What does Turkey’s new base in Somalia signify?

Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and the Chief of the Turkish military, General Hulusi Akar, in Uniform, along with Turkish Ambassador to Somalia, Olgan Bekar, jointly cut the ribbon for the inauguration of Turkey’s largest foreign military base in

Turkey’s largest military base overseas is now operational in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.

The base will especially serve as a military academy, and some 200 Turkish soldiers deployed there will primarily have the duty to effectively form the Somali army. The purpose is to reinforce the latter’s defense and combat capabilities, and at first sight, this is not related to Turkey’s immediate security concerns.

Somalia has been practically at war since 1988 when the country became the scene for not only a civil war, but also for a regional conflict involving Ethiopia and Chad. Then, it became the scene for an international intervention led by the United States and backed by the U.N.

The strategic reason behind the intervention was that Washington didn’t want radical religious currents to seize power in the country that lies along one of the busiest international shipping routes. Yet, the intervention just added to the ongoing chaos.

Right after the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, the U.S. closed its embassy in Mogadishu and pulled all its diplomats back, only to return to the country the next year, but this time with military troops.
Divergent armed groups in Somalia then came together to fight against the common enemy, namely the U.S. The battles were particularly fierce, and public opinions didn’t forget the images of American soldiers being dragged through the streets in 1993, the incident depicted in “Black Hawk Down.”

As it became obvious that the U.S. military would not be able to stabilize the country anytime soon, Washington decided to put an end to the operation in 1994 and waited until 2014 to reopen its embassy. Since then, the U.S. has been cooperating with Somalia’s government to fight against the al-Shabaab militant group.

U.S. interventions in different parts of the world have often made the existing problems more complicated, and Somalia is no exception. Foreign interventions make conflicts harder to be dealt with through local procedures, as it turns a local or regional conflict into an international issue where conflicting interests of great powers clash with one another.

What Turkey is trying to do in Somalia now is to accomplish, as an American ally, what the U.S. couldn’t manage until now. Turkey will assist Somalia to build a functioning national army capable of taking on the fight against al-Shabaab terrorists. One must not forget, however, that Turkey is acting in the Horn of Africa in total coordination with the U.S. and NATO.

Maybe this is a good answer to those who claim that Turkey is drifting apart from the West and is getting too close to the Russia-Iran axis. First, it is not true that Russia and Iran constitute a solid block that only thinks about weakening the West. Second, the “West” is not a monolithic bloc, either. As a matter of fact, Iran is willing to heal its relations with the U.S., and Russian President Vladimir Putin has very friendly relations with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.

Moreover, relations between states are far from being linear; the U.S. doesn’t hesitate to transfer Russian weapons to the PKK-affiliated Syrian terrorist group of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), while France is acting along with Turkey to deal with the northern Iraqi crisis, for example. In brief, everyone is able to cooperate with everyone else if that serves their interests in a given matter.

The debate about “where Turkey belongs” is therefore meaningless in today’s world; we don’t live under Cold War conditions where everybody had to pick a side and stick to it. After all, maybe the claims about Turkey’s place in the international system are only an instrument used to keep Turkey away from the European Union.

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