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A Proposal for Security-Sector Program Development in Somalia: Weaponizing Moral Authority

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A Proposal for Security-Sector Program Development in Somalia: Weaponizing Moral Authority

Doyle Quiggle

In his Summary of Recommendations on the Way Forward on a Somali National Security Architecture, the Somali Secretary of Defense (in 2017) laments that, despite the best efforts of the U.S. Government, the Somali National Army remains an incoherent, militia-style force, loyal to clan and region and not to nation, with little will to defend its citizens from violent extremists.[i]

Somali regional analysts can remember the properly trained and equipped, well-disciplined and well-paid professional, even proudly nationalistic Somali military of the Said Barre regime. Former commanders of the Somali National Army, such as General Adaad and General Samatar, among many others, can recall the days when Somalia’s army was the gem of Africa, an era when the SNA was admired by and even trained other regional military forces, such as Uganda's. Those Somali commanders and other regional experts can also recall the exact turning point when the SNA witnessed its first mass defectors: The 1977 Ogaden War with Ethiopia. Many commanders and rank & file soldiers were outraged and alienated by Barre's invasion of Ethiopia, a war that had Somali soldiers shooting to kill their own clan members on the other side of the border. AFRICOM trainers of the SNA today appear to be completely oblivious to the Somali past.

Recall, defectors from Barre's SNA became bandits roaming the streets. Loyalty to the national military dwindled to nothing when he reduced and withheld pay, especially when he failed to provide health care for those who'd been injured in military service.  Rank & file soldiers began to feel disrespected and discarded. With no health care, no salary, no pension, many Soldiers, even those at upper echelons, began to ask themselves: “Why should we die for this”? All they had left to support them, if they were lucky, was a clan, so most of these former national soldiers reverted to clan loyalty, many eventually transmogrifying into warlords of their clans.

Even Barre himself reverted to clan loyalty, as Lidwien Kapteijns reminds us in an unusually honest historical account of Somalia's reversion to the shatterlands of resurgent clannism:

Meanwhile the army became a less secure political resource for Barre, as he had responded to military criticism of the political handling of the war with summary executions of a large number (100 or more) of officers. In response to the military coup of 1978, the army was purged further. From then on out (but especially in the mid- and late 1980s), Barre strengthened those security forces that were immediately dependent on him (such as the Red Berets or Presidential Guard) and tried to assure his control of the army through hasty promotion of men of his own clan background. (page 78) [ii]

Since the end of the Barre era, no Somali leader or group of leaders has managed to de-clan the Somali National Army, which is why it remains dysfunctional today. And we have more than enough reason to suspect that current leadership in Somalia is, so to speak, pulling a Barre on us: Assuring their control of the army through promotion and preference of men of their own clan backgrounds. Does AFRICOM have any viable means by which to prevent current Somali leaders from favoring its clans within the tenuous SNA? I strongly suspect it does not. Resurgent clannism will undermine our efforts to professionalize the SNA, and stabilize the region, because we do not understand the dynamics of resurgent clannism. Once again, in Somalia, we are putting the cart of military training before the horse of cultural cunning.

At the beginning of US training operations with the SNA last year, a Somali Commander posed an interesting question: “In 1969 the Russians built the Somali Army. Will the U.S. do so in 2017?” He was coyly asking US Commanders whether today's United States military can do better for Somalia than did the Soviet army. One year later, the Somali Commander has reason for seriously doubting we can or will do better than the Red Army.  What has AFRICOM achieved in Somalia after a year of training programs other than park a few of its vehicles in Mogadishu, where they're targets for Al Shabab's suicide bombers? Logistical build up does not and will not bring about the integration or professionalization of the SNA. We made the grave mistake of parking and sitting in Afghanistan. Why are we repeating it in Somalia?

It should be a matter of common military sense that, before we can even begin to conceptualize and develop training methods appropriate to Somalia, we first need to understand the honor-shame dynamics of Somali clans. Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, we do not understand these dynamics. Without an emic understanding of these dynamics, our training programs do not stand any chance of relieving Somali recruits of the conflicted loyalties that have chronically undermined their commitment to a national army. In addition to understanding clan realities, we need to build authentic, lasting trust relationships within and across Somali clans. 

Regional military experts have long agreed on the factors that undermine the cohesion and coherence of the SNA. AFRICOM leadership are aware of these factors. Experts typically view corruption as the darkest force blocking the SNA from evolving into a representative, regionally inclusive, national security force. [iii]  As a Commander of the SNA stated recently, "One cannot look at the army in isolation. A well-developed system of justice must be present. Without justice and effective governance to curb corruption, accountability will be lacking." What he's openly concerned about here is the tendency of SNA soldiers and commanders to place their loyalty to clan above their loyalty to nation. He longs for a system of national justice to replace the clan justice to which Somalis have been subjugated since the fall of the Soviet Union. 

(I will note right now in passing the two primary geological complications that make the stabilization of Somalia of immediate international concern: Recent discovery of high-quality, cheap-to-get-at rare earths deposited under the parsimonious red earth upon which traditionally migratory clans graze their cattle and goats; recent confirmation of billions of barrels of petroleum awaiting Exxon's (or another energy colossus's) rigs directly off the Somali coast. [iv]  The need for a stable, reliable, professional Somali army in the context of strategic resources is so obvious it needn't be stated.[v])

Regional experts have long agreed that Somalia is best served by a national army, regionally deployed, and interfacing with regional police forces. It's only too obvious to these experts that, in order to mitigate the cultural pull of clan and sub-clan issues, a sense of national pride must be instilled in soldiers to unify the SNA. Pride of station comes, in part, from being treated with equality, especially being paid on time, every time. The Somali soldier who stands with empty pockets for extended periods of time while foreign troops receive soldier pay will not remain committed to the cause of national security. Paying one's army is a no-brainer. But clan loyalty is not the only issue.

During the prior FGS administration, it is well-known that ranking members of Al Shabab were invited to replace senior command positions held by legitimate and loyal Somali military professionals. Similar imbeds infiltrated all levels of the National Intelligence Services of Somalia, where they remain in place today. Has AFRICOM/JSOC corrected its training methods to account for that fact? Because trust runs in both directions, most regional security experts advise the Ministry of Defense to conduct a full military personnel assessment on the SNA to weed out potential security risks. This recommendation to track SNA personnel is also generally made by Somali experts, a no-brainer.

Regional experts agree: It's essential to establish a database of SNA personnel, verify, and properly register each soldier, biometrically and otherwise, and issue proper military credentials that are required to remain with them at all times. (The add-on benefit of a verified registry of SNA personnel is to facilitate e-payment of wages on a regular and recurring basis, always remembering that he who pays the army, has an army.) Again, this, too, is something that regional experts have long recommended. Another no-brainer.

And, while many regional experts have managed to draw US attention to the unrepresentative, ineffective, unprofessional nature of the SNA, they typically can not reveal the specific sources of the imbalances relating to community representation, clan, and loyalties in the SNA and Somali police forces. They cannot locate the specific personalities involved because far too few regional analysts have won any trust whatsoever among Somali clans, let alone among key moral authorities within these clans. Our best solution, so far, to the Al Shabab threat is the now notoriously non-surgical drone strike. The "mowing-the-grass" approach is the best we can come up with?

If the solutions to the professionalization of the SNA are all no-brainers about which regional experts do not debate, then why does the SNA remain, even despite intensive US-led efforts over the past year, non-cohesive and ineffectual?  When waging small wars and building small armies, the devil is always in the detail of local moral authority.[vi] In Somalia, that means authorities who command the respect not only of their fellow clan members but also of the members of rival clans. Do these trans-clan authorities even exist anymore in Somalia?

Nothing would be more instructive to our specific efforts to train the SNA or generally to the goal of realigning the SNA to achieve the desired outcomes of the Somalia Government, regional governments, and the U.S. Government than to gather an assessment of the SNA and of related Somali security issues from the Somalis themselves. How do Somalis view their own security and related issues? How do they really view US-led security efforts versus those lead by other countries or entities, like Al Shabab?  What do they view as a security issue? How do they define their own security? Does that definition reach beyond clan affiliation to embrace national issues? And so forth... . However, sending in so-called Human Terrain social scientists to conduct questionnaires of local clans is not trust building. Social science questionnaires are notoriously unreliable. Among most serious social scientists, questionnaires do not count as legitimately gathered, interpretable data. They are the scientific equivalent of a painting by Monet. Because these "studies" lack longitude (commitment to their subject over time), their value to an intelligence assessment is severely limited.  Social scientists show up at a village, ask a few questions via an interpreter, and then leave. Again, this is not trust building. In Somalia, the question-and-depart approach is likely to provoke deep distrust of anyone associated with the questioners, making it that much more difficult for genuine VSO operators to win trust at the clan level.[vii]    

The Somali Commander who coyly challenged us to do better than the Red Army knows that, in order to professionalize the SNA, we first need to know how many Somalis are truly eager to engage with a U.S.-sponsored initiative to bring a professional military back to Somalia.  Somalia has been a resurgent clan society since the early 1990s.

