Somalia detains U.S.-trained commandos over theft of rations

By Thomson Reuters Apr 26, 2024 | 1:55 AM

By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somalia’s government said it had suspended and detained several members of an elite, U.S.-trained commando unit for stealing rations donated by the United States, adding that it was taking over responsibility for provisioning the force.

The Danab unit has been a key pillar of U.S.-backed efforts to combat the al Qaeda-linked militant group al Shabaab. The United States agreed in February to spend more than $100 million to build up to five military bases for Danab.

Somalia’s defence ministry said in a statement late on Thursday that it had notified international partners of the theft and would share the outcome of its investigation.

A U.S. official said in a statement to Reuters that Washington takes seriously all accusations of corruption.

“We look forward to engaging with the Danab on creating the necessary safeguards and accountability measures to prevent future incidents that could affect future assistance,” the official said, without directly addressing whether any U.S. support had already been suspended.

The United States agreed in 2017 to help train and equip the 3,000-strong Danab to act as a quick reaction strike force against al Shabaab. The group has been waging an insurgency against the central government since 2006.

Danab has been heavily involved in a military offensive by the Somali military and allied clan militias since 2022 that initially succeeded in wresting swathes of territory from al Shabaab in central Somalia.

However, the campaign has lost momentum, with the government-allied forces struggling to hold rural areas and al Shabaab continuing to stage large-scale attacks, including in the capital Mogadishu.

Washington suspended some defence assistance to Somalia in 2017 after the military was unable to account for food and fuel.

The United States also conducts frequent drone strikes targeting al Shabaab militants.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Ross and Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Hereward Holland and Miral Fahmy)