3rd Dec 2020

EU agrees to train Somali forces

EU defence ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (17 November) backed a plan to train up to 2,000 Somali security forces in a bid to bring greater stability to the region.

Between 100-200 EU soldiers are likely to carry out the training in Uganda, although several member states queried who would pay and equip the Somali forces once training was complete.

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Uganda is the most likely training location as the country is currently the main contributor to the African Union's mission in Somalia.

"Today we have approved the concept," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana after the meeting of defense ministers, adding that further details would need to be agreed in the coming weeks.

The decision follows a request from the interim government in Mogadishu, whose forces are currently fighting Islamist insurgents. Somalia has been gripped by civil wars and insurgencies since the overthrow of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

World attention to the region has greatly picked up over the last year following an onslaught of pirate attacks on international vessels traveling in the waters off the Somali coast.

The EU is currently running an anti-pirate naval mission in the Gulf of Aden, a strip of water that separates Somalia from the Yemen, but security analysts say the real way to tackle the issue is on land.

The US is also concerned that Somalia could become a haven for training militants allied to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Spain has proposed to lead the new EU training mission, with a possible start date being the first half of next year under the Spanish presidency of the EU.

Madrid would run a mission headquarters in Brussels and take care of logistics, finance and infrastructure, with a number of EU member states indicating a willingness to lend troops.

The meeting of defence ministers also threw up a range of concerns, including the need to prevent the newly trained forces becoming a danger to Somali civilians in the future.

UK MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, security and defence spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists group, was critical of the agreement.

"If there is a need to train indigenous military and police forces the first priority is Afghanistan, where the response of the EU and many European countries has so far been hopeless," he said.

EU naval operation

The ministers also confirmed an extension to the EU's naval operation - "Atalanta" - until the end of 2010.

Atalanta currently patrols the waters off the Somali coast for pirates, who have pocketed millions of dollars in ransom money after hijacking ships ranging from small yachts to huge oil-tankers.

The pirates are currently estimated to be holding at least 13 vessels and more than 230 crew members hostage.

Despite the problems, the EU's naval force commander, Rear Admiral Peter Hudson, was congratulated by MEPs earlier this week when he addressed a joint meeting of the security sub-committee and transport and fisheries committees.

Mr Hudson told the meeting that no ships operating under EU escort had been successfully attacked by pirates, but added that all vessels should register before crossing the Gulf of Aden in order for them to be protected.

"This is an EU success story, one of the first operations of this kind. In the past year, you have done a great deal of remarkable work," centre-right MEP and security and defence sub-committee chair, Arnaud Danjean, said.

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