11 February 2014

Somalia: Debate Intensifies Over Possible German Army Training Mission

Members of the German armed forces may soon be sent to Somalia to take part in a training mission. The opposition is skeptical, saying the security situation in the east African state remains unstable.

Ahmed Omar's recent visit to Somalia's capital Mogadishu cost him dearly. According to local police, the deputy governor of Lower Shebell region in the south of the country lost an arm and a leg after a bomb exploded in his car on Monday (10.02.2014). A second car bomb exploded later injuring four people.

For 20 years the east African country has been battling civil war, famine and chaos. Armed militias and warlords are fighting for power and parts of the country are controlled by radical Islamist al-Shabab militia. Attacks and raids are frequent.

This unstable security situation led to the German federal government putting an end to its participation in a European Union training mission (EUTM) for Somali soldiers in 2013. Until December of that year, a 20-strong contingent of German military personnel had been located in Uganda to train Somali soldiers. In January 2014 the mission was relocated to Mogadishu.

Reassessment of the security situation

Inside Germany the opposition is highly skeptical about the government's intention to send troops to Somalia. Defense spokesperson of the Green party, Agnieszka Brugger, said she was surprised by the government's change of course. "I do not see any justification for the security situation having changed to such an extent that we should now want to renew our participation in the training mission, this time in Mogadishu," Brugger told DW.

According to travel information issued by the German foreign ministry, the security situation in Somalia is totally unstable. The situation is particularly critical in central and southern parts of the country, including Mogadishu.

The Maka Al-Mukarama hotel in Mogadishu was the target of a car bomb attack in November 2013

A defense ministry spokesperson described Somalia as "anything but a stable state." However, he said the European partners who have been there since December 2013 had provided information for a reassessment of the situation.

This information, he added, also made it justifiable to become involved in Somalia. If other EU nations have no strong security reservations, then Germany would also not have any objections, the chairman of the defense committee, Hans-Peter Bartels of the Social Democrat Party (SPD) said in an interview with the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, a regional daily newspaper published in eastern Germany. "It is definitely right to train Somali forces. Our approach is to help people to help themselves," said Bartels.

The representative of the Left party on the defense committee, Alexander Neu, does not believe the security situation in Somalia has changed in the last few months. He believes there are other reasons why a Bundeswehr mission is now being considered. "The German government thinks it should act to show solidarity with other European countries," said Neu. "After the announcement by the defense minister that Germany should increase its presence in Africa, it almost goes without saying that appropriate forces should then be provided," Neu said in an interview with DW.

German soldiers trained Somali troops in Uganda for 30 months

Bundeswehr already active in Somalia

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen of the Christian Democrats (CDU) had previously announced that there would be a stronger German involvement in Africa - also in a military sense. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) and Federal President Joachim Gauck also stated that Germany must take on more responsibility internationally.

The Bundeswehr is already active in Africa as part of UN and EU missions. In and around Somalia, the Bundeswehr is supporting the fight against pirates in the Horn of Africa region. German soldiers also participate in the training of coast guards and police in Djibouti, Kenya, the Seychelles and Somalia, the aim being to help the east African countries to be able to deal with piracy themselves.

In the west African state of Mali the Bundewehr is also training army personnel. The federal government in Berlin wants to extend the deployment and expand the mandate there. In future, instead of 180, there will be up to 250 German soldiers in Mali.

Search for a comprehensive strategy for Africa

A military approach alone will not help solve the problems in Africa, argues Alexander Neu from the Left party. "We have military forces in Somalia but we do not see that reconstruction is really taking place in the civilian sector," he said, adding that in Somalia people were fighting symptoms rather than causes.

"For me, greater responsibility does not necessarily mean more military operations," said the foreign policy spokesman of the CDU parliamentary group, Philipp Missfelder, in an interview with rbb-Inforadio in Berlin.

"Greater responsibility can also mean more development aid," he elaborated. The grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats plans to develop a new strategy for Africa in the coming days. Defense Minister von der Leyen, Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Development Minister Gerd Müller of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the CDU, will be among those taking part.

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