Throughout its history, Somalia has had to rely on foreign sources to equip and help maintain its military establishment. During the colonial period, Britain and Italy relied on military force to consolidate their respective positions in Somalia. These two nations then established and outfitted indigenous military units to help preserve internal security in their spheres of influence.
Shortly after independence, Somalia determined that its national interests required development of a 20,000-man army. Because of its weak economy, however, the Somali government rarely has been able purchase matériel outright. Instead, it has had to depend on donor countries whose assistance has been motivated by their own national interests. Somalia initially sought support from the United States. However, Washington argued that a 5,000-man army would be sufficient to maintain Mogadishu’s internal security. Somali leadership, determined to press its irredentist claims against neighbors in the Horn of Africa, therefore looked elsewhere for military assistance.
In 1962 the Soviet Union agreed to grant a US$32 million loan to modernize the Somali army, and expand it to 14,000 personnel. Moscow later increased the amount to US$55 million. The Soviet Union, seeking to counter United States influence in the Horn of Africa, made an unconditional loan and fixed a generous twenty- year repayment schedule.
During the rest of the 1960s, the Soviet Union provided Somalia with a substantial number of T-34 tanks, armored personnel carriers, MiG-15 and MiG-17 aircraft, small arms, and ammunition. Approximately 300 Soviet military advisers deployed to Somalia to train the army, and about 500 Somali pilots, officers, and technicians received training in the Soviet Union. Until Siad Barre seized power in 1969, Somalia’s Western orientation and small amounts of United States and West German aid to the Somali police force limited the impact of Soviet military assistance. After the coup, however, Siad Barre embraced scientific socialism and the Soviet Union became Somalia’s major supplier of military matériel.
Over the next eight years, the Somali-Soviet military relationship prospered. In 1972 Defense Minister Andrei Grechko visited Somalia and signed an agreement to improve and modernize the port of Berbera in return for Soviet access to the facility. The Soviet Union eventually built Berbera into a base that included a missile storage facility for the Soviet navy, an airfield with runways nearly 5,000 meters long and capable of handling large bombers, and extensive radar and communications facilities. Access to Berbera gave the Soviet Union a presence in the strategically important Indian Ocean-Persian Gulf region to counter United States military activities in the area. Berbera acquired additional importance when Egypt expelled all Soviet advisers in July 1972.
After signing the 1974 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Moscow, Mogadishu started taking delivery of numerous sophisticated weapon systems, including MiG-21 jet fighters, T-54 tanks, a SAM-2 missile defense system for Mogadishu, and modern torpedo and missile-armed fast attack and landing craft for the navy. Soviet military advisers increased in number to about 1,500, supplemented by approximately 50 Cubans. The Soviet Union also trained and organized the Somali army’s intelligence apparatus and the NSS. By the time Siad Barre terminated the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Moscow and expelled all Soviet advisers in 1977, about 2,400 Somali military personnel had undergone training in the Soviet Union and another 150 in Eastern Europe.
Somalia also relied on the Muslim world for military assistance. Somalia’s ideological ties with the Islamic world reinforced mutual interests shared with several Muslim states, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, and provided the basis for military cooperation. In the 1960s, Cairo trained the Somali army and navy.
During the Ogaden War, Egypt provided approximately US$30 million in military assistance to Siad Barre’s regime. After the conflict ended, Egypt supplied ammunition and spare parts for some of Somalia’s Soviet-made equipment, such as T-54/T-55 tanks and armored personnel carriers. After the 1982 renewal of hostilities between Somalia and Ethiopia, Egypt delivered T-54 and T-55 tanks, 37mm antiaircraft guns, and ammunition. Thereafter, Egypt furnished more spare parts for Somalia’s Soviet-made equipment, opened its military schools to Somali personnel, and, until the late 1980s, maintained a small military training team in Somalia.
Like Egypt, Saudi Arabia provided military assistance to Somalia in an effort to keep that country stable, conservative, and pro-Western. After Somalia joined the League of Arab States (Arab League) in 1974, Saudi Arabia, supported by Iran, tried to weaken the Somali-Soviet alliance by making a US$75 million aid package contingent on a reduction of Soviet activities in Somalia. When Siad Barre rejected this condition, Riyadh withdrew the offer. When Somalia broke with the Soviet Union in 1977, Saudi Arabia rewarded Somalia by paying for old stocks of Egyptian and Sudanese weapons, which were then sent to Mogadishu. Until Siad Barre’s downfall, Riyadh provided Mogadishu with a variety of weapons, including armored and reconnaissance vehicles, small arms, and ammunition. Additionally, Saudi Arabia trained SNA personnel.
