompted the agreement, Mohamud said the government has been working on the agreement for some time.

"It's just a coincidence," he said.

Ethiopia and Somaliland have defended their deal. Ethiopian Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed recently said his country does not intend to cause harm to Somalia.

"Ethiopia, being a friend, does not wish any harm to come upon Somalia," he said in a February 6 message posted on X, formerly Twitter.

"Ethiopia does not acknowledge war against any country in principle," he wrote. "However, some forces are trying to incite conflict between the two nations, which should not happen. Our request is for sea access based on mutual benefit."

Somalia external military support

Turkey, the United States and Eritrea all have trained Somali soldiers with the goal of helping Somalia rebuild its army after decades of internal strife.

In September 2017, Turkey established its largest overseas military training facility in Somalia. Since then, Turkey has trained thousands of Somali commandos known as Gorgor (the Eagle), as well as hundreds of officers and non-commissioned officers.

Turkey said its engagement with Somali forces is to contribute to peace and stability in Somalia and improve the organization and infrastructure of the Somali National Army as it battles al-Shabab militants.

Last week, Somalia's government and the U.S. signed an MOU for the construction of up to five military bases for the U.S.-trained elite Somali National Army forces known as the Danab (Lightning) Brigade.

Hussein Sheikh-Ali, national security adviser to Somalia's president, told VOA last week that the U.S. will train 3,000 soldiers, most of whom have already completed the training. The aim is to start building the bases soon and finish within the calendar year, he said.

"It would look like a military camp with a full capacity to host special forces," said Sheikh-Ali.

He also said Somali security forces are aiming to assume responsibilities from the African Union Transition Mission (ATMIS), which is expected to withdraw from Somalia by the end of 2024.


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