The U.S. and the international community claim that they are intent on having a Somali state that is a reliable international partner whose security challenges, if overcome, might potentially have far reaching positive influences upon regional, international and U.S. national security.[viii] Yet, for the past two decades, AFRICOM and JSOC have failed to win the local cultural trust that should be enabling us to help the SNA to become an integrated national professional army. Because most regional cultural and security experts agree that the solutions to the SNA problem are no-brainers, I must conclude that it has been our inability (or unwillingness) to cultivate enduring trust relationships on-the-ground among the clans in Somalia that is to blame for our on-going failure to integrate and professionalize the SNA and, thereby, to stabilize Somalia and the Red Sea rim.    

No US entity on the ground in Somali has won the enduring trust among local Somali partners that would be needed to implement even one of these well-agreed-upon, no-brainer solutions. The biggest obstacle to US-led anything in Somalia is our woeful lack of trust capital. And where we lack this trust capital, the Chinese and the Arabs have been fast accruing it. (This should worry Exxon.)

Military trainers have long known that we need on-the-ground capabilities that can build bridges between and among the clans and the SNA. Yet, we have failed to cultivate trust partnerships among local clans and communities that would enable us to field any sort of VSO capability (a Somali-specific VSO). Indeed, we do not even enjoy much trust capital among key leaders and policymakers within the SNA and Somali security sectors. Never mind, for now, whether the blame for our woeful lack of trust capital in Somalia should go to State Department or the Pentagon.

Without continuous analysis of Somalia that is derived directly from trusted and trusting Somali sources, no purported expert on the region can make any responsible recommendation for improvement of U.S. programming, specifically with regard to realignment of U.S. support from Mogadishu and the immediate environs to SNA forces operating in other regions.  Without Somali trust partners on the ground in all regions and in all clans, regional experts cannot regularly travel to the Government, let alone to any of the conflict-ridden regions in Somalia to evaluate local Somali views of the SNA, Somali police, US-led programs, nor anything else. How can we possibly build the SNA into a professional army without an extensive, detailed, local Somali-level evaluation of their own security forces? Yet, how can we possibly gain those perspectives unless we've already formed VSO-level trust relationships? That should have been a no-brainer and should have been understood as a necessary precondition for achieving any of our other purported goals regarding the SNA and Somali stability. [ix] Of all of the many military capacities the United States can field today, only the VSO (irregular warfare) stands any chance of gaining any access to the clan realities of today's Somalis. [x]

The primary technical obstacle to winning Somali trust on Somali security issues, the obstacle to VSOs that must be overcome before all other technical issues can be solved, is access, access to viciously hostile, militia-controlled regions, access to inhospitable communities, access to clan realities and mentalities and moralities that appear intractably irrational to outsiders. What US State and DoD have long required but failed to achieve in Somalia is unique access to all levels of Somali society, in all regions, clans, and moral communities, including violent extremists. The failure of access is a failure of trust. Those failures will continue to undermine our efforts to train the SNA into a national army.[xi]

On the ground in East Africa for over two decades, AFRICOM has somehow failed to amass face-to-face knowledge of regional dynamics, clan loyalties/honor-shame systems, the pathology of Somali conflict, and even key political personalities outside of Mogadishu. Neither State nor DoD have managed to win durable relationships within Somali communities, defend those relationships, let alone validate the trust that local leaders, many who command the only moral authority capable of crossing clan boundaries, may have placed in remote and largely isolated US-directed efforts in Somalia. Where's the shoulder-to-shoulder trust-network that should have been built over the past two decades of AFRICOM involvement in East Africa? What sources and symbols of American continuity of commitment to this region inspire trust in the Somalis? A bunch of AFRICOM trucks parked in Mogadishu does not inspire trust. AFRICOM's logistical makes no sense, neither tactical nor strategic, if Al Shabab, and/or disgruntled clans are ready to concoct IEDs to blow up the vehicles we or the SNA send down newly paved roads, which is exactly what we've witnessed in Somalia over the past six months.

US Security experts in this region should have been establishing a trust network reaching from the Gulf of Aden to Kenya and spidering throughout all regions and into all communities of Somalia. This network should have been keeping US forces informed about relations between local communities and the SFG, state authorities, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and any other emergent groups. They should also have been providing profiles of all security forces throughout the region, including indigenous responses to US military and civil operations. If we'd been cultivating Somali trust partners over the past two decades, we'd already have identified viable opportunities to employ security-sector assistance in support not only of training the SNA but also in support of community stabilization operations in Somalia.[xii] But we have failed to locate and promote clan-level trust partners. We haven't even thought about trying the VSO approach in Somalia, because, as I suspect, we have accrued no trust capital on the ground.  

These trust partners I'm imagining would not only keep us apprised of clan composition; they would also give us direct access to the clans themselves. AFRICOM/JSOC should be developing a unique access capacity to allow it to monitor the internal dynamics of clans. We need a ground-level optic upon the many obstacles (especially cultural) to integrating the Somali National Army, one that would allow AFRICOM/JSOC leadership to see those obstacles as Somalis themselves see them. From these trust partners, we should be regularly garnering native-derived solutions for professionalizing the SNA and for improving its relationship to civil-sector operations, identifying, for example, which members of the current SNA are covertly operating for Al Shabaab and other swiftly emergent entities that are hostile to the SNA and AFRICOM.   

