The European Union has paid about €5 million ($6.5 million) to operate the camp for the last 15 months, with Germany picking up €1.2 million of this year’s tab. Is the expense worth it?
It still isn’t clear whether the EU will extend its mandate for the foreign mission. A decision was expected in the summer, but Brussels hasn’t made up its mind yet. For now, the mission will continue until the end of the year.
Since August, a regular parliament has been in session in Mogadishu for the first time since 1991, and it has elected a president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. He must have a reliable, organized and, most of all, well-trained army at his disposal, at least according to the EUTM program. When the recruits return home in December, about 3,000 soldiers of the Somali army will have been trained in Bihanga. They have helped push back al-Shabab. And Bihanga graduates provided security during the presidential inauguration ceremony, the trainers proudly note. Although this is certainly admirable, Ugandan and Kenyan soldiers continue to be the ones fighting the real battles.
The selection of recruits for Bihanga reveals what a mess the Somali army still is. The trainers are constantly forced to send people back, usually after doctors determine that they can’t possibly be of age. The EU doesn’t want to be accused of training children as cannon fodder. In addition, many recruits don’t make it through the training period. Next to the brawny Germans, they look like they’re practically starving. Others are sent home for poor behavior.
Highly Respected at Home
After the training program, all graduates receive $600 from the US Army. But the money isn’t disbursed until after the graduation ceremony so that no one hits upon the idea of simply running off with the money. The Americans also handle the soldiers’ pay after they return home, so that the newly trained fighters don’t immediately join the nearest clan militia.
The EU-trained soldiers are highly respected at home and are entrusted with the most important assignments, say the trainers at the camp. Officials at Germany’s Ministry of Defense also hope that “a new loyalty to their country develops in the minds of the soldiers during the six-month training program,” a spokesman says.
Nevertheless, the program still raises many questions. While driving through nearby villages, one can see that many civilians are wearing military clothing, rubber boots and camouflage jackets bearing the Somali flag. Some recruits reportedly sneak out of the camp at night and sell their equipment for money or cigarettes, while some of their comrades in Somalia even sell their weapons to Islamist fighters.
When recruits in Bihanga turned up without their uniforms or equipment, they used to be given replacements. But now there is a new rule in the camp: Anyone who shows up barefoot at morning roll call will march barefoot from then on. The recruits are also required to carry all of their equipment in backpacks so as to prevent theft.
In October, Sergeant Westermann wants to spend a week at home in Uetersen, near Hamburg. It’ll be his only time off during the six-month stint overseas. He’ll “relax with my girlfriend, walk around St. Pauli and fix the car,” he says, referring to Hamburg’s entertainment district. Then he’s coming back to Bihanga. He believes what he’s doing there is useful.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan