Thursday, January 23, 2020
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The Somali National Army Almost Six Decades: Achievements and Challenges

Birth of the Somali National Army

The UN Trusteeship Administration in Somalia under Italy (1950-1960) was mandated to prepare the Somali republic for independence by 1960. The Trusteeship had decided to prepare an army, which had not materialized, for the incoming Somali republic despite the police force already having a militarized wing in 1954; called Xisanley. On April 6th, 1960, President Aden Abdulle Osman issued a decree that created the Somali National Army (SNA). On April 12th, the first batch of 4,000 had been recruited and the deputy commissioner of Somali Police force Col. Daud Abdulle Hersi was later promoted to general and appointed as the first army commander with Col. Mohamed Siad Bare as his deputy.

On September 23rd, the President issued another decree that created the defense, foreign and information ministries; appointing Hon. Mohamed Ibrahim Egal as the first defense minister.

Development (1960-1980)


During the Cold War, both civilian governments and the military regime that ruled the country in the first two decades of independence persevered on building an army that was capable to protect Somalia while utilizing various support be it from the east and/or west. The defense budget had increased which encouraged the development of the army, earning it the rank of the second largest army in sub-Saharan Africa. The army’s recruitment method was based on merit and mass recruitment nationwide ensured inclusivity. Respect was gained among Somali citizens as the army promised to address local issues, such as literacy of the Somali language, reducing poverty and fighting corruption.


With the arrival of the Military at the helm of the state in 1969 coup, the army took leadership positions in government which drained the military of its manpower; the former Somali army was faced with a difficult dilemma by fulfilling the role of a modern military while also managing state affairs. The military failed to transfer the power to civilian rule.

Gradual Decay and an Ultimate Demise (1980-2000)


The Somali army entered the Ogaden war on July 7th, 1977. When the Soviet Union tried to mediate betweeen Ethiopia and Somalia, the Somali military regime stated that any ceasefire would be accepted as long as the Somali people under Ethiopian occupation were allowed self-determination, which never happened. The victory of the Somali army was overturned when the Soviets and Cuba switched to support Ethiopia, and airlifted Cuban soldiers and Soviet tanks and heavy weaponry.

Decay of the Somali Army

Immediately after the Ogaden war, the Somali army needed restructuring while many high officers held civilian posts. A failed coup, the rise of armed opposition rebels, corruption and the increased misuse of clannism forced Somalis to lose trust with the army; facilitating the military’s ultimate demise.

Restoration and Recovery (2000-2020)


During the last two decades, the successive governments had begun to recall former elements or remnants of the SNA and have started to build a new Somali army. Merger of various armed militias into the SNA has reduced the effects of clanism within the army.

The introduction of a bio-metric system has also reduced the number of ghost soldiers. Fake soldiers in the military are being weeded out and fewer are on the payrolls. Progress is being made in regards to paying salaries digitally in order to enhance accountability and reduce corruption.

The promotion of young officers in the army is an encouraging initiative but requires senior officers acting as mentors in order to transfer knowledge and expertise. Yet, this is not being done.

The establishment of the Danab battalion, a specially trained counter-terrorism force within the SNA, has been encouraging. Some former military bases have been refurbished and various trainings have been initiated. Turkey has also built a training base for the army in Mogadishu while the UK is conducting training in Baidoa; all of which will enhance the capacity of the military. Finally, the current government has succeeded in providing political stability within the top federal leadership which has proven beneficial to the army in various ways.


Presence of the SNA is needed nationwide.  A mass promotion of SNA officers done by last government requires rectification. Coordination among donors supporting the army needs to be strengthened. Except for the Danab battalion, the SNA units are not trained well enough to effectively take the fight to extremists and durably defeat terrorist groups. Additionally, proper recruitment techniques to ensure geographic representation and equity have not been fully implemented throughout Somalia.

The upcoming decade must prepare the Somali National Army in order for it to become capable of operating nationwide, in order to replaced AMISOM and defeat terrorism groups for good.

Dr. Abdiqafar Farah
E-mail:- [email protected]  

Dr. Abdiqafar Farah is an independent researcher in defense and security issues. He is the former director of PISA and has worked with UNSOM with Rule of Law and Security Institutions Group(ROLSIG). Mr. Farah was an advisor to various Somali governments at the regional and federal levels. He was also the first National Security Advisor and facilitated the creation of the Somalia National Security Council.

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