Here in Somalia, there are quite a few armed groups kicking around. Some are on the good side of the Somali government, other groups, not so much. Let me run you through the good guys, first.

Somali Police Force

The Somali Police Force isn’t your typical law enforcement agency. Some of its members are former militiamen from back in the day, and some of them are nice dudes. They run the day-to-day jobs here in Mogadishu, man checkpoints, and deal with violent situations. And here, those happen a lot and can involve gunfights and machete attacks. The police are also here to limit the presence of al-Shabaab.

These men have seen a lot of fighting in their past—some have 20 years or more of fighting experience. It’s safe to say these guys have seen their fair share of violence over the years, and as such, they are just like the regular Somali army. Here in the city, they more or less do the same job and act the same way. They also share the same mentality: They act as a fighting force rather than a protection force. They sometimes wear the same uniforms as regular military, which can make it hard to tell who is who.

I personally think this causes a lot more problems than it solves. The police are drawn into every counterinsurgency campaign, and meanwhile, the people need a more friendly, accessible force to go to and share information. It’s proven that the police are a more approachable force than the military. But because the two intertwine here, I feel as though the country is missing that element in this fight. I have heard a number of stories while I have been here of the police being scared and on edge. This has led to gun fights and innocent people getting shot, which does nothing to generate trust or rapport with citizens.

I can’t blame these guys, though. They get paid very little or not at all, and get next to nothing in training or support. “Here is an AK, now go stand at that checkpoint.” Some of these guys are young and inexperienced, too, and given that Mogadishu is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with a well-organized enemy kicking in doors, it’s asking a lot of these policemen to even show up.

Al-Shabaab is able to launch high-profile attacks and kidnappings in and around the city. The police still have to live here when they take that uniform off, leaving them and their families at risk. This place sort of reminds me of Mexico and the country’s struggle with drug cartels. It has that feeling of danger around every corner. Total insecurity.

Somali Armed Forces

As with the Somali police, one of the primary things the Somali army struggles with is a lack of training and regular pay—sometimes these guys don’t get paid at all. They do a wide range of jobs, from launching large operations against al-Shabaab to doing police work in some of the harder towns to get to. They man checkpoints around the country and provide convoy protection for food and water. Just like the police, they are, in my eyes, undertrained, which can lead to mistakes—sometimes fatal ones. Also like the police, some of these guys are former militiamen from the civil war. They are well experienced in combat, but still not to the standard one would expect from an organized fighting force.

These men tend to have a lot of heart and love for their country, but their ranks are undermanned. Another issue plaguing the army is that it is comprised of fighting men from different clans, some of which are at odds with one another. Inter-clan fighting and tension occurs even within the army. I was told by a source that a man’s clan is placed before his religion. In order for the Somali army to move forward to becoming a better fighting force, each man needs to let go of their roots and put aside their clan to become part of a unified fighting force.