Somalia: Logistics in the World’s Most Dangerous Place

BY CAPT. DANIEL R. PIONK, SC, USN DIRECTOR OF LOGISTICS COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE HORN OF AFRICA

An African Stalingrad

The author George Hanley in his book “Warriors” wrote that of all the races in Africa, the best one to live among, the most difficult, the proudest, the bravest, the vainest, the merciless, and the friendliest were the Somalis. Mention the words Somalia or Mogadishu and the first thing that comes to mind are the images in the movies “Blackhawk Down” or “Captain Phillips”. Infamous characters like Mohamed Siad Barre and General Farah Aidid resonate.

Capt. Dan Pionk, director of Logistics for the Combined Joint Task force Horn of Africa, shakes hands with the Deputy Commander for Support of the Somalia National Army after a rece nt Somalia Logistics Working Group meeting in Mogadishu. –photo by LTC Keary Johnson

Capt. Dan Pionk, director of Logistics for the
Combined Joint Task force Horn of Africa, shakes hands with the Deputy
Commander for Support of the Somalia National Army after a rece nt
Somalia Logistics Working Group meeting in Mogadishu. –photo by
LTC Keary Johnson

Still, Somalia has been considered the world’s most failed state and home to some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, referred to as the outlaw state by James Fergusson in his contemporary book “The World’s Most Dangerous Place”. Sadly, Somalia has been engaged in civil war and unrest since 1992, with no functioning government. Indeed, after 30 years of destruction and devastation reminiscent of that in Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia is a war zone. In fact, it feels and looks much the same. The only difference is the U.S. is not battling the war….it is the African Union and the Somalia National Army conducting Joint operations. But it is a war zone all the same.

The Threat

In the 1970s, Somalia had the largest armed forces in Africa….about 100,000 strong, trained and equipped by the Russians. Today, as mandated by the United Nations, Somalia is working to build an army of 10,900. Security is the primary concern and an essential prerequisite for further progress in all spheres of government and development. In simpler terms, stabilization and security must be delivered. But the Somalia forces today lack critical capability and suffer a critical shortage of equipment and supplies that restrict their capacity to protect themselves. This message was underscored by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in his address to the European Union Training Mission in May 2013, when he emphasized “…the need for adequate and sustained training and resourcing for our armed forces.”

Al-Shabaab is the main threat to Somalia and is a well-organized terrorist group that wants to overthrow the Federal Government of Somalia and impose its ideology. The scourge of Al-Shabaab remains and must be dealt with by political and military means. Currently, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) alone cannot deal with Al Shabaab. As the Somalia Minister of Defense, Abdulkadir Sheikh Ali Dini, wrote in his foreword of the Somalia Victory Plan, “Somalia wants and AMISOM needs the Somalia National Army to fight alongside it, to bring peace and security that the people of Somali deserve”. Regardless, the Somalia National Army remains under-equipped to fight Al-Shabaab on an equal footing.

Vision for the Somali National Army

So far, the arming, equipping and supporting of the Somalia National Army has been through relatively small pockets of bilateral support and some which the Federal Government of Somalia has purchased using its limited revenues. To fight effectively, the Somalia National Army needs to be better equipped and supported. Only when the Somalia National Army is properly armed and equipped, and increases its engagements on Joint operations, will AMISOM be in a position to consider an exit strategy.

To achieve this goal, a number of interim steps or visions have been defined. First is Vision 2016 to build an integrated Somalia National Army and neutralize Al-Shabaab. Next is Vision 2019, which will develop a unified force and prepare for AMISOM drawdown and departure. Third and final is Vision 2022, which will consolidate self-sustaining Somali National Army forces.

Enablers of Stability

The Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) conducts Theater Security Cooperation in East Africa. The mission also includes support to regional counter-violent extremist organization operations to protect U.S. interests. The mission of the Logistics Directorate (CJ4) is to develop and enable logistics capability and capacity across East Africa as well as to support regional partners through logistics. Put differently, logistics is a key enabler to stability in East Africa and Somalia.

To accomplish this mission and achieve the desired effects, the Somalia Logistics Working Group was formed to assist the Ministry of Defense and the Somalia Armed Forces in developing prioritized logistics capacity as outlined in the Somalia Defense Strategic Plan. The Working Group is chaired by the Deputy Commander for Support of the Somalia National Army and led by the Director of Logistics for the Combined Joint Task force Horn of Africa.

Somalia Logistics Working Group

The Somalia Logistics Working Group is one of five Defense Working Groups. The others include Institutional Affairs; Policy, Plans, Finance; Force Development; and Human Resources. These groups are part of the implementing mechanisms of the Somalia Defense Strategic Plan to build capacity in the Ministry of Defense and the Somali Armed Forces. The five working groups constitute a “roadmap” for the transformation of Somali Defense. To this end, the Somalia Logistics Working Group is comprised of a team of logistics experts based on those international allies, donors, and partners who  are actively supporting the Somalia Armed Forces.

The membership includes the Somalia National Army, African Union, European Union, United Nations (both UN Assistance Mission in Somalia and UN Support Office for AMISOM), and international partners from the U.S., U.K., Turkey, UAE, and Japan, among others to support peace keeping and stability operations in Somalia. The Somalia Logistics Working Group is responsible for building the respective priority logistics capacities and capabilities of medical, healthcare, logistics supply, infrastructure, transportation, and weapons/ammunition. At the same time, the logistics working group serves to help coordinate, plan, and synchronize logistics support for the Somalia National Army.

Progress and Results

To drive progress, sub-working groups were organized and focus on each of the logistics priorities. These sub-working groups have facilitated working through issues and meet more often on an ad-hoc basis, while reporting monthly on progress. In addition, subject matter experts in logistics from CJTF-HOA meet with key planners from the Somalia National Army and international community to work through logistics priorities and help develop logistics plans.

Capt. Dan Pionk, director of Logistics for the Combined Joint T ask force Horn of Africa, co-chairs a recent meeting of the Somalia Logistics Working Group meeting in Mogadishu with the Deputy Commander for Support of t he Somalia National Army. –photo by LTC Keary Johnson

Capt. Dan Pionk, director of Logistics for the Combined Joint T ask force Horn
of Africa, co-chairs a recent meeting of the Somalia Logistics Working Group
meeting in Mogadishu with the Deputy Commander for Support of t he Somalia
National Army. –photo by LTC Keary Johnson

For all that, progress is being made, although the tasks being tackled are complex and the steps taken not as large as one would hope. Still, the efforts by CJTF-HOA and the international community continue to “move the ball down the field to the end zone.” Through the Somalia Logistics Working Group, three logistic projects stand-out. First is the coordination in development of the remnants of a patient recovery facility into a Level 1+ medical facility. Second is the coordinating of engineering assessments to develop a large transportation site near the Mogadishu Airport. Third is developing the logistics concept of support for the Guulwade or “Victory” Plan, which is the plan to train and equip the Somalia National Army to defeat Al-Shabaah.

In summary, these small gains through logistics are a major achievement not only for Somalia but for Africa as a whole. These efforts are part of the strong commitment to continue supporting Somalia. More importantly, they underscore the shared enthusiasm and hope that the situation in Somalia can and will get better.

July/August 2015