Why the U.S. Must Stand by Somalia at Its Turning Point in Fighting Al-Shabab and ISIS

Somali soldier
A Somali soldier stands guard next to the site where Al-Shabab militants carried out a suicide attack against a military intelligence base in Mogadishu, Somalia, on June 21, 2015. Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty

Somalia is at a turning point, in need of a sustainable resolution to decades of instability and threatened by militants including the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab and a splinter of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). It needs the help of the United States.

The United States government must increase financial, military, security and intelligence-sharing support to Somalia. The threats and security risks facing Somalia are many and include: instability; protracted violence perpetrated by Al-Shabab and ISIS; the proliferation of small arms; unprotected borders; piracy; poverty; and chronic youth unemployment. If these threats and risks are not immediately tackled, the U.S. national security and regional interests will be profoundly affected.

The Somali government does not have the resources (financial and institutional) to tackle Al-Shabab and ISIS threats. At the moment, while the political will and commitment exist, the government lacks adequate military and security institutions and resources that can support counter-terrorism strategy in the governance and security sectors.

Somalia soldier passing out
A recently trained Somali National Army soldier is pictured during a passing-out parade at an AMISOM facility in Mogadishu, Somalia, on August 14, 2012, in this photograph released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support team. Somalia's army is battling against an Al-Qaeda linked Islamist insurgent group. STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty

Strengthening the government's national security policymaking structures, institutions and financial resources is essential. This could be done in a wide effort that seeks both to improve training for security services, ministries and institutions to deliver a broader campaign of improved security. The delivery of specialized training, equipment, payment of stipends, rehabilitation of office spaces and establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) and management systems are the main structural challenges.

Read more: Why is Trump sending more U.S. troops to Somalia?

In addition, the lack of adequate command leadership to develop defense policies serve as a serious limitation toward improving the effectiveness and professional standards of the military, police and state security services in regards to adherence to the rule of law, respect for rights and the protection of civilians. Right sizing, doctrinal development, integration of the various militias and professionalism remain a huge challenge for the new federal government.

Somalia fell into civil war in the early 1990s, and after 20 years without an effective legal system and rule of law, Somali security forces are not socialized to the idea of criminals being prosecuted. This lost generation also means that there is a lack of experience within the judiciary. Access to justice is also limited as the judiciary and courts are not equipped and functioning effectively. The perverse interpretation of Islam by Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda and ISIS has resulted in multiple, flagrant abuses of rights.

Al-Shabab militants
Al-Shabab militants patrol in southern Mogadishu's Bakara market during a raid by the group to find out traders that sell expired food in Mogadishu, Somalia, on June 29, 2009. MUSTAFA ABDI/AFP/Getty

The civilian populations are subjected to targeted killings and assaults, repressive forms of social control, and brutal punishments under Al-Shabab's draconian interpretation of Sharia law. The absence of Sharia law was an original Al-Shabab claim.

Reconstituting security services will help to overcome the threats, risks and important challenges identified above. The Somali military ultimately offers an opportunity to improve the quality of defense and police forces and assist Somalia's battle against terrorism, piracy, and criminal organizations.

Security and stability are the key foundation for building lasting peace and prosperity in Somalia. The U.S. government can support the federal government in Somalia tackle insecurity and conflict through strengthening security and rule of law sectors. Somalia requires sustainable programs to overcome insurgency challenges presented by the post-conflict environment in the country. The program therefore must support training of security officers, promote security and help foster public trust and confidence.

The new program should adopt a new approach based on needs, priorities and accessibility depending on the security requirements in federal regions. As the state security institutions and rule of law become established, the U.S. should seek more opportunities to expand it and work more systematically on issues of security.

Somali security forces have been lacking the capabilities and resources needed to fulfill the security and stabilization objectives of the federal government. The international community have not manned, trained, equipped and sustained forces, which has not allowed the government of the to make improvements in our posture. The federal government does not have the budget to support the stated goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al-Shabab and ISIS and eliminating their safe havens in Somalia.

Somalia President Farmajo
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo arrives for celebrations to mark the 57th anniversary of the Somali National Armed Forces in the capital Mogadishu on April 12. President Farmajo has declared war on Al-Shabab militants. Feisal Omar/Reuters

Without funding, the Somali government would be incapable of countering the increasing threats of Al-Shabab and ISIS that endanger the peace and stability in Somalia. Improving counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency capabilities of the federal government; gaining the trust of the population; and facilitating the rule of law throughout Somalia will help set the conditions for Somalis to secure their own country and legitimize governance.

Failure to fund Somalia's requirements is significantly restricting the combat capability and sustainment capacity of the Somali security forces. Without increased U.S. funding, the government's full range of activities cannot be performed and their mission effectiveness would be significantly limited. It would perpetuate a conflict that has already gone on far too long.

Mohamed Fatah is a Senior Fellow at Quilliam International. He is a former senior policy adviser to the U.S. government, advising the National Security Council on foreign policy and national security issues. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is the Executive Director, North America of Quilliam International. He is a PhD candidate and specialist on extremist ideology, African Islam and violent extremism issues. He tweets at @mfraserrahim .

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