Two decades of direct experience of the severe physical terrain in which the Somali National Army is being trained should have taught us much more about the cultural and mental terrain in which Somali soldiers think and feel, much more about the mental terrain in which Somali clan dynamics thrive, the stubborn and irreducible sources of conflict in Somalia.[xiii] Commanders who purport to be experts on Somalia should have been promoting, from the ground level and working shoulder-to-shoulder with indigenous communities, tribal engagement, village stability operations, foreign military training, security-sector governance reform, development planning, banking and financial restructuring in Somalia. Does AFRICOM or State field any capabilities on the ground in Somalia that have engaged and won the trust relationships within and across Somalia's most intractable and inaccessible conflict communities, the precondition to achieving any one of the security goals?  (Given unit rotation rates in AFRICOM, it is simply not possible for AFRICOM to build trust: Trust requires continuity and consistency in the relationship, movement together in the same space at the same time.) 

The past four decades of Somali history should have taught us that the failure to perceive the generative sources of conflict in Somalia condemns analyst, operator, and trainer alike to alienation from the primary psychological, social, economic, and security realities of this region; ergo, intervention that is culturally ignorant is likely to exacerbate clan hostilities.  Alienation from the realities of Somali social dynamics (clan blindness) will lead, in turn, to fatal operational consequences (as it so frequently has) and continue to undermine efforts to professionalize and integrate the SNA. Moreover, without a vast, reliable network of on-the-ground trust partners, we will continue to be blind to the unique clan dynamics and moral and symbolic drivers of Somali conflict. 

We need to listen more attentively to the few trust partners we do have in Somalia. The Somali Minister of Defense, H.E. Abdirashid Abdullahi Mohamed or Mohamed Xagaa, Commander of Integration of Somali Forces. They repeatedly tell us that, if we want to effectively integrate all clan groups into the SNA, we must first see the emotional dynamics of Somali clan life for what it is, accept it, no matter how ugly it might be, and then engage it on its own terms. For decades, AFRICOM has failed to study these clan dynamics in situ. A few stringers and one or two ratlines are simply not enough. We need effective VSOs throughout the country.

Where we have studied the pathology of violent extremism in other regions in Africa and Afghanistan, we have seen that its elimination requires an integrative "oncological" approach. We must kill feeder cells before we go after the main tumor.  Paramount to an integrative approach in Somalia (building the SNA and defeating Al Shabab) is co-opting and weaponizing local moral authority.  Why moral authority?

All armies are, first and foremost, moral constructs. And Somalis tend to be caught between loyalty to two highly conflicting moralities, clan morality/justice and national morality/jurisprudence. Only respected local moral authorities can resolve this conflict of loyalties for young Somali SNA recruits.

As we have learned from our best VSOs in Afghanistan, only local moral authorities can speak to and mobilize the loyalties of local youth. Somali males of war-fighting are responsive to symbols that not only activate but structure their innate Somali warrior psychology. These symbols are inextricably clan specific. For example, clan honor-shame codes, a major source of clan-on-clan conflict, cannot be abstracted from their past economics of honor debt. (Payback for insults to honor.) Honor-shame clans, even rival clans, are mutually committed to the same network of invisible loyalties to past honor debts. That is what really holds Somalis together, not as a nation loyal and committed to a constitution (a union of words), but as overlapping clan loyal and committed to honor-shame compulsions (a union of affection).[xiv]

Why hasn't AFRICOM or JSOC spent the past two decades making those invisible clan loyalties and clan "debt/blood ledgers" visible for leveraging?

As the Somali commander noted, to operate effectively, let alone establish lasting communal stability in any part of this region, we must first see the pathology of conflict in this region for what it is, accept it, no matter how ugly it might be, and then attack its sources.

Weaponizing Moral Authority

Any strategy of stability for Somalia will require us to co-opt local moral authority

As the CIA reports, almost forty-five percent of all Somalis are under the age of 15. Somalia is a teenager state. Most teen-aged Somali males grow up without any morally coherent parental guidance or any true parenting at all.  However, because of the strong clan affiliations they inherited at birth, these young men remain compelled, at the neurological, cognitive, psychological, and cultural levels, to find a way to enact their primary collective archetype of male identity: The honorable warrior. Ignoring or thwarting (under-educating) this archetype in Somali males does not solve the problem of Somali clan-on-clan violence.  

