March 14, 2011:
The AU (African Union peacekeeper)/TNG (Transitional National Government) offensive continues. Al Shabaab is still in Mogadishu, but retreating from government/peacekeeper forces. Same thing further south. The UN is using this success to solicit more support from Western nations, particularly helicopters and better logistical support. This would include more air freight for ammo, medical supplies and replacements for any vital gear lost (like radios) in the fighting. Donors are reluctant to give anything to the TNG, because of the persistent corruption, and the likelihood that any donations will be stolen and sold off. Sending in helicopters is considered very dangerous, given the fact that Somalia is a peacemaking, not peacekeeping, situation. Somalia is a war zone, and helicopters would be at more risk that Western nations are willing to accept for what is officially a peacekeeping effort.
The retreats by al Shabaab forces in the last two weeks have encouraged clan militias to form and join the fight against the hated Islamic radicals. With al Shabaab forces depleted, some of the clan leaders see an opportunity to chase the Islamic radicals out of their territory. This is a big deal because when al Shabaab moves into an area, they force the clan leadership to either do as they are told or fight back. When al Shabaab has more guns, the clan leaders have no choice but to comply. Normally, the clans don't have a full-time force of gunmen. Many of the adult men in the clan have guns, which are hidden away most of the time. If the clan leaders decide that the time is right to gather together an armed militia to take care of some important clan business, the word goes out for every man who is able (and not all are, because of illness, urgent family business or whatever) to grab their weapon and meet at a certain place. These militias cannot stay together for long, as the men have families that have to be fed and otherwise care for. The advantage al Shabaab had was, initially, the image of being on a Mission From God (which got a lot of guys to join and serve for free) and, later, cash and foreign fighters that enabled pay for men who had family to support. But the foreigners angered too many locals, the money dried up (stolen, or deliveries disrupted by foreign counter-terror operations) and al Shabaab was seen by most Somalis as more of a nuisance than a source of help.
Over a third of Mogadishu is still controlled by al Shabaab fighters who are refusing to surrender or leave. Thus the fighting in the city continues. But many of the Western trained TNG troops are being sent south to help the local clans drive al Shabaab out of the towns the Islamic radicals have controlled for a year or more.
Shipping companies and crew unions are threatening to boycott operations in the eastern Indian Ocean if the risk of pirate attack is not reduced. The risk of attack or capture is still low (less than one percent a year), but it's enough to cause a growing panic among sailors. The shipping companies are also being criticized by customers for raising rates (to pay for higher insurance and other costs). The international anti-piracy patrol is seen as more of a publicity stunt than as a real attempt to halt the pirates. As always, the key problem is that no nation wants to send troops ashore to destroy the pirate bases (which make the ship hijacking possible.)
The recent defeats suffered by al Shabaab may upset their attempt to get into the piracy business. Over the last few months, al Shabaab has forced a pirate gang operating out of the central Somalia port of Haradhere. This is the only pirate base outside Puntland, and the Islamic radicals have allowed the pirates to keep operating in return for a 20 percent share of ransoms taken. Islamic radical group Hizbul Islam is actually in charge here, as a recent merger with rival al Shabaab has allowed Hizbul Islam to concentrate on the situation in Haradhere.
March 13, 2011: Several pirate gangs announced that they will lower the ransoms demanded for fishing ships and dhows (smaller wooden ships used for local trade). Both types of smaller ships are often used as mother ships, with their original crews operating them, in return for freedom after a certain amount of time. The owners of the fishing ships and dhows often do not have insurance that will pay a large ransom, and the businessmen in the UAE, that the pirates employ to handle negotiations, have convinced the pirates that for smaller ships, without insurance, multi-million dollar ransoms are just not possible. So the pirates will get whatever they can and get rid of these ships (which cost the gangs money for guards and food). Currently the pirates hold 31 ships, and now realize that the big ransoms are only possible if you grab a larger merchant ship that has insurance.
March 11, 2011: Puntland soldiers attempted to rescue four Danes (taken from a yacht recently) who were being held in a coastal village in Puntland. But the pirates saw the soldiers coming, ambushed them, caused several casualties and drove them off. The pirates then said that if another such attempt were made, the Danes would be killed.
India has changed its ROE (rules-of-engagement) regarding pirates. Indian sailors no longer have to wait to be fired on by pirates before responding. Indian forces may fire on pirates who are attacking someone else, and suspected pirate ships or boats may be searched and seized. These changes were the result of public pressure, and the fact that a large number of the sailors on captured ships are from India. Over fifty Indian citizens are currently held by the pirates. Indian shipping companies and the much larger number of ship owners (of smaller coastal fishing and cargo boats) are alarmed at how, in the past year, the Somali pirates have extended their operations to the west Indian coast. The media has made much of this "Somali invasion" and that has got the government's attention.
March 10, 2011: Another 1,200 hundred peacekeepers from Burundi have arrived in Mogadishu. This puts more pressure on remaining al Shabaab forces in the city, and allows more TNG troops to leave the city and attack al Shabaab elsewhere.
March 8, 2011: The TNG announced that an American member of al Shabaab, Omar Hammami, had been killed. Hammami grew up in Alabama, but came to Somalia and joined al Shabaab several years ago. He has appeared in al Shabaab videos, became known as "The American", and has long been sought. The TNG do not have Hammami's body, but are certain that the information they have about his death, in recent fighting, is accurate.
March 7, 2011: Kenyan police say that nine Kenyans of Somali ancestry have been arrested and admitted they were trained in Somalia to make terror attacks (usually with hand grenades) in Kenya.
The U.S., and many other Western nations, have warned their citizens to stay away from the eastern Indian Ocean, unless they have substantial security to protect them from the growing pirate threat there. The U.S. also noted that more Yemenis are showing up among captured pirates. Yemeni and Somali fishermen have long cooperated to smuggle Africans to Yemen, and that has extended to pirate operations as well.