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Any way you look at it, the evacuation of Somaliland’s forces from Dhahar was an embarrassing defeat. Militarily speaking, there is nothing wrong with evacuating a position if it becomes necessary to do so. Several factors, however, have made it difficult for Somalilanders to swallow the news of their army’s leaving Dhahar. First, most Somalilanders believe that Majeerteenya’s (Puntland) militias are no match for Somaliland’s forces. Second, Somaliland’s initial victory over the militias from Majeerteenya made many people think that may be Somaliland finally had a plan for taking control of the parts of Sool and Sanag region that are currently not under Somaliland’s administration. Third, the dismissal of the minister of defense and the reasons given for the dismissal, namely, that he had cut all communication with the president during the military conflict and had disobeyed the president’s orders not to evacuate Somaliland’s troops from Dhahar, added to the sense of things gone awry.

Based on what they have said so far, the president and the Minister of Defense, Mr. Adan Mohamed Mire (Waqaf), are in agreement that it was the latter who made the decision to evacuate Somaliland’s troops from Dhahar. Where they differ is on whether it was the right decision or not. Again, militarily speaking the decision to hold a particular position or not, should be left to the commanders on the ground. But that does not mean commanders in the field should make important decisions without consulting their superiors. Furthermore, total evacuation should not be decided upon without looking at other options such as tactical re-location to a more favorable position that is still close enough to the theatre of operations the retreating army could still influence that theatre.

Judging from the minister of defense’s statements, three factors seem to have influenced his decision to evacuate: (a) the rain; (b) poor logistics; (c) nature of the mission. We agree that the downpour of rain was a complicating factor, but it affected both sides of the conflict and not just the Somaliland side, so it cannot be used as an excuse. We also agree that there were serious logistical problems due to the long distance of Somaliland’s troops from their base of operations in Erigavo while Majeertenya’s militias were only about 32 km from their base in Bosaso. But the minister of defense knew about these logistical problems before he went to Dhahar, so he cannot use them as an excuse either. His last explanation about the nature of the mission being limited to protecting Somaliland’s ministers while they were in Dhahar doe not make sense either for the simple reason that, even if it were true that the purpose of the mission was to protect the ministers while they were in Dhahar and not to secure Somaliland’s eastern borders, then the question arises why did he agree to lead such a foolish mission that involved putting Somaliland’s forces in harm’s way, not to mention spending our meager resources, just so that some ministers can visit the place?

Regardless of the role played by the minister of defense, as the commander in chief, President Dahir Rayale Kahin is ultimately responsible for what happened in Dhahar. This is not the first time either that Somaliland suffered a disaster in the east under his watch. We all know what happened in Las Anod in 2002.

The Dhahar debacle revealed that Somaliland’s armed forces are in a pitiful state and cannot be relied upon to defend the country let alone secure its borders. But despite these problems, as things stand now, we think Somaliland still has a unique opportunity to project its power eastward. But in order to make use of that opportunity, Somaliland will have to get serious and professionalise its armed forces. That means the armed forces must have a reasonable budget, training, rankings, and a clear chain of command and control.

We are not saying that the eastern question is a purely military one, but we are suggesting that the military component is a crucial part of it. That is why we think the committee of mostly civilian ministers that was mandated by the president to deal with this issue is not enough. Much more than that is needed. A plan that has political, economic and military dimensions whose purpose is to project Somaliland’s sovereignty eastward is needed. Most importantly, leadership is needed; especially from the president.

Source: Somaliland Times