Turkey’s military to move into Somalia after backing Qatar in Gulf crisis

A member of the Turkish security forces sits inside an armored vehicle outside the newly opened Turkish embassy in Mogadishu on June 3, 2016. After increasing diplomatic and humanitarian support for Somalia, Turkey established a military training camp in the country. MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey is set to open the largest military camp in Somalia, where locals are battling an Islamist militant group in addition to drought and disease.

Somali Defense Minister Abdirashid Abdullahi Mohamed said the camp would open next month, after two years of construction, and would be equipped to host up to 1,500 troops at one time, making it the largest such facility in the East African nation. The site will be Turkey’s second overseas military installation, following the establishment of a base in Qatar in 2015. Turkey has already offered humanitarian support to Somalia, in which up to 6 million people are reportedly suffering from the effects of drought and an outbreak of cholera; and Ankara has further committed up to 200 soldiers to train and assist local security forces in the battle against Islamist militant group Al-Shabab, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda.

The base spans one and a half square miles and cost about $40 million to build over the last two years, according to the Mogadishu Center for Research and Studies, which reported a visit to the site by former Defense Minister Abdulkadir Sheikh Dini in March. The base’s opening comes as Somalia struggles with an insurgency by Al-Shabab. Somalia was in chaos after the fall of Somali President Siad Barre’s communist government in 1991; Al-Shabab emerged in 2006 out of the multiple factions contending for power in Barre’s absence.
With international support, Somalia has managed to regain control of major cities, and Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo vowed the new base would help restore the country’s beleaguered armed forces.

“The largest Turkish military base in the world is almost ready, and the Somali army will soon be strong once again,” he said in March, according to Turkey’s Daily Sabah.

Turkish Ambassador to Somalia Olgan Bekar clarified that the site was “not a military base like the one Turkey has in Qatar,” but “a military training camp,” according to a May interview with TRT World. He stressed that Turkey had “no colonialist policy in Somalia” and that Ankara’s intentions were to rebuild the country’s public institutions ruined during its civil war, its armed forces in particular.

A local security guard walks past the scene after an explosion outside Darishifa hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on August 4. NATO allies U.S. and Turkey have taken separate steps toward bolstering Somalia’s embattled military in its fight against Islamist militant group Al-Shabab. Feisal Omar/Reuters

The U.S. also stepped up its involvement in Somalia, with President Donald Trump in March giving the military wider clearance to coordinate with Somali forces and conduct operations. Thursday’s announcement of the camp’s opening coincided with reports that Africa Command had killed top Al-Shabab leader Ali Muhammad Hussein, known as Ali Jabal, in a “successful kinetic strike” Sunday in southern Somalia. After the news broke, at least two people were killed Friday in what appeared to be a car bombing in Mogadishu, according to the Associated Press.

Turkey’s decision to devote troops to Somalia comes after it sent additional forces to its Qatar military base in June. The tiny, oil-rich peninsula has been targeted by its neighbor, fellow Sunni Muslim monarchy Saudi Arabia, in an international boycott over allegations that Qatar has lent support to Sunni Muslim extremist groups and Shiite Muslim organizations with ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival. Despite Saudi Arabia’s efforts to isolate Qatar, Turkey went ahead with planned drills at the Tariq bin Ziyad military base and sent thousands of tons of food aid to the besieged country.

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