MOGADISHU, Somalia — Hundreds of Somali soldiers trained with U.S. tax dollars have deserted because they were not being paid their $100 monthly wage, and some have even joined the al-Qaida-linked militants they were supposed to be fighting, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The desertions raise fears that a new U.S.-backed effort beginning next month to build up Somalia's army may only increase the ranks of the insurgency.
Somalia's besieged U.N.-backed government holds only a few blocks of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, while Islamic insurgents control the rest of the city and most of the country. That turmoil — and the lawless East African nation's proximity to Yemen, where al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is based — has fed fears that Somalia could be used to launch attacks on the West.
In an effort to rebuild the tattered Somali military, the United States helped fund a training program for nearly 1,000 soldiers in neighboring Djibouti last year, Western diplomats told the AP. The French-trained troops were supposed to earn $100 a month, but about half of them deserted because they were not paid, Somali army Col. Ahmed Aden Dhayow said.
Somalia's state minister for defense, Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, confirmed that some trainees have joined the al-Shabab militants, but he declined to specify the number of deserters.
Funding for the Somali army is a complex affair involving contributions from donor nations, the United Nations and the Somali government. Individual countries sometimes pledge to cover salaries for a limited number of soldiers for a few months, and when the money runs out, salaries don't get paid.