Young Somali soldiers who have been training in neighboring Eritrea will start returning home in coming weeks, it has emerged, weeks after their families raised concerns, with some claiming that they had been taken to Ethiopia to fight in the Tigray war.
The Eritrean troops have been helping the Ethiopian National Defense Forces [ENDF] in the Tigray region, where they faced the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF] in a war that has been condemned by members of the international community.
Last week, Eritrea agreed to withdraw her troops from the Tigray region following pressure from the international community. The troops, Asmara said, have been helping ENDF restore order in Tigray after TPLF reportedly fired missiles from Mekele to Asmara.
Fresh reports indicate that the Somali troops who have been training in Eritrea will start coming home, where they will join various Somali National Army [SNA] units across the country. It’s not clear who will pay the troops given that most of the soldiers are paid by the international partners.
According to impeccable sources, the soldiers are undergoing biometric registration and are expected to return upon completion, according to some of the soldiers who called their relatives. Some other units that haven’t finished training likely to continue training.
Meanwhile, the soldiers were also told to expect visits from high-ranking Somali government officials. Outgoing President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo visited the troops at least once when he visited Eritrea in recent weeks according to those in know-how.
The training program in Eritrea came to light in January after unverified social media reports suggested that Somali troops had been killed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The reports indicated those soldiers were allied with Eritrean and Ethiopian federal forces confronting Tigray fighters in the regional conflict.
Several sources with direct knowledge of the program – three Somali officials and a foreign diplomat – confirmed to VOA that Somali troops have been training in neighboring Eritrea since 2019.
The sources all spoke on condition of anonymity, with the officials noting they were not authorized to speak to news media. The sources differed on the number of Somali troops who have been in Eritrea; the range was 3,000 to 7,000 recruits.
Somalia’s information minister, Osman Abukar Dubbe, said in January that some Somali soldiers were training in Eritrea. But, he told state media, “the rumors and fictitious, politicized reports about Somali troops being trained abroad participating in [the] Tigray war [are] unfounded.”