Other Middle East states also supplied military assistance to Somalia. During the Ogaden War, for example, Iraq, Iran, and Jordan provided small arms and ammunition to the SNA. In 1982 Kuwait delivered forty Centurion tanks to Somalia. The United Arab Emirates and Oman equipped the SAF with Hawker Hunter fighters and Britten Norman Defender transports. Furthermore, funds from Islamic states enabled the acquisition of numerous weapons, the most notable of which was China’s F-6 fighter-bomber in 1981.
The United States and several West European countries refused to supply weapons to Somalia as long as that country remained close to the Soviet Union. Once it became clear that a rift had developed between Somalia and the Soviet Union because of the latter’s warming relations with Ethiopia, Washington adopted a new policy toward Siad Barre’s regime. On July 26, 1977, the Department of State announced that the United States, Britain, and France were prepared to provide arms to Somalia. Approximately one year later, however, Washington reversed itself because of Mogadishu’s decision to use military force to try to incorporate Ethiopia’s Ogaden region into Somalia. According to the United States and most West European countries, no military equipment would be transferred to Somalia until Mogadishu withdrew its forces from the Ogaden. Even after the SNA evacuated the Ogaden and Siad Barre promised to respect the boundaries of neighboring states, it was more than two years before the United States provided arms to Somalia.
The United States decision to begin a military assistance program in Somalia grew out of Washington’s desire to bolster its presence in the Indian Ocean-Persian Gulf region after Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, fell from power in 1979. In August 1980, Washington and Mogadishu signed an agreement whereby the former received access to Somali ports and airfields in Berbera, Mogadishu, and Chisimayu in exchange for providing US$40 million in defensive military equipment over the next two years. This equipment included three TPS-43 long-range air defense radars, twelve M-167 (towed) Vulcan 20mm air defense guns, and associated communications gear, spare parts, and training. The agreement did not become official until February 1981 because of insistence by the United States Congress on the verified withdrawal of Somali troops from the Ogaden.
Over the next few years, the United States increased its military assistance to Somalia. In 1982, for example, equipment sales and gifts amounted to US$14.3 million; on July 24 of that year, the United States responded to an Ethiopian attack on Somalia by providing the Siad Barre regime with antitank weapons, radars, air defense guns, small arms, and ammunition. In 1983 United States military aid totaled US$21.2 million; in 1984 US$24.3 million; in 1985 US$80 million, a large amount of which included air-transpor; table 155mm M-198s; in 1986 US$40 million; and in 1987 approximately US$37.1 million. For 1981-84 United States Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to Somalia included US$57.15 million in delivered matériel, US$60 million financed with a Department of Defense guarantee, and US$1.811 million in commercial exports. During this same period, the United States trained 126 Somali military personnel under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. The cost of the training came to more than US$2.31 million. Somalia also participated in the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) Operation Bright Star exercises.
After the SNM launched armed attacks in northern Somalia in late May 1988, the United States provided Somalia with US$1.4 million worth of military equipment, which consisted of 1,200 M16 automatic rifles and 2 million rounds of M16 ammunition, 300,000 rounds of 30-caliber ammunition, and 500,000 rounds of 50-caliber ammunition. Additionally, the Department of Defense donated US$1 million for a 220-bed hospital, which operated in Berbera to help victims of the conflict.
United States military aid to Somalia diminished significantly after it became clear that Siad Barre’s regime had committed human rights violations against civilian populations in northern Somalia. Nevertheless, according to official United States statements, the United States maintained a security assistance program in Somalia largely to protect its access to Somali air and port facilities; strengthen the Somalis’ ability to maintain military equipment of United States origin; encourage national reconciliation through greater concern for human rights and civil liberties, military restraint, and political accommodation with the opposition elements; and support private sector revitalization. Until Siad Barre’s downfall, United States military aid to Somalia consisted primarily of technical assistance and IMET training.
