When I wrote Task Force Desperate, I made some predictions that haven’t quite panned out (and this is not necessarily a bad thing). I expected the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime in Egypt to last a lot longer than it did. And only a year or so after the book came out, it was looking like Al Shabaab was well and truly on the rocks.
As the article points out, Western powers pay for most of Somalia’s armed forces, and the EU pays AMISOM a fair piece too. This is an issue we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, too. We sink a lot of money into dysfunctional local militaries, probably a lot of that money gets skimmed off the top in local tribal graft, the troops are rather less than the highest quality, mostly joining up for the paycheck. When the paycheck no longer becomes worth the risk, they stop being effective fighters, especially when faced with ideological true believers like Islamists.
What’s the solution? There are a couple of possibilities. Training local forces is Special Forces’ primary mission. MARSOC has tried its hand at FID (Foreign Internal Defense) as well. But for it to be done right, it has to be done within the cultural context of the locals, not through a Western lens. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of “cultural sensitivity” that SFC Martland came up against. I’m talking about getting down to understanding what’s going to make the locals effective warriors, and doing that. It’s probably going to be dirty and distasteful, but it’s the cost of doing business. A couple of examples might be beatings for infractions or the execution of deserters. Discipline isn’t built through paperwork, especially not in a culture where paperwork is either nonexistent or the tool of tribal bureaucracy intended to enrich the tribe in power by robbing everyone else.
The other option would be PMCs. Most PMCs these days are what Sean McFate calls “military enterprisers,” essentially trainers for hire. “Mercenaries” are armies for hire. Think Executive Outcomes or the Free Companies of the Thirty Years War. It would be possible to build a force of “military enterprisers” to function for hire in the role that SF or MARSOC would, but without as much political oversight, and therefore a freer hand in getting results. Same thing with an offensive, mercenary PMC. It worked in Sierra Leone. 180 South Africans destroyed the RUF in a year, where 17,000 UN peacekeepers had failed.
In the short run, however, Islamism appears to be on the rebound in East Africa, much like it has been elsewhere. How and why is complex (while the US’ foreign policy of recent years doubtless has an impact, it is only one factor of many). The defeat of any enemy is a long, arduous process, and this kind of dispersed, franchised, tribalistic enemy is going to be longer than most.