Typical NGO donor solutions to the pathology of conflict in this region have failed because they approach the problem from outside a tribal/clan paradigm and are highly prejudiced against any warrior archetype, be it Somali or US SF. Instead of educating the innate warrior impulses of clan-born Somali males, NGO donors have typically ignored or sought to pacify those impulses. In so doing, they leave teenaged males highly vulnerable to the ploys of extremist recruiters who ingeniously put themselves forward as the sagacious elder warrior for which many of these young men have been seeking all their lives. We should not be surprised by the fact that so many Somali teenagers fall for this trick. We should be surprised that so many haven't. Therein lies the cognitive warfare space within which we must be operating. We must locate trust partners in each clan who represent the few remaining moral authorities and moral leaders who command respect from young Somali males. And we must help them educate the warrior archetype in Somali males so that it can serve the SNA without conflicts of loyalty.

For example, the young men who compose the SNA have not been properly educated in the warrior arts by traditional clan elders. In fact, Al Shabaab leadership have adopted the tactics of cognitive warfare that Abu Bakr Naji delineates in "The Management of Savagery," wherein AS seek to cause so much confusion and psychic pain in the young males of target populations that these young men eventually beg for extremist leadership to relieve them of it. AS have been deliberately targeting and confusing the traditional warrior identities of Somali clan males so that these men will be cognitively vulnerable to the ploys of AS leadership. AS are effectively destroying the Somali warrior identity at the clan level so that they can remake it at the level of both regional and international terrorism. Our ability to perceive the perniciousness of AS cognitive warfare (let alone neutralize it) is radically dependent upon on-the-ground trust relationships with indigenous moral authorities. Because AFRICOM (along with other US assets in the region) have failed to secure high-quality relationships with key Somali moral authorities, we can not understand how these dynamics work.

The result: Where AS have been causing great cognitive pain (conflicted loyalties relieved by becoming a "warrior") and have built an army of extremist savages, we should be building trust networks at the clan-level to create professional warriors. Because we've failed to achieve an emic perspective on Somali security issues, largely because we've failed to get beyond Mogadishu into the outlying region, the precondition for neutralizing AS cognitive disruption of our efforts to integrate the SNA, we are failing Somalis generally. 

To iterate: Born into an honor-shame society, a Somali male is expected from the git-go to negotiate a very complicated network of unpaid, unsettled debts. This honor-debt system binds together all Somali clans. It is both source and driver of pathological violence. The trans-clannic debt ledger itself is what we should be immediately figuring out how to leverage as a tool for building the SNA into a regionally integrated, professional army. 

In Somalia, loyalty must be understood not only as loyalty to the clan’s specific honor code, but as loyalty to the whole debt system that binds competing clans. All clan groups in the system (even those blood feuding) are enchanted by the same network of invisible loyalties. This is a kind of meta-loyalty system.  Loyalty to the debt system of honor itself is what AFRICOM's culture experts should have been tracking through its Somali partners. Although maps of clans are useful (DNA relations), maps of clan "loyalty debt" (symbolic relations) are far more useful to predicting conflict among and between clans, which is the chief obstacle to establishing a functional SNA.

From the perspective of debt collection and payment, honor systems are as rational as any calculus. However, clan loyalty compels a feeling, a compulsion, a hot emotional response to honor symbols, gestures, acts of dis-honor in clan groups. That feeling is shame. And, as we know quite well from the cognitive science of honor-shame cultures, shame exploits the limbic system’s highly contagious nature to spread itself horizontally throughout the clan. In this regard, honor-shame binds individual neural networks into one collective neural network or limbic unit. Symbols, whether transmitted through the internet or through local narratives and rituals, and their attendant magio-religious “logic,” perpetuate limbic synching, in-grouping/out-grouping, and, therefore, they perpetuate clan-on-clan violence.[xv]

If AFRICOM had been fielding an on-the-ground VSO capacity in Somalia for the past two decades instead of merely droning its airspace, its operational planners and military trainers would be enabled today to understand the honor-debt logic of Somali clans (cognitive dynamics) as they themselves feel compelled by those debts. Equipped with that emic knowledge, derived from local indigenous trust partners, AFRICOM and its partners would then be able to visualize and predict Somali loyalty vectors.  That would have enabled them to deal with the conflicting loyalties (clan agonistics) that currently undermine the cohesion of the SNA. With the on-the-ground capability for which I'm arguing, AFRICOM and its partners would have the ability to leverage the cognitive dynamics of clan loyalty-debt networks to the end, among many other desirable ends, of integrating and professionalizing the SNA.  But we are woefully unequipped to wage 4th generation cognitive warfare at the tribal and clan levels of social reality because we do not understand the shame-honor dynamics of clan societies. [xvi]

Lt. Col Gregory Thiele reminds us:

Fourth Generation war poses an especially difficult problem to operational art: put simply, it is difficult to operationalize. Often, Fourth Generation opponents have strategic centers of gravity that are intangible. These may involve proving their manhood to their comrades and local women, obeying the commandments of their religion, or demonstrating their tribe’s bravery to other tribes. Because operational art is the art of focusing tactical actions on enemy strategic centers of gravity, operational art becomes difficult or even impossible.

