Turkey Set to Launch Military Base in Somalia

Turkey will open its largest overseas military training camp in the Somali capital of Mogadishu in September 2017. Ankara is seeking to expand its influence in Africa in a bid to transform Turkey from a regional state into a sort of neo-Ottoman Empire

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Photo: AP)

Turkey has announced in July 2017 that it finalized the construction of a military base in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, in which Turkish military personnel will train the Somali government troops. The base has been approved by the United Nations.

The first batch of Turkish military personnel arrived in Mogadishu in August 2017 to commence the training program for the Somali national army.

The construction of the training camp began in March 2015, at the cost of $50 million. The training camp occupies 400 hectares in Mogadishu. It houses three military schools, dormitories, and depots. It will have the capacity to train more than 1,500 troops at any one time, by Turkish military officers. Turkey will deploy 200 officers and soldiers as trainers and to provide the compound with security.

The complex will be Turkey’s first military base in Africa and the largest Turkish military base overseas. The camp will also serve as Turkish military base in Somalia, where Ankara will deploy hundreds of soldiers to strengthen its presence in the horn of Africa.

According to a statement released by the Turkish embassy in Mogadishu, as the embassy hosted an event to mark the anniversary of the failed military coup of July 15, 2016, the military base is ready for operation.

The Turkish ambassador in Somalia, Olgan Baker told the media that the official ceremony to cut the ribbon off the military base is expected to take place in September 2017 with the attendance of Turkish and Somali top government officials.

Somali Foreign Minister Yusuf Garaad Omar said, "This military training camp established by our Turkish friends will be the first professional training camp for the Somali army. That is why it is very important to us." He added that the facility is significant because Somalia is at the point of renewing its national army and the base will reinforce the professionalism of the Somali army.

Since 2006, Somalia has witnessed deadly clashes between government forces and al-Shabab militants, who say they aim to overthrow the government. The militants have been pushed out of Mogadishu and other major cities in Somalia by government forces and the soldiers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is largely made up of troops from Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Sierra Leone.

Al-Shabab and Turkey

For al-Shabab, Turkey is an unwelcome actor, helping the Somali government fight the group. It seems unsurprising, then, that Turkey has become a major enemy.

Al-Shabab has built authority by claiming to be the only "legitimate" Islamic movement in Somalia. Turkey's work there undermines that claim. Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, has been funding mosque-building projects in a number of countries, including Somalia. Building mosques gives Turkey a platform to promote itself as a legitimate and authentic religious authority. It also gives it an opening to promote Turkey's vision of Islam as part of a functioning democratic state.

There have been several attacks on Turkish targets and interests in Somalia:

On October 4, 2011, a blast in Mogadishu killed more than 70 Somalis, apparently targeted students queuing up to apply for Turkish scholarships. Turkey provided medical care in the wake of this dreadful attack.

In July 2013, a car loaded with explosives rammed into an office housing Turkish embassy staff in Mogadishu, killing three people. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for that attack.

On January 22, 2015, three Somali nationals were killed when a suicide car bomber blew himself up at the gate of a hotel housing the advance party of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who visited the country days later. The Turkish delegation of around 70 members was staying at the hotel at the time of the attack but was unharmed. Following the January bombing, the spokesperson for al-Shabab, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Raage, named Turkey as one of its targets. "NATO is the biggest enemy of Muslims and Turkey is a part of it. NATO is a union of Christians. NATO uses Turkey as a hammer to smash Muslims," said Raage.

In January 2015, the Turkish National Police Department warned all the police departments in the country that an al-Shabab member codenamed "Bihaari" may have been assigned to carry out bomb attacks in Turkey. Bihaari was in January 2015 in Syria and had plans to move to Turkey. The police statement also exposed other potential suspects who might participate in terrorist attacks in Turkey.

Al-Shabab gunmen have shot and killed, a Turkish engineer working with Turkish aid agencies in Mogadishu on January 1, 2016. The engineer was shot and dead by two assailants shortly after he left a local mosque where he performed the Friday Prayers. The attack was claimed by al-Shabab. In a statement published to one of its propaganda websites, the group said its armed men killed one of the "foreigners invaded the country."

A suicide bomber detonated his explosive device on board of a Daallo Airlines plane, on February 8, 2016, and forced it to make an emergency landing in Mogadishu. The bomber was sucked out of the plane through the one-meter wide hole when the blast ripped open the pressurized cabin in mid-air. Somali officials released a video of airport workers handling a laptop believed to have concealed an explosive device that was detonated on a passenger plane traveling from Mogadishu to Djibouti. The footage, showed two airport workers handing a laptop to the suspected bomber.

The 74 passengers aboard the flight, including the suicide bomber, have originally checked in with Turkish Airlines. Turkish Airlines canceled its flight from Mogadishu that morning because their incoming flight from Djibouti could not come to Mogadishu due to strong winds, they said. The Turkish Airlines requested Daallo Airlines to carry the passengers on their behalf to Djibouti where they would continue their journey on a Turkish Airlines flight.

Summary

Ankara is seeking to expand its influence beyond the Middle East to Africa in a bid to transform Turkey from the regional state into a sort of neo-Ottoman Empire. After concluding an agreement with Qatar to build Turkey's first military base abroad (2015), as a projection of its expanded geopolitical and economic presence in East Africa, Turkey will open its largest overseas military training camp in the Somali capital of Mogadishu in September 2017.

The high-profile 2011 visit of President Erdogan gave unprecedented validity to the Turkish efforts and reinforced the popular theory that Turkey is distinctly – and uniquely – a reliable fellow Muslim nation that can create global awareness about Somalia’s plight. Turkey has taken a series of political and humanitarian initiatives to help lift Somalia out of its long-standing crisis. Turkey became a strong and active ally in the Somali issue and was the first major country to offer humanitarian assistance to reduce the impact of drought and famine that struck Somalia.

Turkey has been very active in Somalia since 2011, helping the country strengthen its public institutions and infrastructures and alleviate a severe famine. Turkey constructed the airport road and established two hospitals, schools and other projects. More than 60 tons of food and medical supplies were sent to Mogadishu in April 2017. On August 15, 2017, Turkish Airlines carried more than 60 tons of food aid to Mogadishu, to be distributed to 12 locations in Somalia.

Turkey is currently among the countries training and equipping Somali forces amid a security and developmental bilateral agreements with Mogadishu.

As the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) prepares complete withdrawal from Somalia in 2018, Turkey will support Somalia’s Federal Government to take over its security and build strong and capable forces. Turkey is poised to build and operate the military training center to assist security forces in Somalia in their fight against the Al-Shabaab militant group. But such a military engagement carries risks. It is not clear whether Turkish officers and troops will be involved in combat missions against the militant group al-Shabab.

 

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