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Mission, Organization, and Strength

Since independence the armed forces' mission has been to protect the country's territorial integrity from foreign aggression and to maintain internal security. In 1990 the defense establishment consisted mainly of ground forces. Organizationally it was composed of the SNA and its subordinate air, air defense, and naval elements. The military command structure extended from Siad Barre, president and commander in chief of the armed forces, through the minister of defense to commanders who exercised authority over forces stationed in the country's six military sectors.

The ground forces were organized into twelve divisions. Allocated among the divisions were four tank brigades, forty-five mechanized and infantry brigades, four commando brigades, one surface-to-air missile brigade, three field artillery brigades, thirty field battalions, and one air defense battalion.

Military equipment was a mixture of old weapons of Soviet and United States origin, none of which could have withstood an attack from the better armed Ethiopian forces. Serviceability of all types of equipment was extremely poor, largely because of inadequate maintenance capability. As a result, foreign military advisers or technicians performed nearly all maintenance tasks. Included in the SNA inventory were Centurion, M-41, M-47, T-34, and T-54/T-55 tanks; BRDM-2 and AML-90 reconnaissance vehicles; BTR-40/-50/-60/-152, Fiat 6614/6616, and BMR-600 armored personnel carriers; 100mm, 105mm, 122mm, and 155mm (M-198) towed artillery; 82mm and 120mm mortars; Milan TOW anti-tank guided weapons; 89mm rocket launchers; and 106mm recoilless rifles.

The Somali Air Force (SAF), initially known as the Somali Aeronautical Corps, operated most of its aircraft from bases near Mogadishu and Hargeysa. Its mission was to support ground forces. Since the Ogaden War, the SAF's performance had been hindered by inadequate equipment, lack of spare parts, and poor maintenance. During the late 1980s, however, the SAF managed to deploy some of its fighter aircraft against rebels in northern Somalia. Some of these aircraft were kept operational by Zimbabwean contract personnel. In 1990 the SAF was organized into three fighter ground attack squadrons equipped with J-6 and Hawker Hunter aircraft; three fighter squadrons equipped with MiG-21MF and MiG17 aircraft; a counterinsurgency squadron equipped with SF-260W aircraft; a transport squadron equipped with An-2, An-24, An-26, BN-2, C-212, and G-222 aircraft; and a helicopter squadron equipped with Mi-4, Mi-8, and Augusta-Bell aircraft. The SAF also possessed a variety of training aircraft such as the MiG-15UTI, the SF-260W, the Yak-11, and the Cessna. The SAF used Somali Airlines aircraft to ferry troops and supplies to war zones.

The Air Defense Forces consisted of seven brigades, four of which were equipped with SA-2, SA-3, and SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, none of which were believed to be operational in early 1992. The inventories of the other three units included 20mm, 23mm, 37mm, 40mm, 57mm, and 100mm air defense guns. The Air Defense Forces also possessed P-12, P-30, P-35, P-15, and Westinghouse AN/TPS-43F radars with AN/UPX-23 and AN/UPA-59A IFF.

In 1965 the Soviet Union helped Somalia establish a navy. As part of its mission to help SNA forces maintain coastal security, the navy maintained bases at Berbera, Mogadishu, and Chisimayu, and a radar site at Merca. In 1990 the naval inventory included two Soviet Osa-II missile-armed fast attack craft, four Soviet Mol PFT torpedo-armed fast attack craft, and several patrol craft. The Somali navy also possessed a Soviet Polnocny-class landing ship capable of carrying five tanks and 120 soldiers, and four smaller mechanized landing craft. Much of this equipment had been unserviceable since the departure of Soviet military personnel in 1977. The navy was not operational from 1991 onward.

Paramilitary forces, which reported to the president via the minister of state, supplemented the SNA. These included a 1,500- man elite border guard; the 20,000-man People's Militia; and the 8,000-man Somali Police Force (SPF), which had an air unit based in Mogadishu consisting of two Dornier Do-28D2 aircraft, neither of which was believed to be operational in early 1992 (see Somali Police Force , this ch.).

In the early 1980s, the Somali armed forces were organized and deployed to prevent an Ethiopian attack. By the end of the decade, however, the military concentrated its activities on maintaining internal security. Antigovernment resistance originated from various clan-based guerrilla groups that defended their interests against outsiders, each other, and Siad Barre's soldiers. The availability of weapons in the Horn of Africa and the ability to obtain military aid from foreign nations and Somali expatriate communities enabled the rebels to wage a protracted guerrilla war against Mogadishu.

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Somalia Table of Contents