Starting in 1978, Italy furnished more military aid to Somalia than any other Western country. This aid included several large shipments of Fiat trucks, which formed the backbone of the SNA’s logistics system throughout the 1980s. Beginning in 1979, many Italian companies, assisted by government-subsidized export credits, supplied aircraft and training for SAF flight and ground crews. The aircraft included six SIAI-Marchetti SF-260W single- engine trainer/tactical support aircraft, four Aeritalia G-222 twin-engine transports, and two Piaggio 166 transports. Fiat also sold light tanks and armored cars to the SNA. By 1980 Italian exports to Somalia amounted to US$124 million. The following year, Italian foreign minister Emilio Colombo visited Mogadishu and signed a US$40 million aid package. Subsequently, Italy furnished an array of military equipment to Somalia, including armored vehicles, trucks, tanks, helicopters, small arms, and ammunition. In July 1983, Italy and Somalia signed an accord that provided for the training of Somali military personnel. In February 1985, the two countries concluded a new military assistance agreement. Apart from this cooperation, Italian naval ships regularly called at Mogadishu; in May 1986, for example, the frigates Scirocco and Grecale made a five-day visit to Somalia. In the late 1980s, Italy started rehabilitating the SNA’s M-47 tanks; however, deteriorating conditions throughout Somalia prevented the completion of this program. On July 11, 1990, citing delays in the democratization and national reconciliation processes, Italy announced the withdrawal from Somalia of its fifty-six army and air force advisers and instructors.
The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) specialized in aid to the Somali police and security services. Bonn also trained about sixty Somali Army Special Forces personnel and maintained a technical assistance mission with the police air wing to service the Dornier Do-28s. Until 1985 West Germany had delivered vehicles and radio communications equipment valued at 68 million deutsche marks (DM). For the 1985-87 period, West German aid amounted to DM12 million. Like other Western nations, Bonn curtailed its military assistance to Somalia after the armed forces started committing human rights violations against civilians.
Cooperation between Somalia and China started before the break between Mogadishu and Moscow. It was not until 1981, however, that Beijing emerged as a major arms supplier to Siad Barre’s regime. Thereafter, China supplied Somalia with an array of weaponry, including F-6 fighter-bombers in 1981, F-7 fighter- bombers in 1984, artillery, antiaircraft guns, rocket launchers, mortars, small arms, and ammunition. China also provided technical assistance to the Somali armed forces. On February 10, 1989, Somalia and China signed an agreement transferring Somalia’s territorial fishing rights to China in exchange for armament credits. Beijing continued to provide military assistance to Mogadishu until the downfall of Siad Barre’s regime.
Since the mid-1980s, there had been numerous unconfirmed reports of Somali-South African military cooperation. The relationship supposedly began on December 18, 1984, when South African foreign minister Roelof “Pik” Botha visited Somalia and conducted discussions with Siad Barre. The two leaders reportedly signed a secret communiqué granting South African Airways landing rights in Somalia and the South African navy access to the ports of Chisimayu and Berbera. It was said that Somalia also agreed to sell South Africa eight MiG-21 fighters. In exchange, South Africa reportedly promised to provide Somalia with Soviet-built equipment, including tanks, captured in Angola and Mozambique. South Africa supposedly arranged to ship spare parts and ammunition for the Hawker Hunter aircraft supplied to Somalia by the United Arab Emirates, and to be responsible for the salaries of ten former Rhodesian Air Force pilots who already were in Somalia helping to train Somali pilots and technicians and flying combat missions in the north. Despite Mogadishu’s repeated denials of a military link with Pretoria, rumors of a Somali- South African alliance continued to surface until the downfall of Siad Barre’s regime.
The outbreak of the SNM insurgency in mid-1988 and the drying-up of traditional sources of foreign military assistance persuaded Siad Barre to seek arms from Libya. On October 7, 1988, a Libyan Arab Airlines jet reportedly delivered nerve gas to Somalia. It was widely reported that Libya had acquired the chemical weapons from Iran. Mogadishu denied these charges. No evidence surfaced to confirm the existence of Libyan-supplied chemical weapons in Somalia. However, Tripoli supplied small amounts of conventional military weapons and ammunition to Siad Barre’s regime. By early 1989, it was evident that the Somali government’s strategy of using Libyan-supplied weapons to defeat the SNM and other insurgent groups had failed.