Somalia: More Bad News


June 19, 2011: Al Shabaab continues to retreat. In central Somalia, Sufi militias push al Shabaab gunmen out of Sufi villages, and the Islamic radical group is unable to muster sufficient manpower for much of a counter-offensive. For most of the last week, Sufi and al Shabaab gunmen have fought over the town of Beletweyne, leaving over a hundred dead and wounded so far.  Al Shabaab needs a victory here, but despite their best efforts, all they have been able to achieve is a bloody stalemate.

In Mogadishu, al Shabaab keeps losing ground. Popular opinion is portraying al Shabaab as a bunch of self-destructive losers, and recruiting is more difficult. Those teenagers or young men who are hired on tend to be less skilled and harder to discipline. But the TNG and AU peacekeepers are also having problems, so the winner will be the side that falls apart more slowly.

Al Shabaab also has some serious economic problems in the south. There, the worst drought in four decades has seen crops and herds devastated. There has been no rain since last November, and al Shabaab has compounded the problems by banning most foreign aid organizations from the area. Those that do operate there, must pay hefty bribes to al Shabaab to do so. Many grain merchants have fled the area, because al Shabaab was demanding "taxes" so high that it was impossible to sell grain at a profit. The result is that hunger is common and people are increasingly dying of starvation. Al Shabaab does not allow foreign media into the area, so there is no video to inspire a popular outcry for something to be done.

Prime minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohammed is feuding with the rest of the TNG (Transitional National Government) over when to hold new elections. Despite objections by the U.S. and UN, the TNG has agreed to delay the August elections for a year. Thus most TNG officials want Mohamed Abdullahi Mohammed ousted, apparently (but not officially) because he is not sufficiently corrupt. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohammed has a lot of popular support among Somalia, but TNG soldiers have been ordered to fire on Mohamed Abdullahi Mohammed supporters, and several have been killed recently.

While the UN has to constantly monitor the TNG to see that TNG troops are paid, there is now a problem with the AU (African Union) peacekeepers from Burundi. Those troops in Somalia have not been paid for five months. The AU paid the money to Burundi, but Burundi has not paid its peacekeepers in Somalia. There is fear that corrupt Burundi officials are seeking to steal the peacekeepers pay. This would not be the first time this sort of thing happened, and there have been peacekeeper mutinies in the past because of it. Uganda is threatening to withdraw its peacekeepers if the TNG does not get better organized and less corrupt.

Piracy continues to thrive in northern Somalia (mainly Puntland). Last year, some 400 ships were attacked, and about a thousand civilian sailors were captured and held for ransom. Over $100 million in ransom was paid, after ships and crews were held, on average, for five months. At least a third of the captive sailors were abused in some way. About a third have been used as human shields, on smaller cargo and fishing vessels used as mother ships. All this causes little uproar in the West because most of the captured sailors are Indian or Filipino.

The pirates are increasingly carrying human shields on their mother ships, thus protecting themselves from attack by the anti-piracy patrol. However, the warships have taken to shooting up the speedboats (used for the actual attacks on merchant ships) towed behind the mother ships. This will force the pirates to haul the speedboats onto the mother ships (usually fishing ships or small cargo vessels).

Kenyan police estimate that al Shabaab gets a quarter or more of the ransom money received by Somali pirates. Given what is known (quite a lot, actually) about the economics of the pirates, this is too high. But al Shabaab does have several opportunities to extort money from the pirates, and apparently does that as often as they can. Thus al Shabaab is getting, at the very least, several million dollars of ship ransom money a year. It helps keep them in business, although their primary source of income is extortion payments from Somali businesses and foreign aid groups.  

June 15, 2011:  A cargo ship (MV Orna) held captive (since last December) at Harardhere, caught fire (apparently there was an electrical problem in the kitchen) and is still burning. The ships' cargo is 25,000 tons of coal, and if the fire reaches the cargo, the ship will eventually go down. The 19 member crew and their pirate guard got off the burning ship safely.  The 28,000 ton Orna is owned by Persian Gulf (UAE) based shipping company.

June 12, 2011: In Mogadishu, al Shabaab gunmen fired on some teenagers playing football (soccer), killing a bystander and wounding three others. Al Shabaab forbids sports, and lots of other fun stuff.

June 10, 2011: The TNG interior minister was killed by a suicide bomber (who turned out to be his niece, who had joined al Shabaab).

June 6, 2011: Fazul Mohammed, the long-time head of the East African branch of al Qaeda, was killed at a TNG checkpoint in Mogadishu. Fazul Mohammed and an associate had apparently made a wrong turn and were not able to bluff or bribe their way past the checkpoint. The men in the pickup truck tried to fire on the TNG soldiers, but one of the troops quickly fired a full magazine (30 rounds) into the vehicle, killing both men. It was only later that it was discovered that one of the dead men was the long-sought Fazul Mohammed (who had a $5 million price on his head and was the planner for the 1998 bombings of American embassies in East Africa.) More bad news for the Islamic radicals in Somalia and neighboring countries.




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