Africa

EXCLUSIVE: What Does The Future Hold For Somalia After British Troops Leave?

All this week we’ve been bringing you a series of exclusive reports from Somalia, where the UK military is helping to train African forces...

All this week we’ve been bringing you a series of exclusive reports from Somalia, where the UK military is helping to train African forces fighting Islamist militants.

Forces News reporter Simon Newton, and camera person Hannah King have been on the ground in Somalia, exploring just how the UK forces are helping to make a difference in this war-torn nation.

Over the past decade the Islamist group Al Shabaab has been pushed out of the capital Mogadishu and from other key towns by African Union Forces.

More than 20,000 of them remain in the country but possibly not for much longer.

Simon Newton in Somalia pt 4

While Al Shabaab were forced out of the capital six years ago they still terrorise its streets.

IEDs and suicide bombs are a favourite tactic for the extremist group.

Last month came their worst attack for a decade as more than 350 people killed by a huge truck bomb near a busy market.

Paratroopers are in Mogadishu protecting a small European Union training team as they visit various Government buildings.

One of their commanders is British officer Lt Col Mike Potter, who spoke about the reception they’d received from the Somalis:

"There are certain districts that you’ll go through, and people will wave and smile at you, and give you the thumbs up.

"Then there are other districts where people will totally ignore you. I think it just depends on people’s perceptions of you."

Simon Newton in Somalia pt 4

There’s no doubt that improving lives in the nation’s capital is a difficult task, but it is slowly happening.

The Ugandan liaison officer showed our reporters a scheme supplying a community with fresh water and toilet facilities - paid for by the UK Government.

The UK is funding a range of projects in Somalia - from schools to medical clinics - to try and stabilise the country and turn people away from Al Shabaab. 

As Sqn Ldr Gordon Blackley said, some of the schemes are simple but very effective:

"We put a football pitch down. That sounds like a crazy thing to do in a war zone.

"But there are two clans who have been fighting for 20 or 30 years, and the longest ceasefire they’ve had in that time is five days.

"They’re currently on day 25, and what they’re doing instead is playing football on the football pitch."

The other issue that has plagued Somalia is piracy.

Eight years ago, at its height, it was costing the shipping industry millions of dollars a year in ransoms.

Ugandan Marines are currently using patrol boats donated by the European Union to combat piracy, and the presence of EU forces, including the Royal Navy, have played a large part in reducing the incidence of piracy.

As a result, there’s been no successful pirate attacks off Somalia so far this year.

Simon Newton in Somalia pt 4

Somalia is undoubtedly far more secure that it was just a few years ago, and that’s largely due to the 20,000 African Union peacekeepers who are based there.

The African Union force reportedly costs around £680 million per year, and the bulk of it is paid for by the European Union.

Recently, however, a 20% budget cut has caused friction with the five African nations who contribute, and next month the first 1,000 soldiers will leave.

While AMSIOM says it will go by 2020, some believe the draw-down will have to be more phased, to give the Somali Army time to grow in capability.

The UK is building a military training centre in Baidoa, 180 miles from Mogadishu, to try and help that happen.

But the commander of British Forces Somalia, Col John Wakelin, says he understands the African Union’s frustrations:

“The situation is that AMSIOM have been here a long time. Somali progress has been very slow, and AMSIOM are frustrated.”

Inside the airport compound in Mogadishu, there’s an air of longevity about this mission.

The international community says it’s here for the long haul, to try and stabilise this war-ravaged nation and steer it away from violence.

With so-called Islamic State (IS) defeated militarily in the Middle East, it sees Africa as fertile territory for its brand of extremist ideology - and IS already has a presence in the north of the country.

After decades of instability, this most dangerous of countries is improving, but the real challenge now is to hold on to those gains and give the next generation of Somalis a better life.

Simon Newton in Somalia pt 4