The United States is suspending food and fuel aid for most of Somalia’s armed forces over corruption concerns, a blow to the military as African peacekeepers start to withdraw this month.
African Union (AU) troops landed in Mogadishu a decade ago to fight the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab group and Somali forces are supposed to eventually take over their duties.
But the US, which also funds the 22,000-strong peacekeeping force, has grown frustrated that successive governments have failed to build a viable national army.
Diplomats worry that without strong Somali forces, Al-Shabaab could be reinvigorated, destabilise the region and offer a safe haven to other Al-Qaeda-linked militants or Daesh fighters.
The US suspension of aid came after the Somali military repeatedly failed to account for food and fuel, according to private correspondence between the American and Somali governments seen by Reuters.
“During recent discussions between the United States and the Federal Government of Somalia, both sides agreed that the Somali National Army had failed to meet the standards for accountability for US assistance,” a State Department official told Reuters last week, on condition of anonymity.
“We are adjusting US assistance to SNA units, with the exception of units receiving some form of mentorship, to ensure that US assistance is being used effectively and for its intended purpose,” the official said.
The US suspension comes at a sensitive time. The AU force – with troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda – is scheduled to leave by 2020. The first 1,000 soldiers will go by the end of 2017.
The State Department official said Washington would continue to support small, Somali special forces units mentored by US personnel and would work with the Somali government to agree criteria that could restore support to other units.
“It is true that some concerns have been raised on how support was utilised and distributed. The federal government is working to address these,” Somali Minister of Defence Mohamed Mursal told Reuters.
The US also suspended a programme paying soldiers $100 monthly stipends in June after the federal government refused to share responsibility for receiving the payments with regional forces fighting Al-Shabaab.
Washington has spent $66 million on stipends over the past seven years but has halted the programme several times, concerned the money was not going to frontline soldiers.