21st Century Asian Arms Race

Turkey Is Rebuilding The Somali Armed Forces

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Via Turkish media.

This week the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF) announced the arrival of new vehicles from its ally Turkey. The delivery consisted of eight BMC Kirpi mine-resistant/ambush protected trucks and 14 BMC 253-16P logistics trucks. Hundreds of Kirpi MRAPs are in service with the Turkish Army and these have seen extensive combat. Operators of the Kirpi include Libya and Turkmenistan. Ankara and Mogadishu spent much of the 2010s establishing a two-way alliance with mutually beneficial goals; for Turkey, it will secure a permanent foothold in the Horn of Africa, while Somalia’s government is able to consolidate its power. In 2017 the “TURKSOM” base outside Mogadishu opened its gates to Somali recruits and Turkey hopes to graduate 10,000 policemen and soldiers in this facility.

The arrival of Kirpi MRAPs are a huge boost for the SNAF whose fledgling numbers (less than 20,000 enlisted personnel) are ill-served by the imported pickup trucks that comprise its vehicular fleet. This is especially acute when up against the heavy weapons of Al Shabaab whose fighters are equipped the same as their opponents. While the long-term presence of AMISOM forces helps keep Al Shabaab in check the geography of Somalia is too challenging for multinational troops even if their numbers are boosted by the SNAF. With the diminishing presence of US special forces and very little open support from the EU, it’s not surprising the Ankara-Mogadishu alliance flourishes.

The Kirpi ranks among the heavier MRAPs manufactured today, its maximum weight reaching 25 tons. Its heft and size translate into a seating capacity for 15 people, two in the cab and 13 seated behind them. One passenger can operate a rooftop armament, whether it’s a machine gun in an armored cupola or a remote controlled weapon station. The assembly and mass-production of MRAPs in the Middle East is now widespread. Aside from Turkey private and state-owned companies from Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have their own locally made trucks. Turkey passed on a dozen Kirpi MRAPs to the SNAF in 2020 and when the eight new deliveries are added these total 20 vehicles. Kirpi MRAPs will allow SNAF troops to move deeper and farther when conducting operations outside their bases. The 14 logistics trucks accompanying the MRAPs included two fuel tankers.

The massive TURKSOM base paid for and run by the Turkish armed forces began training Somali recruits soon after it opened. It has graduated thousands of policemen and soldiers who are, not surprisingly, equipped like their Turkish counterparts. The opportunity to build a force reliant on Turkish weaponry and equipment is the understated aspect of the Ankara-Mogadishu alliance. This means non-commissioned officers who step out of TURKSOM are issued the MPT-76 battle rifle while regular Somali soldiers are still issued Chinese-made Type 56 assault rifles and other Kalashnikov variants donated by sponsors. Elite police units trained at TURKSOM are given different firearms–the Turkish HK G3 assault rifle and the MG3 machine gun, both manufactured by MKEK.

The MPT-76 is the first brand new NATO battle rifle (chambered for 7.62x51mm ammunition) to enter mass-production in 30 years. The complete weapon is assembled by the state-owned MKEK and Sarsilmaz, a well-known Turkish gun maker known for its small arms, and incorporates features of American AR-pattern rifles. These include a milled lower receiver and extensive rail mounts on the housing for its barrel assembly. Unlike the earlier generation of battle rifles issued to the Turkish armed forces the MPT-76 was carefully designed from an ergonomic standpoint. It comes with a sturdy adjustable stock and a detachable foregrip with an integrated bipod. Each of its polymer magazines holds 20 rounds. Variants of the MPT-76 include an underbarrel grenade launcher and a marksman rifle.

The success of the Ankara-Mogadishu alliance is far from guaranteed. Aside from its fragile internal security and the threat of terrorism Somalia’s emergence as a viable state remains a work-in-progress throughout the 2020s. There are risks to its cohesion as a federal republic and extra-territorial challenges in its maritime exclusive economic zone. How far Turkey’s assistance goes depends on the opportunities it can secure from its chosen partner. As for the SNAF, the influx of Turkish-made weapons and equipment are a welcome alternative to its battered Chinese-made arsenal, and should its composition evolve over time then the amount of Turkish military products it adopts can change too.

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