MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Turkey opened its biggest overseas military base on Saturday in Somalia’s capital, cementing its ties with the volatile but strategic Muslim nation and building a presence in East Africa.
More than 10,000 Somali soldiers will be trained by Turkish officers at the base, a senior Turkish official said ahead of a ceremony in Mogadishu attended by Turkish military chief of staff Hulusi Akar.
The opening of the $50 million base signals ever-closer ties between Turkey and Somalia. Turkey’s relations with the Horn of Africa date back to the Ottoman Empire, but President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has become a close ally of the Somali government in recent years.
At the opening ceremony on Saturday, Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire thanked the Turkish government for opening the training school and said it would help the government “reconstruct” its national force — “not based on clan…not from a particular place, but well-trained forces that represent the Somali people.”
He noted that the military school was Turkey’s biggest overseas. The facility can train and house 1,000 soldiers at a time and also has sports courts and a running track.
Erdogan, whose roots are in political Islam, is an outspoken defender of Muslims, particularly those in need of humanitarian aid, such as Syrian refugees and Myanmar’s Rohingya.
Analysts say that, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, as Turkey’s foreign policy forays close to home have floundered, Ankara has found a willing partner in Somalia.
“It’s a country where Turkey could make a difference without necessarily having to compete with regional or global powers,” said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ankara’s initial focus on aid, as opposed to security assistance or overt backing of political parties, helped build trust, he added.