Somaliland's Military is a Shadow of the Past
New Recruits and Military Personnel Lack Formal Training
By ABDI HUSSEIN 08/13/2011
Somaliland Coast Guard
©Somalia Report
Somaliland Coast Guard

The work-force of the current Somaliland military is estimated at 28,000 with several divisions based in regions within Somaliland, notably Shimibirale in Sanaag, Lowiya’adho in the Djibouti Border, Burao, the second biggest city and Lasanod in the disputed region of Sool. A sizeable number of military personnel and its top-ranking commanders are based at the military headquarters in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa.

The Somaliland military is led by General Nuh Tani, a former general of the defunct Somali Army. He was re-appointed to the same position by President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo late last year having served the Somaliland military also on a similar capacity under the previous administration of Dahir Rayalle Kahin.

Up until 2009, when cases of piracy grew at the Somaliland coastline and led to hostages being held at the waters, which geographically fall under Somaliland, the Somaliland military was composed entirely of army personnel. The surge in piracy and illegal fishing at Somaliland coast led to the formation of a navy unit, which operates from Bula Har and Las Qoray areas. The unit, which is still in its infancy, has succeeded in apprehending hundreds of suspected pirates, who were later arraigned in Somaliland courts and sentenced to jail terms.

The navy unit has also benefited considerably from support ranging from provision of equipment and training from the British government. Among the equipment they received include speed boats mounted with guns, brand new pick-ups and trucks that can withstand the harsh conditions in the Somaliland coastline.

Based at the port town of Berbera is a diving center run by foreign divers with the primary goal of training the Somaliland navy. The center has been in operation for nearly two years.

The Somalia Air Force base which was based at the Hargeisa Airport collapsed immediately after the civil war in 1990. Its pilots and technicians, majority of whom were foreigners, mainly from South Africa fled and the remaining aircrafts all of which were Russian-made remain in a state of disrepair or were vandalized.

As a reminder of the atrocities committed by former Somalia ruler, Mohamed Siad Barre, a downed MIG-21 fighter jet was mounted in the middle of Hargeisa town. By international standards, the Somaliland military can be considered as a rudimentary outfit, which continues to use outdated equipment. All of its army personnel are from Somaliland.

But by local standards, the military in Somaliland stand above those of it neighbor. The Puntland and TFG in terms of cohesiveness, organization and command structure albeit few cases of desertion that occurred earlier this year from members of the Dhulbahante sub-clan in the disputed region of Sool.

The soldiers, who deserted and joined the outlawed group SSC accused the Somaliland military of killing their fellow clan members during Somaliland military offensive in the town of Buhodhle.


When the former ruler Barre was ousted in 1990, Somaliland inherited or took over all the military equipment, hardware and facilities that were within the territories of present day Somaliland. They include tanks, armed personal carriers, transport trucks and water tankers. Also taken over were missile launchers, a cache of ammunitions that included grenades, F1s and missiles.

However, the equipment has outlived their usefulness and either they need a replacement or a major facelift.

Somaliland is still under the UN Arms embargo, partly because it is considered part of Somalia, and therefore is not permitted to purchase firearms. Due to its lack of international recognition, the semi-autonous region of Somaliland cannot be supported formally with military hardware, like some of her neighbors, including Djibouti. As such, it is only left with the option of repairing and modifying the arms that are in its possession.

Among the divisions within the Somaliland military include the artillery brigade, infantry and mechanized brigade as well as the tanks brigades. All the equipment at the brigades are Russian-made and they include BM-21 mobile rocket launchers, BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles, BTR-50 armoured cars, T-34 medium battle tanks and few T-55 main battle tanks.

There are several old transport trucks and water tankers still being in used, and most recently, the business community in Somaliland donated a number of civilian transport trucks such as Isuzu FSR, which were modified to carry soldiers and foodstuffs. However, insiders within the Somaliland army indicated that authorities often received arms from Ethiopia and Yemen through the port of Berbera. When the arms are being off-loaded, sources said, civilians are asked to vacate the port, adding that this mostly happened at night.

The military source also said some arms and military supplies intended for Puntland were seized early this year from an aircraft that was forced to land at Hargeisa airport after experiencing fuel shortage.

Also confisticated were arms including mortars transported in two boats by members of the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) from Eritrea. The arms caches were netted in Mar-Mar Mountains, in Awdal region close to the Djibouti border. The Somaliland military also runs a medical unit, mainly staffed by trained female nurses. They use an ambulance obtained from the defunct former Somalia army.

Recruitment and Training

Somaliland military still lacks a clear-cut recruitment and training policy. The recruitment process is not consistent and competitive. It is uncommon to see a recruitment exercise being conducted publicly.

The current military personnel comprise combatants from Somali national movements, and soldiers who fled from the former President Siad Barre’s regime.

Prior to and in the aftermath of the Somali civil war, there existed numerous rag-tag armies or armed clan militias just like in many parts of Somalia. In early nineties, they would set up check-points and extort money from the local communities. But in 1992, the late President Egal who also was the first Somalia Prime minister, through a consultative process with clan elders demobilized the armed groups and integrated them into one outfit that is now the current Somaliland military.

But due to lack of funds and imposition of arms embargo, the guns in use belong to the individual soldiers themselves. Before joining the army, both former combatants and new recruits, are required to report for an agonizing recruitment process with their guns. A similar process is observed in other disciplined forces, including the police. Since a big chunk of the army were either Somali national movement members or served under the Barre regime, the soldiers have never received any formal training or refresher courses on modern-day warfare. Similarly new recruits lack long-term and quality training to serve properly in the military. This is because the army lacks the money and other resources needed. It also lacks a proper recruit training school.

But Ethiopia has on several occasions trained certain numbers of Somaliland Army, including senior commanders.


Despite being in existence for two decades, Somaliland military lacks the normal ranks one will find in a modern military unit. For instance, there are no titles such as corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, majors, and colonels. As soon as he took power, the Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo formed a committee, chaired by the defense minister, to look into the matter and come up with a proper ranking system. However, although the committee has completed its work and handed over its findings to the president and the military commander, its recommendations are yet to be implemented. Some say the main reason why the government shied away from adopting the new report is because of lack of funds. A military source who sought anonymity said the government feared that implementing it would translate into increased salaries for members of the disciplined force, something the government may not afford.


Currently, with the exception of a handful of military commanders, every military personnel takes home a monthly salary of $100. The monthly pay was revised from $50 some four months ago, following a pledge made by President Silanyo when he assumed power.

A similar increment was extended to members of other forces, like the police.

Analysts estimate that every year about 30% of Somaliland meager budget goes into paying and maintaining the Somaliland armed forces.