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Somali support

April 8, 2010

The European Union has launched a new military mission to train some 2,000 Somali soldiers in Uganda in mine awareness and urban combat. The mission is aimed at stabilizing Somalia's transitional government.

Armed Somali policemen guard a street in Mogadishu
The EU's mission aims to help Somali integration into the international communityImage: AP

The European Union on Thursday launched a new military mission to train some 2,000 Somali soldiers in Uganda in mine awareness and urban combat. The mission to Uganda is designed to support Somali security forces, struggling to control Islamist militants in Mogadishu.

"This mission is intending to train up to 2000 Somali guys in two consecutive intakes of 1000 each, and so the mission will last more or less 13 or 14 months, because each intake will last six months," said the EU's mission commander Colonel Gonzales Elul.

The EU's mission is part of a wider international strategy to turn Somalia into a viable state, and one which can take charge of its own security.

Somali demonstrators holding ply cards march in Mogadishu's Daljirka Dahsoon square
Hundreds of women and children protested the actions of Al-Qaida-linked groups in Somalia recentlyImage: AP

Local co-operation

In order to tackle the militant mindset, trainers on the ground are to consult local teachers and elders for insight and cultural tips. And there will also be lessons in human rights for trainee Somali soldiers,

"We will have within the headquarter structure, a gender adviser and a legal adviser that will provide some lessons to the trainees, concerning the human rights and gender issues, along with the international law for armed conflicts, so this is a very comprehensive programme," said Colonel Elul.

African Union forces have already begun training Somali soldiers, in a bid to help the embattled transitional federal government take control.

Until now, Somali security forces have only been able to control small areas of the capital Mogadishu.

The art of modern warfare

Islamic fighters take up positions near the presidential palace
Al-Qaeda is widely thought to be channelling funds and expertise to Somalia's militantsImage: AP

One problem is how to train Somali soldiers to fight in built-up areas.

"Right now they are fighting in a disorganized way and we will try and provide the Somali transitional federal government with a set of tools that they can use more efficiently for fighting in Mogadishu," Elul said.

The soldiers will also get training in communications, and medical treatment, as well as mine awareness.

And strong incentives have reportedly been set up to stop EU-trained soldiers from defecting to the other side.

With fears of foreign militants penetrating Somalia mounting, there are also serious concerns about the smuggling of arms by sea.

Providing a solid base to tackle piracy

The EU's Operation Atalanta forms part of the international effort to tackle piracy off the Somali coast- its principal goal is to protect food aid vessels from attacks.

EU officials recently warned Somali pirates were becoming bolder about attacking ships in waters further away from their usual patch. But the EU also insists its presence in the Gulf of Aden has acted as a strong deterrent.

an armed pirate aboard a French sailboat
Somali pirates are taking more risks in the regionImage: AP

Didier Lenoir, who heads up the EU's Crisis Management unit for Somalia, says the very presence of EU ships in the region means there is more information on smuggling routes. But he also stressed the need to strengthen Somalia itself to have any hope of tackling piracy and smuggling in the long term.

"The way to prevent smuggling in Somalia is to make sure the legitimate authorities of Somalia and therefore our answer is to make sure that the TFG (transitional federal government) is in a position to deliver this type of control, thus idea of providing more training and resources," he said.

As pirates, smugglers and militants become seemingly bolder in the region; the EU says it is determined to help Somalia tackle the problem. And officials in Brussels see this military training mission as a very concrete step.

Author: Nina-Maria Potts, Brussels
Editor: Rob Turner