UAE ends military training programme in Somalia

The holding of the UAE plane was preceded by Somali security officials seizing funds belonging to the UAE.
Sunday 22/04/2018
Containers are loaded onto a DP World-run cargo ship at the Port of Berbera in Berbera in Somaliland, last April. (AP)
Unnecessary tensions. Containers are loaded onto a DP World-run cargo ship at the Port of Berbera in Berbera in Somaliland, last April. (AP)

LONDON - The United Arab Emirates cancelled its military training programme in Somalia in response to the grounding of a UAE plane carrying Emirati officials by Somali security forces.

“The decision comes in response to Somali security forces’ seizure of a UAE-registered civil aircraft at Mogadishu airport and confiscation of money destined to pay the soldiers,” a statement by the UAE Foreign Ministry said.

The holding of the UAE plane was preceded by Somali security officials on April 8 seizing funds — estimated to be close to $10 million — belonging to the UAE at Aden Adde International Airport.

The UAE official news agency WAM reported that the plane was carrying 47 Emirati armed forces personnel, some of whom were said to be held at gunpoint and assaulted by Somali security forces.

“The UAE deplores this violation of international law and norms at a time when the UAE has provided all kinds of political, economic, military and humanitarian support in the darkest conditions to establish security and stability in the Somali Federal Republic,” the UAE Foreign Ministry said.

UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash called on the Somali government to handle the situation with “wisdom and reason.”

“The current Somali government… is creating unnecessary tensions with a friend and an ally that supported the stability and security of Somalia during its hardest phases,” Gargash wrote on his official Twitter account.

Emirati-Somali relations tumbled following the banning of UAE ports operator DP World from operating in Somalia. The firm, the world’s third-biggest container port operator, had signed a contract with the breakaway region of Somaliland to set up a port zone, which led to the Somalis’ action against DP World.

Factoring into the dispute has been Gulf countries vying for influence in the Horn of Africa, which has moved from support on a state level and investments in infrastructure to politicking, mostly a result of the dispute between Qatar and a group of Arab countries including the UAE. Consequently, Mogadishu was under pressure from Qatar and Turkey to take a negative stance regarding UAE support, which has led to a decline in UAE-Somali relations.

“Qatar’s entry into Somalia was facilitated by Turkey and was aimed primarily at undermining the growing ties with the UAE, even if it took time,” a Western diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.

Somali opposition politicians from the so-called Qatari-Turkish lobby in Mogadishu have been trying to stir public opinion.

The military training programme, which began in 2014, was intended to build the capabilities of the Somali Army. UAE forces have participated in training missions involving thousands of Somali soldiers.

Before it cancelled the military cooperation, the UAE was paying the salaries of 2,407 Somali soldiers, built three training centres and a hospital and sent Emirati medical teams to treat Somali military personnel.

The UAE also supervised the counter-piracy maritime police force in Puntland, where it augmented the Somali military and security facilities while supporting efforts to fight terrorism in collaboration with other international parties and African Union forces in Somalia.

The Somali Defence Ministry said that it would take over management of the training programme, including paying soldiers’ salaries.

“As a government, our responsibility is to take care of our armed forces and pay their wages and not to delegate that responsibility to others. We thank the UAE for the training and relentless support it provided,” Somali Defence Minister Mohamed Mursal said in a statement.

Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region urged the UAE to reconsider termination of security operations in Somalia.

“We ask our UAE friends, not only to stay, but to redouble their efforts in helping Somalia stand on its feet,” said a statement from the office of the president of Puntland. The end of UAE support “will only help our enemy, particularly Al Shabab and ISIS (the Islamic State).”

An unidentified security analyst said the loss of UAE support will destabilise the security situation in the country. “The value of the UAE trained forces was two-fold: They were relatively well trained but, more important, they were paid on time,” unlike other parts of the security forces, the analyst told Reuters.