Hundreds of Somali soldiers trained with millions of U.S. tax dollars have deserted because they are not being paid their $100 monthly wage, and some have even joined the al-Qaida-linked militants they are supposed to be fighting.
Unpaid Somali Soldiers Desert to Insurgency
The desertions raise fears that a new U.S.-backed effort beginning next month to build up Somalia’s army may only increase the ranks of the insurgency.
In an effort to rebuild the tattered Somali military, the United States spent $6.8 million supporting training programs for nearly 1,000 soldiers in neighboring Djibouti last year and about 1,100 soldiers in Uganda last year and earlier this year, the State Department and Western diplomats told the AP. The troops were supposed to earn $100 a month, but about half of those trained in Djibouti deserted because they were not paid, Somali army Col. Ahmed Aden Dhayow said.
“Some gave up the army and returned to their ordinary life and others joined the rebels,” he said.
Somalia’s state minister for defense, Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, confirmed some trainees had joined the al-Shabab militants, but he declined to specify the number of deserters.
The U.S. has provided $2 million to pay Somali soldiers and purchase supplies and equipment in Mogadishu since 2007, according to the State Department. Another $12 million went toward transport, uniforms and equipment.
Earlier this year, trainee soldiers had their guns confiscated and replaced with sticks after a riot broke out between those who had been paid and those who had not. The African Union, which has peacekeepers at Camp Jazira, temporarily suspended payments over fears that men who had been paid would be killed by those who had not, an official involved with the training said.
Soldiers also had problems with some battalion-level commanders stealing their rations, a European official said. The U.S. has sent a shipment of food this month to try to help the malnourished soldiers regain their strength, he added.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Siyad, the defense minister, said the U.S. was currently funding the salaries of around 1,800 Somali soldiers, and another 3,300 soldiers were being paid by other donors. However, that is only about half the 10,000 troops allowed under the peace agreement that formed the coalition government.
“Both the police and soldiers need to feed their families,” Geyson said. “They need to be paid every month. Otherwise they have to find other solutions.”
Other “solutions” may be highly dangerous to the local population. They have certainly proved devastating in the past.
[T]he Somali government is forced to rely on donor nations that are often slow to pay, undercutting soldiers’ confidence in regular paychecks, and feeding desertions and corruption. There are few signs Somalia’s government will ever be able to deliver social services, shape military strategy and pay its army on its own.
Siyad said the success of the multimillion-dollar training programs funded by American and European taxpayers is completely dependent on being able to pay the graduates.
“If this is not done, then we shouldn’t even start. Otherwise the soldiers will just join the opposition,” he said.
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Somalia is one of the major projects of AFRICOM, the US Africa Command. If you are a US taxpayer, you may want to consider if this is worth your support, especially considering the dismal prospects for the present Somali government. What does the US gain for the money invested? Results are what matters, not intentions. Is this a good investment for your money?