Somalia: Honesty Is Not The Best Policy


March 29, 2010: Warships off the coast continue to catch pirates in the act of attacking merchant ships. But most of the pirates are simply disarmed and sent back to Somalia without their weapons and boarding tools. It's like paying a fine (of a few hundred dollars, at most, per pirate), and the lost gear can easily be replaced. This "catch and release" approach is not discouraging the pirates, who consider it a cost of doing business. But the West is unwilling to commit peacekeepers to Somalia, and pacify the country. The Somalis are considered too ruthless and unruly. Moreover, the Somalis know how to spin the media, which is a scary proposition for any Western politician considering sending in troops.

Al Shabaab has taken over independent radio stations in areas they control. Earlier, al Shabaab had intimidated the radio stations into only reporting what al Shabaab wanted to hear. But this was apparently not enough, so now al Shabaab puts its own people into control of these radio stations.

The Sufi militias are moving men into Mogadishu, for a long planned, and delayed, offensive against al Shabaab forces there. Sufi Moslems are less than ten percent of the population, but have gotten themselves organized. Sufis are traditionally less radical and more mystical than mainstream Sunni Moslems. But radical Sunni groups consider Sufis heretics. Based on that, al Shabaab has attacked Sufi holy sites (mainly the tombs of notable Sufi clerics) When the armed Sufi groups first appeared last year, it was believed they would not be a big threat to al Shabaab, merely restricting movement of the radicals somewhat. But the Sufis went beyond fortifying and arming self-defense militias in towns and villages. The Sufis formed mobile groups, and went after al Shabaab. The Islamic radicals still despise the Sufi militias, but increasingly must be wary of them.

Islamic radicals, including some loyal to the Transitional Government, are also seeking out and killing Christian Somalis. Religious intolerance is a pillar of Islamic radicalism, and killing non-Moslems is considered a worthy goal.

Honesty is not the best policy. Recent admissions by the UN that their Somali aid efforts were being plundered by al Shabaab to support the Islamic radical group, have caused even more donors to cut their donations for Somalia. So now the UN is insisting that their earlier reports are being misunderstood, and that the UN has the aid theft under control. Most donors are not convinced.

March 27, 2010: In Mogadishu, a roadside bomb killed a Transitional Government official, two soldiers and a civilian. Al Shabaab took credit.

March 26, 2010: Iran reported that pirates had seized one of their cargo ships, carrying $4 million worth of Egyptian oranges, some 600 kilometers off the Somali coast last week. The perishable nature of the cargo complicates negotiations for its release.

March 25, 2010: Pirates seized a Yemeni fishing vessel off the north coast, killing one of the twelve crew in the process.

March 23, 2010: For the first time, armed security guards on a merchant ship, shot and killed an attacking pirate. An Arab merchant ship was headed for Mogadishu, and was attacked twice. A security detachment on the ship fought back, and called for a nearby Spanish warship to help out. A pirate skiff and a mother ship were captured and sunk. Six pirates were arrested, and later released. Meanwhile, pirates seized a Turkish bulk carrier (carrying potash) 1,800 kilometers off the Somali coast. It is feared that the pirates are moving close to the coast of India in search of undefended and unprotected targets. The pirates have an enormous advantage in that, if they can take a ship, they can use the captive crew as human shields as the ship is brought back to pirate controlled Somali coastal villages. No other pirates on the planet have bases like this, and that's why the pirates can get away with demanding, and getting, ransom.




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