Eritrea Trained Somali Soldiers Returning Home

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Plane carrying the first batch of Somali troops landed at Mogadishu airport


Somalia’s government says the first batch of the over 5,000 Somali cadets who were sent to Eritrea for a three-year military training have returned home.

The arrival of these contingents comes a day after Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said soldiers trained in Eritrea will begin returning home this month in an exercise expected to last until January.

Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur on Wednesday confirmed the first group’s arrival in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and said the rest will arrive in the coming days.

“They will be part of the ongoing fighting against the militant group known as Khawaarij,” the minister said, referring to an offensive by Somali forces and allies against fighters who for years have held large parts of the country and regularly attacked the capital.

The Somali government recently began referring to al-Shabab as Khawaarij, an Arabic term for one who deviates from true Islam.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who promised to bring the soldiers home in his election campaign, has visited them in their training camps in Eritrea twice this year.

News of the secret training mission was first out in late May when Mohamud’s predecessor, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, announced his government had sent around 5,000 soldiers to train in Eritrea.

Soon after that, rumors started to swivel in Somali politics in the run-up to the election that the soldiers may have been deployed to neighboring Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, where Eritrean forces were fighting alongside Ethiopian government forces against TPLF rebels.

Although their training has ended last year, President Farmajo had decided to delay their return to avoid influencing the outcome of the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Somalia’s government denied its troops had ever been used in the Tigray war and no evidence whatsoever has been found to corroborate those allegations yet.

Eritrean government sources indicate that the process of training highly qualified Somali Commandos, Special Forces, Navy, and Air Force cadets in addition to dozens of technicians who specialized in Geographic and Mapping techniques was a great success.

One mother of a man who returned from Eritrea, Hawa Awale, told The Associated Press she was thankful to see him alive.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank Allah and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who fulfilled his promise of bringing our sons home after being elected president. I am very honored to see my son decorated with the Somali army uniform and serving his country.”

* VOA and The Associated Press also contributed to this story