Military Advisors in Somalia: A Case of Déjà Vu?

May 09, 2015



  Words by Bridget Foster.

This past weekend, several news outlets reported that the Department of Defense had dispatched a group of military advisors to Somalia in response to the Somali security forces’ continued struggle with the Islamist group, al-Shabab, which allegedly has ties to al-Qaeda. No US soldiers have been stationed on the ground in Somalia since the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993.

Military Advisors in Somalia: A Case of Déjà Vu?

Michael Durant's helicopter (Super64) heading out over Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. Super64 was the second helicopter to crash on the Battle of Mogadishu. Ranger Mike Goodale rode on this helicopter before the battle erupted

Reports place the number of advisors from “fewer than two dozen” (Washington Post) to a “three-man advisor detachment” (LA Times) to “less than five” (ABC News).  Colonel Tom Davis, the Director of Public Affairs for US AFRICOM, which oversees military operations in the Horn of Africa, released a statement describing the group as a “military coordination cell in Somalia to provide planning and advisory support to the African Union and Somali security forces to increase their capabilities and promote peace and security throughout Somalia and the region.”

An unnamed official with the Department of Defense called the group a “small team of advisors [who] are not combat troops but are serving in Mogadishu as planners, communicators and advisors between the African Union [troops] and the Somali government” (ABC News). The group began arriving in Mogadishu in October 2013 and set up full operations at the Somali capital’s airport in December.

Military Advisors in Somalia: A Case of Déjà Vu?

A long shot of an abandoned MOGADISHU Street known as the "Green Line". Foliage has grown up along the sidewalk on both sides of the street. An abandoned, burned out car is seen in the center of the frame. The street is the dividing line between North and South MOGADISHU, and the warring clans.

The deployment of this unknown number of advisors coincided with an October statement by the Pentagon’s top policy official for Africa. Appearing before Congress, Amanda Dory remarked (without going into detail) that the military would “increase our presence in Mogadishu in tandem with the State Department” (Washington Post). Though the US has not reopened its embassy in Mogadishu, State Department officials have made many trips to the capital in recent years.

Outside of Mogadishu, the Somali security forces, with the support of over 17,000 African Union troops, have not been very successful at beating back al-Shabab, which officials attribute to a shortage of equipment like attack helicopters, armored vehicles and “timely intelligence.” No statement was provided regarding American intent to make up that shortage or take a more direct role in asserting control over the region.

Military Advisors in Somalia: A Case of Déjà Vu?

The crew of Super 64 a month before the Battle of Mogadishu. From left: Winn Mahuron, Tommy Field, Bill Cleveland, Ray Frank and Mike Durant.

According to the LA Times, a senior official with the Department of Defense said that this move had been in the works for some time and that the US was “hoping to expand [the advisor presence] in the coming year.”

Does this mean that US troops could find themselves back in Somalia? One has to wonder, particularly when this same unnamed official says that “eventually troops will be on six-month rotations, deploying from [our] base in nearby Djibouti” (LA Times).

The question that begs to be answered is WHY? Our previous presence in Somalia has not resulted in stability in the region, much like the current situation in Iraq and most likely what will happen once we start our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Why put American lives at risk again?

Military advisors…does the name Viet Nam ring in your ears when you hear those words?