While the three classic levels of war carry over into the Fourth Generation, they are joined there by three new levels which may ultimately be more important. Colonel Boyd identified these three new levels as the physical, the mental, and the moral levels. Furthermore, he argued that the physical level – killing people and breaking things – is the least powerful, the moral level is the most powerful, and the mental level lies between the other two. Colonel Boyd argued that this is especially true in guerrilla warfare, which is more closely related to Fourth Generation war than is formal warfare between state militaries. The history of guerrilla warfare, from the Spanish guerrilla war against Napoleon through Israel’s experience in southern Lebanon, supports Colonel Boyd’s observation. This leads to the central dilemma of Fourth Generation war: what works for you on the physical (and sometimes mental) level often works against you at the moral level. It is therefore very easy to win all the tactical engagements in a Fourth Generation conflict yet still lose the war. To the degree you win at the physical level by utilizing firepower that causes casualties and property damage to the local population, every physical victory may move you closer to moral defeat, and the moral level is decisive.[xvii]

We are suffering moral defeat in Somali because we do not know how to locate and leverage the moral authority of its clan leaders. Thus, we are losing 4GW in the region. Notwithstanding NGO qualms, if we do not professionalize the natural warrior impulses of Somali males (including those living in the US), extremists like AS will jihadize those innate, clan-compelled proclivities. Therefore, a key part of any VSO or CSO doctrine for Somalia should be to weaponize local moral authority. We must provide capabilities on the ground to observe how to educate and professionalize the innate warrior drives of local youth strictly from within psycho-mythic parameters (symbols and collective narratives) Somali trainees recognize at morally legitimate. We need to win the direct sanction of local leaders who command moral authority in the eyes of SNA trainees. Only local moral authorities can provide both the emic knowledge we need to build a pedagogy for educating the Somali warrior archetype toward national ends.[xviii]

We should be ever mindful of the catastrophe that German military trainers experienced in 2009 when they trained 1,000 Somali police forces, equipped them with weapons, uniforms, state-of-the-art CT techniques, and then discovered, too late, that all 1,000 trainees joined Al Shabaab upon returning to Somalia. German mistakes are instructive. They trained Somalis on Ethiopian soil. They employed training techniques designed during the Balkan wars for a specifically "post-magical" European worldview. They vetted trainees upon the advice of un-tested local informants. Worst of all, they trained Somalis non-emically, completely outside of all key frames of reference (symbols) of the trainees. Germans essentially trained Somalis within a moral vacuum.  Nature abhors a moral vacuum, and AS were quick to fill it when those trainees returned to Somalia.

Subsequent efforts by other European partners to train Somali police and defense forces have similarly failed to understand that, in this region, moral authority is the gateway both to balancing and integrating the Somali National Army.

If we do continue to help the Somalis build themselves a Somali Army to rival that of the Barre era, then we will need to refocus our energies on recognizing, validating, and educating (from within traditional moral parameters) the warrior imperatives of Somali male youth. We must lay emphasis on educating the Somali warrior because that impulse is innate to Somali males, whether he is living in the Puntland on in Southern Minnesota.  When those impulses remain collectively uneducated or mal-educated, they become the main driver of the violence cycle among Somali clans. Too many traumatized teenagers, armed with too many AKs and RPGs, chewing too much khat, guided by too few clan elders is the formula for ongoing conflict in Somalia. Violent extremist Islam in this region will continue to exploit that formula to it own ends. AS leaders understand far better than we do how to exploit the Somali cognitive dissonance (honor-shame leveraging) to win recruits. [xix]

Lidwien Kapteijns recalls what happened in the 1990s when the Somali warrior archetype was activated and twisted by clan warlords, many who had been former SNA officers under Barre:

The fourth common factor, which is an aspect of the communal nature of the violence, is that the militarization of masculinity in the context of violent ethnic/ clan conflict led to war rape on a large-scale. Part of the mobilization of men for violent ethnic/ clan conflict was the transformation of the norms and expectations of moral masculinity (what it takes to be “real men” in a particular context). Men were implicitly invited and explicitly mobilized to commit large-scale war rape and many proved capable and willing to do so. This became a major instrument in the war. It contributed to the physical and psychological destruction of “enemy” women and the humiliation, defeat, and establishment of ethnic/ clan domination over “enemy” men. In all cases, the orchestrators and perpetrators of such rapes appear to have communicated the lack of any expectation of future coexistence. (page 288)[xx]

Are AFRICOM trainers in Somalia today truly redefining what it means to be a warrior (a man) for young Somali recruits to the SNA when these trainers still have not taken on board the horrifying realities of Somali clan-on-clan violence?

