The African Union believes there are at least 2,000 foreign fighters reinforcing al Shabaab and other Islamic radical groups. Most of the foreigners are al Qaeda (or similar groups), while the rest are expatriate Somalis who came back to join the fight. These foreigners are often eager to get themselves killed (or "martyred") and that makes them formidable fighters, or suicide bombers. Al Shabaab uses these suicidal volunteers for assassination missions, to take out the leaders of the Transitional Government, or hostile tribal leaders. So far, the government has been able to hang on, especially since Sufi groups (most Somalis practice the more mellow Sufi form of Islam) have formed to fight al Shabaab (which considers any other form of Islam, other than their own Wahhabi version, to be heretical). But without some outside assistance, the fanatics will win.
Al Shabaab has publicized its implementation of Sharia (Islamic) law, in an attempt to intimidate criminals to shape up, or flee. Thus in the last week, four teenage boys each had a hand and foot cut off, as punishment for stealing. A man was also stoned to death for murdering a teenage girl he had just raped (rape only gets you flogged). Late last year, a teenage girl was stoned to death, after she complained of being raped, but did not have the proper number of witnesses as specified in Sharia law. This sort of thing is considered very harsh inside Somalia, but if al Shabaab can reduce the crime, they will gain some popularity.
About 8,000 civilians a day are fleeing the fighting in Mogadishu. The refugees either flee to other neighborhoods in the city, to refugee camps set up along the road west of the city, or to locations further inland. Over 180,000 have fled the city in the last two months. In addition, there have been at least 1,200 civilian casualties (dead and wounded.) Al Shabaab is letting government employees or supporters know that they will be subject to Sharia law for their "treason." Al Shabaab is also shutting down merchants selling expired food and medicines. A lot of this stuff is imported into Somalia, because it is cheap, and there's a market for it.
Despite the threat to Arab ships, the Somali pirates have lots of Arab fans. The pirates are seen as Somalis defending their coast against illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic wastes. This attitude, which ignores the absence of government in Somalia for the past 18 years, has far fewer fans in the West, where responsibility, rather than victimhood, is considered a more desirable trait.
The anti-piracy patrol is having some effect, in making more difficult for pirates to take a ship. So far this year, 46 ships have been taken, compared to 49 for all of last year. But many more attempts are thwarted by the foreign warships, or better evasive measures. Even with the higher number of ships taken, the risk of any one ship getting captured is about one in 200. Ship owners can pay the higher insurance rates and take their chances.
An Arab anti-piracy task force is being assembled. Ships and other resources are being contributed by the six Arab Gulf States, plus Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and Djibouti. Meanwhile, diplomats try to arrange for Puntland and Somaliland to shut down the pirate bases. This is tricky, because the pirates are bringing in nearly $10 million a month, and this has purchased a lot of good will and support. The warlords running the pirate gangs, know enough to share the loot with Puntland officials. Moreover, the Puntland leadership doesn't want to get involved in a war with the pirate gangs, so they might agree to inviting foreign troops in to do the dirty work.
Al Shabaab radio stations are calling for another invasion of Ethiopia. These efforts almost always end badly for the Somalis, but that does not seem to discourage them.
June 25, 2009: The U.S. has purchased about $10 million worth of weapons and ammunition in nations adjacent to Somalia, then, over the past six weeks, had the 40 tons of stuff shipped in to support government forces. The U.S. will also hire military trainers from African nations, and have them train police and soldiers working for the Somali government.