The Transitional National Government (TNG) and the ARS (Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia) have sort of united with the election of the ARS leader, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed (formerly head of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that controlled most of the country in 2006) as president of the TNG. The ICU leadership fled to Eritrea in 2006, where they found sanctuary and support from Iran and other Islamic conservative donors. There they formed the ARS. Meanwhile, the Islamic Courts militias split, with the more radical members forming al Shabaab. While this split the ARS, if found al Shabaab outnumbered by the less radical ARS groups, and the militias still loyal to the TNG. Now al Shabaab is really outnumbered, and has to worry about the Franco-American counter-terrorism forces in Djibouti as well. But al Shabaab is a more united, disciplined and well funded organization. Their opposition is divided into over a dozen major factions (and even more minor ones.) Al Shabaab has lost some battles recently, but remains the most fanatical and dangerous faction in the country. Al Shabaab is operating in Mogadishu, where they are trying to terrorize the AU peacekeepers into leaving. This is being done with roadside bombs, suicide bombs and sniping at AU patrols. The ARS appears willing to keep Islamic terrorists out of the country, in return for more foreign aid. Al Shabaab wants to shelter al Qaeda and help establish a worldwide Islamic government.
Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania and Yemen have agreed to share information on piracy off Somalia, and cooperate in suppressing pirate activity. This agreement is largely self-interest, as the presence of pirates has driven up ship insurance rates for the region, increasing shipping costs by a few percent, and made delivery less assured (ships captured by pirates sometimes carry cargo for local nations, cargo that will be delayed until the ship is ransomed.)
The 300,000 people who fled Mogadishu over the last two years, are returning from their makeshift camps outside the city. With the Ethiopians gone, along with their TNG allies, the traditional Mogadishu based clans can resume control of the city. However, these clans do not agree on exactly who controls what. So the fighting will resume, although not as intensely as before. People are getting tired of the constant violence.
The pirates off the north coast have had to change their tactics to deal with the growing number (20, with at least four more on the way) of foreign warships patrolling the area. In January, three merchant ships were sloppy enough (not joining a convoy, usually, and then moving too slowly or without lookouts) to get taken by pirates. The anti-piracy patrol has established a corridor through which warships escort convoys of merchant ships through the Gulf of Aden. Maritime patrol aircraft and spy satellites also keep an eye on pirate bases, and pirate attempts to go after ships outside the Gulf of Aden.
Puntland, the northern Somali statelet that serves as a base for the pirates, has allowed itself to be paid off by the pirates. It was either that, or fight a civil war with the powerful Puntland warlords who have taken to piracy. There is a police force in Puntland, and their only interaction with pirates is to try and prevent feuds between the pirate factions. With so much money in play, there are disputes over who gets what. Increasingly, this has led to assassinations and gun battles. The police will intervene to try and stop this violence from getting out of hand, but will otherwise leave the pirate gangs to handle their own discipline.
February 4, 2009: The manager of a major media (radio and TV) outlet in Mogadishu was murdered in the main market place. No one took responsibility, but al Shabaab has been threatening mass media that does back Islamic radical causes, which few media outlets in Somalia will do.
February 3, 2009: A $3.2 million cash ransom has been paid Ukrainian ship Faina, and its cargo of weapons (including 33 tanks). The pirates have held the ship for five months, attempting to get a larger (up to $30 million) ransom because of the cargo.