Before we can successfully integrate the SNA, we will need to establish on-the-ground trust networks that give us unique access to local perspectives not only on security issues but upon all matters of serious concerns to Somalis. We still do not own an emic (insider's) view of communal memory, loyalty, justice, and violence on Somalia. As Dawn Perlemutter notes when analyzing sacrificial violence, "In an emic approach, when researchers interpret the meaning of violent incidents in an unfamiliar culture or subculture, they view the phenomenon in terms of particulars: interpretations are based on the premise that beliefs are particular to that culture, and hence may seem incomprehensible to an outsider. Emic methodologies that take into consideration cross cultural, subcultural and magical religious concepts as the basis for their analytical criteria provide unique insights into seemingly inexplicable acts of violent crime."[xxi] To gain mastery over local sources of communal conflict in Somalia, we must view crime and violence emically.  Only from a local vantage can we keep pace with emotional escalation both within and between communities. We need to track more than movement in a space; we need to track clan-directed ledgers of action, commitments, and moral debts.

As we continue to train the SNA, we'd do well to take inspiration and guidance from the successes of Riva Levinson in Liberia. She was instrumental in helping that country elect its first truly democratically elected female president. In her autobiography, Levinson draws an interesting link between Somalia and Liberia: 

After the Americans eventually withdrew, 550,000 Somalis—six percent of the population—died of starvation, and 400,000 were displaced during the 16 years of civil war that followed Barre’s ouster. The US military did not return to Africa for another decade. This time the country was Liberia. The year was 2003. US Marines helped force into exile another murderous warlord, this one named Charles Taylor, and paved the way for democratic elections. That event would lead to a defining moment in my life and career.[xxii]

Explicitly supported by AFRICOM forces, Levinson was thereby enabled to effect considerable stability that country precisely because she located, befriended, and promoted a key local moral authority, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Levinson effectively weaponized Sirleaf's moral authority. The today contrast between Liberia and Somalia couldn't be greater. 

Because we have not been an on-going participant in local institutions of memory and morality in Somalia, we can not perceive the same network of loyalties and obligations by which locals are bound. As long as that web of obligations, often the source of communal conflict, remains invisible to us, we will fail in our efforts to train the SNA.

Finally, it should go without saying that the moral core and inspiration of any US-led VSO/CSO approach to Somalia should be derived directly from the most traditional ethos of American Special Forces: Go native to win over the natives. As our best VSO operators (like Major Jim Gant and Colonel Bing West) have demonstrated: It is our moral duty to ensure that the communities with whom we are working will survive in our departure. Imparting the skill-sets for communal survival should be our primary (and highly-biased) objective. In Somalia, that means locating local moral authority at the clan level and persuading that local authority to help us educate the warrior archetype of young Somalis so that it can serve the SNA without lethal conflicts of personal clan loyalty. Our VSO approach to Somalia must find a way to disburden young Somalis of their lethal clan honor/blood debts.  By training SNA without first establishing these VSO capabilities, we have put the wagon in front of the Somali goat.  And we should not be surprised at our current failure to disentangle Somalia from its many goatropes. 

End Notes

[i] The United States Department of State describes our failure in Somalia like this: "The United States Government has been engaged in the effort to develop a more professional Somali National Army (SNA) since 2007.  Despite the best efforts of the U.S. Government and the rest of the donor community, much of the SNA remains unrepresentative of the Somali population, as it features significant imbalances with regard to regional representation, clan, and loyalties."

[ii] See, Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991 (Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights), U Penn Press, 2013.

[iii] For an examination of the consequences of clan corruption to Somalia, see Alex de Waal's The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power, Wiley, 2015.

[iv] See Steve Coll's Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, Penguin Books, 2010. 

[v] See The World Bank's 2017 report, Federal Republic of Somalia, Security and Justice Sector PER.

[vi] What SF Major Jim Gant warned us about in Afghanistan has come to pass there, because we have not heeded his experience-derived advice. I am arguing that the insights he won in Afghanistan can and should have been applied to Somalia before we began training the SNA. Major Gant notes: "We must help the tribes protect themselves by fighting alongside them. Will we make mistakes? Yes. But the risk is well worth the gain.  For the Afghan people, the real war is one of Tribalism vs. Talibanism. If we do not move now to support the tribes in this fight for their lives, it will produce a number of consequences, all of them bad: Taliban operations will expand over larger areas, killing more tribesmen and sweeping in more recruits as they go. The one system in Afghanistan that has been reliable for centuries will continue to crumble, resulting in more disaffected tribal members drifting into terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. Thus, we will give up on the most critical element of Afghan society that can ultimately defeat the Taliban— the tribes." See Jim Gant. One Tribe at a Time: The Paper that Changed the War in Afghanistan, Black Irish Entertainment, 2014.

