Here in Mogadishu, there is one group that everyone knows, and when you mention its name, people look at you funny. Alpha Group. Nobody will talk about them, and you will never see them unless they are really needed. Even then, all you see are green balaclavas on some high-speed guys who, when you get too close, take aim at you and tell you to fuck off.
Alpha Group is made up of Somalia’s best and most highly trained men. They are the tip of the spear here, and lead the way when it comes to special operations in Somalia. Their fearsome reputation precedes them; everyone knows who they are and nobody will get in their way.
Here in Mogadishu, the security situation is a mess. In the capital alone there are multiple armed groups, not just Al-Shabaab, that control large areas. Somalia needed a quick-reaction force (QRF) to deal with these groups, a unit that would operate outside of the corrupt government’s grip. In 2010, they got their answer thanks to the Americans. In late 2010, Alpha Group was deployed, and since then they have done the business time and time again. But the only way they could be successful was to operate outside of the government’s oversight. Now the group only operates in Mogadishu and the city’s outskirts. Their AO is about 100 square kilometers—that is their limit. They specialize in high-risk hostage rescues, unconventional warfare, and close-quarters battle (CQB). They’ve been trained in the most current counter-insurgency tactics, most likely based on the American manual and that country’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Alpha Group collects their own intel, runs their own intelligence-gathering operations, and has their own surveillance operations, but the CIA provides intel when necessary. All of this is kept within the unit, largely because the corruption in Mogadishu makes it impossible to trust outside help, even within the government. Al-Shabaab can infiltrate just about anywhere here in the capital, and there are informants and spies on every street corner. This is largely due to Somali’s history and their clan-based mentality. Everyone in some form or another is related, and it’s not uncommon to meet people here with cousins, uncles, nephews, and friends in Al-Shabaab. So with that in mind, Alpha Group trusts no one, and I can’t blame them.
Alpha Group is a highly secretive organization that few have had access to. In this exclusive interview, SOFREP had an opportunity to speak with a high-ranking source from within the group. For obvious safety reasons, he must remain unnamed.
SOFREP: When was the unit formed?
The idea for the unit came around in late 2009, and at the beginning of 2010 we began training.
How many soldiers does the unit have?
At the start we had about 40-50 men. The unit runs today with about 100-120 men.
Who trained the unit?
We were trained by the American CIA in an undisclosed location. Even we had no idea what state we were in or how long we were there for.
What weapons do you use?
We have a number of different weapon to use thanks to the American support. We have access to anything from M4s to M16s to AK platforms. Sidearms include Brownings and Makarovs, and we have access to flashbang grenades, smoke grenades, NVGs, thermal, and we have the best protection gear available in our helmets and body armor.
What operations do you carry out?
We were set up as a counter-terrorism unit, so naturally we carry out those sorts of operations here in Mogadishu. We conduct snatch-and-grabs of high-value targets (HVTs), which can be anyone from an Al-Shabaab informant to one of their commanders. We also carry out hostage rescue operations and unconventional warfare operations. We have our own informants, and that’s how we collect our intel (with some help from our friends at the CIA).
Is the entire unit Somalian?
Yes, all members of our unit are Somali. That’s what’s needed to blend in here. You can’t exactly be white and fit in (laughs).
There are rumors that the unit is linked to the CIA. Can you comment on that?
Yes, we work with the CIA, and yes, they trained us. The unit was actually their idea.
Does the U.S. government pay the unit’s wages?
Yes, they pay for everything the unit wants or needs. They even provide funds for those outside the unit.
What do you mean?
They fund the Gaashan Special Forces, which consists of 500 men trained to the same level as our unit. This is where we recruit from if we lose a team member.
They are contractors that work for the CIA, but they say they are PMCs. I don’t believe that. They claim to be CIA some days and then they are merely “advisors” the next day. They would not be allowed access to us if they were not CIA.
Some believe that there are individuals in Alpha Group that are former Al-Shabaab. True?
No, not at all. The Americans would not trust us if that was the case. They are not going to bring known terrorists to the USA and train them.
Some also believe the unit is linked to the Islamic Courts Union.
None of the team members have anything to do with the Islamic Courts Union.
Is there a heavy presence of Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu?
Yes, they are still very active in Mogadishu.
Do you think more groups like Alpha Group are needed to win the war?
There is a need for more trained units like ours, but our government is so corrupt, why would anyone invest in funding another unit like ours? The Americans don’t want to invest more money, and why should they? Their job is done here. The unit has been trained and is operating.
Can you tell us about a typical operation?
We get called in when the police and army in Mogadishu can’t deal with the threat. That’s when we move in and the conventional units move out. Because our AO is located exclusively here in Mogadishu, most of our operations are fighting in built-up areas, so we conduct a lot of CQB operations to clear an area. We use a lot of flashbangs and smoke (laughs), but nine times out of 10, we win, pull out, and go home.
What methods of integration do you use? do you take Al-Shabaab members alive?
Al-Shabaab typically fight to the death, so we help them along the way. In the event that we take one alive, there’s a different unit we take them to so they can extract the information. They know how to extract intel better then anyone.
What can you tell us about Al-Shabaab that we don’t already know?
Probably nothing you don’t know already (laughs).
Can Somalia win this war, or do you think you need more assistance?
No, we cannot. Like I have said, how could we, considering we’re saddled with a corrupt government that will not pay its soldiers or police. They will not fight if they are not getting paid. What future are they fighting for?
How do you think they could fix the situation?
We need more training and development for Somali soldiers and police. These guys know the land, know the enemy, and speak the languages here, but they need to be paid. We need a new government; our people are tired of the government and how corrupt it is.
Can the U.S. or UK help out more in Somalia?
No. I think they would, but given the corrupt government and people in power, I just don’t think they want to take that risk and waste all that money.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us!
(Featured image courtesy of REUTERS/Feisal Omar)