June 10, 2009:
The UN is under great pressure to sanction Eritrea, which is the major supporter of Islamic radicals in Somalia. Eritrea is doing this to get back at Ethiopia, as the two nations are disputing a patch of desert on their border. Eritrea is controlled by a dictator who runs the country like it's North Korea and doesn't care what the world thinks. Iran supports Eritrea, with cash, weapons and the use of key allies in the UN (like China and Russia). Thus UN sanctions are unlikely, although Western nations running the pirate patrol may be persuaded to blockade Eritrea. The UN will do nothing, other than call for donations, to keep the killers and potential victims fed.
The battle for control of Mogadishu has left over 200 dead in the last few weeks, while also driving over 100,000 civilians to refugee camps. The violence in Somalia has killed nearly 20,000 people, mostly civilians, in the last three years. The UN complaints that all sides in Somalia regularly commit war crimes against civilians. This perplexes the Somali gunmen, who are fighting as they always have. Since when is that a crime? A man's got to do what a man's got to do.
Ethiopia is determined to prevent another invasion of its Ogaden province by Somali Islamic radicals. To that end, Ethiopian troops are patrolling on the Somali side of their border, stopping in Somali border towns to collect information on what the Islamic radical groups are doing.
The fighting in Whabo, with Sufi and pro-government militias fighting al Shabaab, has left over a hundred dead in the last few days. Al Shabaab lost, even though their leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, came to personally command his gunmen.
The struggling Somali government is appealing for more help from foreign nations, making it clear that if the government fails to defeat radical groups like al Shabaab, Somalia will become a major base for al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups. With over a million Somalis dependent on foreign food aid, an Islamic radical takeover would get interesting. Do you continue to send in food and other aid, when it is clear that much of it is being stolen by Islamic terrorists? If the experience in Gaza is any example, than the answer is probably yes.
Although the Somali pirates are having less success at taking ships (twice as many attacks were successful last year), and the anti-piracy patrol has more than twice as many maritime patrol aircraft as last year, ransoms are still being paid. At least 20 ships and 300 crew are being held at the moment. The pirates are adapting by going farther away from the coast (1,500 kilometers into the Indian Ocean, and up into the Red Sea). Merchant ships in those more distant waters have been warned to implement the defensive tactics all mariners have learned since the Somali pirates became a menace off the Horn of Africa.
June 6, 2009: The central Somalia village of Wahbo (near the Ethiopian border) has become a battleground between al Shabaab, and a newly formed Sufi Moslem militia. Most Somalis practice the Sufi Islam. This is a more mellow and introspective form of Islam, practiced by about fifteen percent of all Moslems. More conservative Moslems look down on Sufis, often considering them heretics. Al Shabaab, influenced by the very conservative Wahabi form of Islam (from Saudi Arabia), has been attacking symbols of Sufi religious practices (grave yards, schools and holy places). Sufi preaches a generally peaceful attitude towards life, but the al Shabaab desecrations have enraged Sufi clerics and followers in general. Several Sufi militias have formed, and these are going after al Shabaab fighters. It would be ironic if the most peaceful of Somalis ended up shutting down the most violent ones.