Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has met with parents of troops training in Eritrea and promised they will soon return home to fight against the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. Somalia sent thousands of soldiers to train in Eritrea, sparking a series of protests over the last year from parents who were unable to communicate with them. Mohamud met with the troops on a visit to Eritrea this week, where he agreed to improve bilateral relations.
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud met Wednesday night in Mogadishu with the parents of Somali cadets who have been in secretive military training in Eritrea, in some cases since 2018, without communicating with their families.
Mohamud, who met the troops during a state visit to Eritrea on Sunday, said their sons were doing well and would be deployed in the fight against Islamist militant group al-Shabab when they return home.
He said all the troops were given money to buy SIM cards so they can talk to their parents today or tomorrow.
The Somali president did not give a timeline for when the troops would return, but he pledged to follow up on the trainees’ case shortly after he took office in late May.
Video of Mohamud’s meeting with the parents was distributed by the president’s office.
In the video, parents thanked the president for his efforts to bring the troops back home.
One father, Ilyaas Kulubow, pledged their support for the military and the president.
He says after the civil war in 1991 there were no schools. You are the one who established schools and educated these boys, says Kulubow, we just fathered them. He says we gifted the boys to you to protect you starting from today. Thank you very much, says Kulubow, and we ask Allah (God) to be with you to be able to reconcile among Somalis.
Mohamud’s meeting with the troops in Eritrea this week was the first time many of them were seen since the training first began in 2018.
Somalia’s previous government had dismissed concerns from parents who were unable to reach their children in training and would not provide details.
A U.N. report in June last year said thousands of Somali troops had taken part in the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, prompting protests by parents who feared their sons were the ones sent to fight.
Somalia’s government denies any of the Somali troops that trained in Eritrea were involved in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict. Some media reports and critics dispute that account and allege some have been killed in Ethiopia.
Matt Brydon is a Nairobi-based independent Horn of Africa security analyst.
“There is some indication they were actually deployed initially under the Tripartite alliance established between Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2018 as part of a regional standby force and they might therefore be based in Eritrea for some time. But that force never materialized,” said Matt.
Abdirisak Adan was an adviser to former Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
He says many countries train Somali soldiers, including Eritrea. The problem, says Adan, was that the administration of (former President) Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmaajo, kept their information secret and didn’t share it with the parents.
During his visit to Eritrea on Tuesday, President Mohamud and Eritrean President Isais Afwerki agreed to improve relations between their countries, including strengthening defense and security relations.