[vii] For the most ludicrous approach (Freud is still recommended in the age of evolutionary cognition?) to cultural intelligence gathering I have yet encountered, see this article at Small Wars Journal, which amounts to nothing more than an advertisement for the military contractor who posted the article, A Psycho-Emotional Human Security Analytical Framework: Origin and Epidemiology of Violent Extremism and Radicalization of Refugees

[viii] I'm fully prepared to take seriously arguments that claim we do not want to achieve stability in Somalia because we do not want its mineral resources falling into the hands of our rivals and we do not want these resources affecting the price of these resources on the international market, in other words, we may be sacrificing stability at one level (Somalia) to maintain stability at another level.

[ix] For a detailed description of the VSO for which I am calling, see Scott Mann's Game Changers: Going Local to Defeat Violent Extremists, Tribal Analysis Publishing, 2015. In chapter seven, "Getting Surrounded (Village Stability Operations), he notes: "First, we need to select the right communities. Before ever starting VSO, selected communities must have strategic value...Remember, VSO was designed for specific conditions. It works in undergoverned areas dominated by clan societies. These outlying areas once handled their own affairs. Now, they are damaged, and in some cases destroyed. As a result, they are influenced by violent extremists or transnational criminals." This is true of Somali, even as the Somali honor-debt ledger remains cognitively compulsive to Somali's males, potential recruits to the SNA.

[x] For the Army's standard, doctrinal approach to training African armies, see Frank L. Jones et al   Building Partner Capacity in Africa: Keys to Success,  The Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2017. They place small value on VSOs in Africa.

[xi] To witness our woeful lack of cultural knowledge of Somalis, see the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center's Orientation Guide to Somalia and the Somali Culture: Religion, Traditions, Family Life, Urban and Rural Populations, Geography, History, Economy, Society and Security, aIc Books, 2017. The key aspect of Somali cultural life, honor-shame dynamics, is hardly mentioned. For many US operatives in the region, this guide is their primary (first and major) source of information about the Somali cognitive terrain.

[xii] Community Stability Operations are 2nd generation VSOs that include the Somali Diaspora, whether they be in Minnesota or Kenya. 

[xiii] For a useful overview of Somali clan history written by Somalis, see Ali Jimale Ahmed's The Invention of Somalia, Red Sea Press, 1995.

[xiv] See Doyle Quiggle on Limbic Captivity at

[xv] For a standard explanation of the cognitive parameters and social consequences of honor-shame dynamics, see Jonathan Haidt's article on The Moral Emotions, here:

[xvi] Howard Gambrill Clark is right to lament, that, "Today intelligence analysts devour anthropological studies, humanitarian effort reports, economic development data, and other reports produced by people that may have access to areas that the government does not. All this while avoiding direct interaction with these non-governmental entities lest these entities be seen as spies or stooges in the future." I am arguing for a capability that does not avoid direct interaction with local Somalis. For a thought-provoking discussion of various means by which to gain access to the cognitive terrain of local moral authorities, see his Information Warfare: The Lost Tradecraft, Narrative Strategies, 2017. See especially his chapter on spying.

[xvii] 4th Generation Warfare Handbook, Castalia House, 2015.

[xviii] For key insights into the political dynamics of honor/shame clan societies, see the research of David Haig, George Putnam Professor of Biology at Harvard University. See especially his book Genomic Imprinting and Kinship, Rutgers University Press, 2002. See also the research and scholarship of Napoleon Chagnon, Research Professor of Anthropology, University of Missouri. See especially his book, Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists, Simon & Schuster, 2013.

[xix] For a description of the evolutionary sources, cognitive functions, and social uses of shame, see the recent research of Jennifer Jacquet, especially her book Shame, Is It Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool, Pantheon, 2015 in which she explains how to leverage shame to influence group and individual behavior. Jacquet has developed techniques for shaming corporations into behavior she and her fellow travelers find desirable. Her techniques could and should be developed to influence Somali clan shame dynamics. Read a short article by Jacquet about shame leverage here:

[xx] See, Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991 (Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights) (p. 228). University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

[xxi] See Dawn Perlmutter in Robert J. Bunker's Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and  Dark Magico-Religious Activities, A Terrorism Research Center Book, 2016. 

[xxii] See, Choosing the Hero: My Improbable Journey and the Rise of Africa's First Woman President, Kiwai Media, Inc.2017.


About the Author(s)

Doyle Quiggle (PhD, Washington University) has had the honor and privilege of being a professor to US Troops downrange, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa and at FOB Fenty, Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He researches the anthropology of war from within the battlespace, focusing on counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency.