Danab -Somali Special Operations Forces-OSINT Intelligence Observations 

 

INTELLIGENCE RESEARCH OBSERVATORY

 

Danab -Somali Special Operations Forces-OSINT Intelligence Observations 

 

METHODOLOGY-OSINT research

 

Background

Danab is an elite special operations apparatus of the Somali military funded solely by the U.S. State Department. Danab which in Somali means “Lightening” has been established to counter the regional Islamist terror organization al-Shabab, which seeks to overthrow the Somali government.   In 2013 the federal government of Somalia negotiated an assistance package from the United States to help stand up an advanced infantry unit.  Military planners from the United States fully envisaged the design of a Somali Special Forces group.  The Danab “Lightening” Brigade was originally meant to be a battalion sized element; however the effort has expanded into a brigade sized component that will cover six sectors of Somalia, with a projected strength of 3000 troops.  Current personnel levels and timelines for a fully operational commando brigade are currently unknown. AFRICOM has classified this information citing operational security and force protection concerns.  Networks from al-Shabab have launched violent attacks on Danab bases.  Danab has developed a reputation as Somalia’s most professional fighting force.  According to The Star newspaper in Kenya, Danab is described as the most capable infantry force in Somalia.  Others praise Danab Brigade as an example of what a professional Somali combat unit should look like: well-armed and trained, with troops from a diverse mix of backgrounds, recruited on merit and paid on time. The Danab is composed of clan-appropriate, integrated units of the Somali National Army, with one battalion aligned to each Federal Member State.  AFRICOM and Somali Commanders ensure the right people are placed in the right sector, this makes Danab largely perceived as effective and clan-neutral by the Somali people. The U.S. has made a concerted effort to ensure that the forces comprising Danab are representative of the areas where they operate helping to gain the trust of the locals.  Danab members are vetted, recruited and trained by Bancroft Global Development, a non-profit contracted by the U.S. State Department.  After Bancroft Global evaluates and trains Danab recruits, they are handed over to undisclosed U.S. Special Operations advisors for enhanced training and mentoring. After two years of advanced warfare training with U.S. troops, Danab units are conducting the majority of missions on their own.  Danab protocol is to fight the al Qaeda affiliated organization know as al-Shabab, a small youth militia arm of a moderate Islamist group that rose to power in Somalia in early 2006, al-Shabab was radicalized and brought to prominence as a popular Islamist movement as the result of Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia.  Ethiopian soldiers attempting to stabilize Somalia were driven out by al-Shabab using conventional military means while concurrently embracing transnationalism and attempting to portray itself as part of al Qaeda’s war against the West.  The hope is that eventually the elite Danab troops will be able to drive al-Shabab from strategic Somali corridors near the capital, and keep them from attacking Mogadishu. For now the Somalis are still heavily reliant on US forces, particularly for functions like planning and intelligence. U.S. Africa Command isn’t expecting the mission to build up Somalia’s Danab Advance Infantry Brigade to end anytime soon. AFRICOM is predicting it will continue to develop the “Lightning Brigade” until 2027, approximately a decade after the U.S. Special Operations forces first got involved training the specialized infantry to combat the al-Qaida offshoot, which has between 5,000 to 7,000 militants in Somalia.

 

Analysis

Danab units while effectual capturing territory from al Shabab is unable to retain the ground. Danab operations are mostly pre-planned package targets conducted under the cover of darkness, Danab Special Forces immediately return to their bases after missions. This has proved to be a crucial weakness, as there is no transitional army capable of repelling al-Shabab counter attacks. Danab while not the perfect solution for countering the extremist terror group is making positive steps forward while simultaneously building capacity.  The Danab model is proving decidedly beneficial, because important skill sets and leadership qualities are developing within Somali military culture.  Investment in Danab SF units should provide trickle down effect, enhancing the regular Somali military apparatus.  A strong national military and capable special operations component should continue to degrade the al-Shabab movement, which is currently undermining any possibility of peace & security in the east African nation.

 

Danab Fighting al-Shabab: US trains elite Somali forces-Al Jazeera

 

Danab Combat Footage (0:00 – 2:54)

 

What is the Danab Lightening Brigade?

  • Danab is a specialized commando brigade in Somalia that has emerged as a key force in the fight to reclaim territory held by al-Qaida-aligned insurgents (Stars & Stripes, 2019)
  • Danab Brigade has become an example of what a professional Somali combat unit should look like: well-armed and trained, with troops from a diverse mix of backgrounds, recruited on merit and paid on time (Pulitzer Center, 2020)
  • According to The Star newspaper in Kenya, Danab, could be described as the most capable force in Somalia, with up to five battalions (BBC, 2019)
  • Danab is considered an Advanced Infantry Unit and is also known as a Lightening Brigade (CNN, 2019)

[Photo Courtesy of Hadalsame Media]

 

About Danab, the Details

  • In 2013, Somalia’s federal government wanted to create a counter-terrorism combat force to take on Islamist militant’s al-Shabab, which seeks to overthrow the government
  • After negotiations with the United States, an elite Special Forces unit was created in 2014, the Danab “Lightning” Brigade
  • The unit has developed a reputation as Somalia’s most professional fighting force
  • Danab is almost entirely funded by the US government; according to a US Department of Defense, US officials even influenced the design of Danab’s current iteration (Pulitzer Center, 2020)
  • U.S. Military planners originally conceived a battalion-sized element; however the effort has now expanded with a plan to build a 3,000-troop brigade spread out across six Somalia army sectors, according to AFRICOM (Stars & Stripes, 2019)
  • AFRICOM declined to detail the current troop level of the Danab forces or a timeline for when the brigade would be at full strength, citing force protection concerns
  • Danab fighters are also paid promptly by their American trainers, unlike counterparts in the Somali army
  • Danab fighters get pay through mobile phones so their families can have the resources while soldiers are working in the field (Toronto Star, 2017)

[Photo Courtesy of Hadalsame Media]

 What Regions of Somalia are Danab Soldiers Recruited From?

  • “The Danab are clan-appropriate and integrated units of the Somali National Army, with one battalion aligned to each Federal Member State, in order to provide locally acceptable and trusted forces of the Somali National Army”
  • According to U.S. commanders in Somalia, feedback received on the ground is that the Somali people hold the Danab in the highest esteem as a result of these efforts (CNN, 2019)
  • “We’ve learned the importance of factoring in cultural and region-specific considerations,” “We work closely with our Somali partners ensuring the composition of specific Danab companies is appropriate for the security sector where they’ll be employed” (Stars & Stripes, 2019)
  • AFRICOM and Somali Commanders ensure the right people are placed in the right sector, this makes Danab largely perceived as effective and clan-neutral by the Somali people
  • The US has made a concerted effort to ensure that the forces comprising Danab are representative of the areas where they operate helping to gain the trust of the locals, something that could be contributing to the slow pace of increasing its size (CNN, 2019)

 

[Photo Courtesy of Wall Street Journal-YouTube Screenshot]

Who is Training Danab?

  • According to the U.S. State Department before working with U.S. military advisers, those training to become Danab forces first work with Bancroft Global Development, a non-profit organization who works with the State Department to recruit and train Danab forces (Military Times, 2020)
  • It was Bancroft personnel who set up Danab, and continue to train and advise the unit
  • Bancroft personnel are not necessarily American ― many are South African, British and European ― and are, therefore, not bound by the same rules of engagement as the US military (Pulitzer Center, 2020)
  • Danab personnel are then handed over to U.S. military advisers for additional training in advanced war fighting techniques, among other things
  • AFRICOM did not disclose which military units are in Somalia training the Danab, citing force protection considerations
  • After years of training with U.S. troops, the Danab forces now are conducting most missions on their own (Military Times, 2020)
  • Bancroft contractors & US special operators have also provided on-the-ground training to Danab soldiers, and accompany Danab fighters on missions in an “advise and assist” capacity (Pulitzer Center, 2020)

 

More on Bancroft Global Development

De Faakto Intelligence Research Observatory Report on Bancroft Global Development

BANCROFT GLOBAL-A BETTER PMC MODEL- DE FAAKTO OSINT NOTES http://defaakto.com/2020/08/25/bancroft-global-a-better-pmc-model-de-faakto-osint-notes/

 

Who is Danab Fighting?

Inside an al-Shabaab training camp-Channel 4 Television

 

al-Shabab

  • al-Shabab is an al Qaeda-affiliated organization that has risen rapidly to prominence in the midst of Somalia’s decades-long anarchy
  • The group has experienced two dramatic transformations in its short history
  • Originally the small, youth militia arm of a relatively moderate Islamist organization that rose to power in Somalia in early 2006, al-Shabaab was radicalized and brought to prominence as a popular Islamist guerrilla movement by Ethiopia’s invasion in December of that year
  • However, since early 2008 al-Shabaab has undergone yet another transformation, this time from a largely nationalist organization focused on driving out Ethiopia through conventional military means to a hybrid movement that has increasingly embraced transnational terrorism and attempted to portray itself as part of the al Qaeda-led global war against the West (CSIS.org, 2011)

 

[Photo Courtesy of Hadalsame Media]

 

How is Danab Funded?

  • While US military advisers have been in Somalia since at least 2013, the effort has gotten a major boost under the Trump Administration, which volunteered to undertake the Danab advisory mission in 2017 in addition to expanding drone strikes, and reopening the American diplomatic mission in Mogadishu for the first time since 1991 (CNN, 2019)
  • At first, US funding for Danab was routed through the State Department, and was used to pay for the services of Bancroft Global Development, a private military contractor
  • As far as the Mail & Guardian can assess, it is almost entirely funded by the US government (Pulitzer Center, 2020)
  • State Department funding for Bancroft has continued, but now assistance also comes from the US military, some of it directly to Danab.  Some of this falls under the 127e program, a US budgetary authority that allows US Special Operations forces to use local military units as surrogates in counterterrorism missions
  • AFRICOM recently reported to the Defense Department Inspector General that it has continued to facilitate the purchase and transfer of equipment to the Danab Brigade under provisions of Title 10 US Code section 333, which authorizes providing training and equipment to the security forces of foreign countries to increase their counterterrorism capabilities (Pulitzer Center, 2020)

 

Why is the USA and International Partners Investing in Danab?

  • For years the task of fighting al-Shabab in Somalia had fallen to the African Union-led peacekeeping mission, AMISOM
  • In the months leading up to the London Conference, al-Shabab proved that it was still a potent force on the battlefield with its fighters overrunning three AMISOM bases, seizing weaponry, armored vehicles and ammunition
  • Then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis agreed that the US would take responsibility for “training specific numbers of proficient and mobile light infantry capable of defeating al-Shabab,” referring to the Danab unit
  • The rest of Somalia’s security forces were to be trained by international advisers from the EU, Turkey and the UAE on a bilateral basis (CNN, 2019)
  • The current strategy for security in Somalia is partly a result of a May 2017 conference held in London, where a group of countries including the UK, US, Kenya and Ethiopia along with representatives from the UN, African Union and European Union, met to discuss the future of Somalia (CNN, 2019)

 

[Photo Courtesy of BBC News]

[Photo Courtesy of The East African]

Where Does Danab Operate?

  • Danab brigade headquarters, is located 70 miles north of Mogadishu at Camp Baledogle, where the U.S. military is expanding an airfield for operations
  • Security and political analysts who have been briefed on Danab say the main training area is set up on a base alongside a Soviet-era airstrip (Toronto Star, 2017)
  • Another group is expected to be based in Galkayo, an area near Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region
  • A third Danab unit will be based in the south, likely Kismayo, where Shabab long held support (Toronto Star, 2017)

[Photo Courtesy of U.S. Government-United States Marine Corp]

How Many Danab Soldiers have been Killed in Operations?

Caveat-Open Source Research of Danab Fatalities-may present gaps, information from reliable sources indicate the following data, however a number of less known Somali media outlets indicate higher numbers of Danab soldiers killed in combat actions

  • Late September 2017-12 Danab soldiers killed
  • May 27 2019-2 Danab soldiers killed
  • October 3 2019-6 Danab soldiers killed
  • September 07 2020-3 Danab soldiers killed
  • August 11 2020-at least 12 Danab soldiers killed

 

[Photo Courtesy of Hivisasa]

 

What does the Future look like for Danab?

  • According to a Danab fighter, the Lightening Brigade will be trained in airborne; land and sea combat (Toronto Star, 2017)
  • Danab currently numbers only about 500 soldiers, too few to carry out operations in a country with a coastline almost as long as the east coast of the USA
  • The plan, US defense officials say, is to eventually build Danab into a force of 3,000 soldiers capable of clearing militants from villages and towns across Somalia (CNN, 2019)
  • Military planners want to build two companies a year, with the end-state being five battalions and a brigade headquarters element,” Becky Farmer, a spokesperson for Africa Command which oversees US military operations on the continent, told CNN  “We think it’s going to take approximately seven years for the Somalis to absorb all of these forces,” a defense official familiar with the US counterterrorism strategy in Somalia, If everything works out and however many miracles line up to make this happen it could go faster, and it could go slower” (CNN, 2019)
  • The hope is that eventually the elite Somali troops will be able to drive al-Shabab from strategic corridors and areas near the capital, and keep them from attacking Mogadishu
  • For now though, the Somalis are still heavily reliant on US forces, particularly for functions like planning and intelligence (CNN, 2019)
  • U.S. Africa Command isn’t expecting the mission to build up Somalia’s Danab Advance Infantry Brigade to end anytime soon
  • As the Pentagon weighs adjusting troop presence in Africa and elsewhere, AFRICOM is predicting it will continue to develop the so-called “Lightning Brigade” until 2027 — approximately a decade after the U.S. Special Operations forces first got involved training the specialized infantry to combat al-Qaida offshoot al-Shabab, who has between 5,000 to 7,000 militants in Somalia (Military Times, 2020)

 

[Photo Courtesy of Somalia Swiss TV]

Is the Danab Model Working?

  • When asked if Danab or American forces ever disturbed the surrounding areas (Referring to the Base in Baledogle), the civilian said “absolutely no”
  • The same civilian noted that Danab does not ask for bribes, operate checkpoints or disturb farming activities
  • If anything, the person said, it would be nice if Danab and the US used their influence to stop clan fighting in the area
  • Although praising both the Danab and the US, one civilian added that, for the sake of full transparency, it had to be noted that they were responsible for two civilian deaths in the area in 2016
  • Danab confirmed both incidents but disputed claims that the people killed were civilians

 

[Photo Courtesy of Hadalsame Media]

Is There a Downside to the Danab Model-What is the Achilles Heel of the Lightening Brigade?

  • Danab played a key role, alongside forces from the fledgling Somali National Army and the African Union Mission in Somali, in Operation Leopard Hunt, which sought to cut al-Shabab off from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia
  • Although Operation Leopard Hunt successfully cleared al-Shabab from the town of Bariire, a major objective of the operation, Somali soldiers were unable to hold it
  • At least 12 Danab soldiers were killed when al-Shabab retook the town in late September 2017
  • This has proven to be the elite fighting force’s Achilles’ heel, although it is effective at forcing al-Shabab out of towns and areas, it cannot then hold on to these positions
  • The Somali National Army isn’t trained to hold, so Danab can capture, but there isn’t a transitional army to keep the city
  • That has been a problem for a long time, said Abdirizak Mohamed, a Somali MP, and the minister of security from 2015 to 2017, “Danab mostly do night operations; they have pre-planned target attacks and then they come back to base”  (Pulitzer Center, 2020)

 

Weapons of Danab

  • Attention Weapons Analysts-intelligence identifying the small arms & equipment of Danab images can be forwarded to dfaakto@gmail.com
  • Updates will be added and analysis credited 
  • Links to images are included for best photo analysis

 

  • Photo Image Alpha

https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/07/09/ciidamada-maraykanka-kuwa-komaandooska-danab-oo-la-sheegay-inay-burburiyeen-hanti-gaar-ah/

  • Photo Image Bravo

https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/03/23/maraykanka-oo-amaan-kala-dul-dhacay-komaandooska-somalia-tiradooda-oo-la-kordhinayo-sawirro/

 

  • Photo Image Charlie

https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/01/26/ciidanka-danab-ee-dowladda-soomaaliya-oo-howlgal-ka-fuliyay-deegaanka-bariire-faahfaahin/

  • Photo Image Delta

https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/10/02/danab-cidna-kama-fiigin-shabaabkii-soo-weeraray-ballidoogle-dhegeyso/

 

Photo Image Echo

https://somaliswisstv.com/2014/05/29/haween-badan-oo-ka-mid-noqday-sanooyinkan-danbe-ciidamada-qalabka-sida-ee-dowladda-soomaaliya/

  • Photo Image Foxtrot

https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/03/23/maraykanka-oo-amaan-kala-dul-dhacay-komaandooska-somalia-tiradooda-oo-la-kordhinayo-sawirro/

  • Photo Image Golf

https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/07/09/ciidamada-maraykanka-kuwa-komaandooska-danab-oo-la-sheegay-inay-burburiyeen-hanti-gaar-ah/

 

 

Resources

The Danab Brigade: Somalia’s Elite, US-Sponsored Special Ops Force-VIA Mail & Guardian- AMANDA SPERBER (2020) https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/danab-brigade-somalias-elite-us-sponsored-special-ops-force

US helps Somali commando force grow from battalion to brigade-Stars & Stripes- JOHN VANDIVER (2019) https://www.stripes.com/news/us-helps-somali-commando-force-grow-from-battalion-to-brigade-1.573794

US Military to train Danab Brigade Until 2027-Garowe Online-Staff Reporter (2020) https://www.garoweonline.com/en/news/somalia/us-military-to-train-danab-brigade-until-2027-in-somalia

Star exclusive: Somalia’s new war order-Toronto Star-Michelle Shepherd (2014) https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/05/25/star_exclusive_somalias_new_war_order.html

US military mission in Somalia could take seven years to complete-CNN-Ryan Brown (2019) https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/13/politics/us-military-somalia-mission/index.html

Wargeyska The Star: Kenya waa inay ka digtoonaataa ciidammada Danab ee Soomaaliya-BBC Somalia-Staff Writer (2019) https://www.bbc.com/somali/war-48067282

AFRICOM predicts mission training Somalia’s ‘Lightning Brigade’ will last until 2027-Military Times- Diana Stancy Correll (2020) https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/03/17/africom-predicts-mission-training-somalias-lightning-bridgade-will-last-until-2027/

Al Shabab Report-Center for Strategic & International Studies-Rob Wise (2011) https://www.csis.org/analysis/al-shabaab

 

 

Images

Photo Courtesy of Hivisasa (2019) https://hivisasa.com/posts/89695162-army-commander-killed-in-deadly-al-shabaab-attack

Photo Courtesy of Voice of America (2019) https://www.voanews.com/africa/somali-officer-remembered-mother-military-hero

Photo Courtesy of Garowe Online (2020) https://www.garoweonline.com/en/news/somalia/somali-army-steps-up-battle-against-al-qaeda-linked-militants

Photo Courtesy of Somalis Swiss TV (2014) https://somaliswisstv.com/2014/05/29/haween-badan-oo-ka-mid-noqday-sanooyinkan-danbe-ciidamada-qalabka-sida-ee-dowladda-soomaaliya/

Photo Courtesy of Voice of America (2014) https://www.voanews.com/africa/us-trained-somali-commandos-fight-al-shabab

Photo Courtesy of Hadalsame Media (2019) https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/10/02/danab-cidna-kama-fiigin-shabaabkii-soo-weeraray-ballidoogle-dhegeyso/

Photo Courtesy of Haldalsame Media (2019) https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/07/09/ciidamada-maraykanka-kuwa-komaandooska-danab-oo-la-sheegay-inay-burburiyeen-hanti-gaar-ah/

Photo Courtesy of Haldalsame Media (2019) https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/01/26/ciidanka-danab-ee-dowladda-soomaaliya-oo-howlgal-ka-fuliyay-deegaanka-bariire-faahfaahin/

Photo Courtesy of Haldalsame Media (2019) https://www.hadalsame.com/2019/03/23/maraykanka-oo-amaan-kala-dul-dhacay-komaandooska-somalia-tiradooda-oo-la-kordhinayo-sawirro/

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Government-United States Marine Corp (1992) https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/Restoring%20Hope%20In%20Somalia%20with%20the%20Unified%20Task%20Force%201992-1993%20PCN%2019000413500_7.pdf

Photo Courtesy of The East African (2019) https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/ea/attack-US-training-base-Somalia/4552908-5293024-jkljtxz/index.html

Photo Courtesy of BBC News (2019) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-49879607

Photo Screenshot Courtesy of -YouTube-Wall Street Journal Live-Christopher S. Stewart (2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tURj91KLu4A