Somalia: Shoot On Sight, Shoot First, Shoot To Kill, Keep Shooting

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January 28, 2016: The 22,000 peacekeepers, 20,000 Somali soldiers and over 10,000 pro government militiamen have not been able to eradicate Islamic terrorists like al Shabaab or unruly clan leaders and warlords. Violence has been greatly reduced over the last few years but al Shabaab continues to stage high profile (likely to make the international or regional news) attacks, especially in the capital (Mogadishu). Corrupt government officials and clan leaders help keep the violence going by tolerating all manner of illegal activity as long as the bribe is large enough. Fortunately the neighbors (especially Ethiopia and Kenya) are tired of all this Somali lawlessness as neighboring countries have been victims of it for as long as anyone can remember. The UN agrees that something should be done but so far no one has been able to come up with a plan that will bring long-term peace.

The January 15th defeat of Kenyan peacekeepers in Somalia will have unpleasant repercussions for Somalis in Somalia as well as over 600,000 living as refugees in Kenya. Relations between Somalis and their neighbors have never been good and they are getting worse. While the UN and foreign aid groups urge peaceful means to bring peace to Somalia that has not worked after more than two decades of efforts. Historically force is the only thing that has worked in Somalia. British 19th century colonial administrators learned that the best way to deal with Somali outlaws was to "shoot on sight, shoot first, shoot to kill, keep shooting." Not unexpectedly, post-colonial Somalia proved unable to govern itself. The tribal rivalries kept the pot boiling, and even the rise of a "clean government" party (the Islamic Courts) after 2001, based on installing a religious dictatorship, backfired and turned into al Shabaab. That caused even more Somalis to flee their homeland. That caused other problems. Somali refugees throughout Africa and worldwide have acquired a reputation for violence and criminal behavior. This is one reason foreign aid for Somalia is decling, largely because of the corruption and violence against aid workers. Aid in 2015 was half of what it was in 2014 and the decline continues.

Kenya has had the worst problems with Somali refugees. In 2015 over 5,000 Somalis returned from Kenya as part of a Kenyan program to persuade Somali refugees to voluntarily return home. Kenya offered inducements it hoped would persuade at least 100,000 to go back by the end of 2015. That did not happen. This is a big step back from the original plan to expel all (over 600,000) legal and illegal Somali refugees in the country. The expulsion threat came in response to ever more horrendous al Shabaab attacks inside Kenya, including an April 2015 al Shabaab massacre of 148 Christian students at a university. The UN promised to help with refugee camp security and moving more of the refugees back to Somalia but strongly opposed expulsion. Nevertheless the UN has promised to get 50,000 Somali refugees to leave Kenya in 2016. That seems unlikely because in January only about 1,200 left. In Somalia politicians and al Shabaab agree that Kenya should stop mistreating Somalis in Kenya if only because this mistreatment is used by al Shabaab for recruiting. The Kenyan government recognizes this problem and talks about curbing violence against Somalis in Kenya but controlling popular hatred of and hostility towards murderous Somalis is difficult. This is particularly true because of the recent al Shabaab terror attacks in Kenya and the centuries of Somalis raiding into Kenya. It’s an old problem that does not lend itself to quick or easy solutions. Meanwhile the UN has to cut food supplies to all the refugees in Kenya (mostly Somali but some from Sudan) because not enough donors could be found. There is only so much donor money out there and many donors seek areas where they believe their money will do the most good. Long term refugees (as with the Somalis in Kenya) are not seen as the best use of donor funds. Currently the UN spends about $115 million a year to feed the refugees in northern Kenya. Nearly half that money comes from the United States. Refugee officials continue having problems maintaining security in the Somali refugee camps and a growing number of foreign aid organizations are withdrawing from some camps because of the chronic violence.

Violence against aid workers in Somalia doubled in 2015 compared to 2014. In 2015 there were 140 attacks on aid workers in Somalia, leaving 17 dead. In 2014 there were 75 attacks and ten dead. Foreign aid workers have been demanding better security in Somalia for decades. They expected some improvement in 2014 because al Shabaab had been largely driven from Mogadishu and much of the countryside. But things got worse in large part because of the success in driving al Shabaab out of towns they had held for years. Typically the troops turn control over to local clans who pledge loyalty to the government. The clan gunmen are usually commanded by guys that foreigners describe as warlords and these rogue militias consider any unarmed foreigners they encounter fair prey. Bringing world class standards of law and order to Somalia is not something you do quickly, especially when you have few troops you can depend on. The Somali troops are not much better than the militiamen or al Shabaab fanatics when it comes to playing by the rules. There are not enough foreign peacekeepers to do it all. Not in a country where the custom is to take whatever you can get any way you can. The foreign aid groups have this idea that anywhere they are, even in places like Somalia they can demand that foreign troops to protect them. This causes diplomatic problems because the aid groups have better relationships with world media and get their version of reality out faster than the uglier but more accurate version can.

And then there is the corruption. This is one area where Somalia excels. Thus most recent (2015) international study found Somalia one of the two (along with North Korea) most corrupt nations in the world. Corruption in this Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The two most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 (North Korea and Somalia) and the least corrupt is 91 (Denmark). A look at this index each year adds an element of reality to official government pronouncements. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones.

Some Somali pirates are surviving by offering their services to foreign fishing ships (trawlers) illegally operating off the coast. For a fee the pirates will protect the trawlers from other pirates. So far this is working. While not as lucrative as taking large ships for multimillion dollar ransoms, it is keeping several piracy gangs in business. The pirates long justified their crimes by claiming to be protecting local fishermen from illegal foreign fishing ships. That was always a myth. The pirates only attacked the trawlers when they thought they could get a ransom (usually they could not) or to use the trawler and its crew as a mother ship for long range piracy operations. Many of the Somali pirates have gone back to fishing or smuggling and note with anger that anti-piracy aircraft and warships will pass right by foreign trawlers obviously fishing illegally in Somali waters. The foreign trawlers are often what is called "freezer trawlers." These ships are up to 100 meters (320 feet) long and have facilities on board to store hundreds of tons of frozen fish. These ships normally stay at sea months at a time and have crews of 14-30. The smaller (coastal) freezer trawlers are often old and worth less than half a million dollars each and almost impossible to get a ransom for. The owner cannot pay whatever ransom the pirates often demand for these ships. These trawlers are all over the Indian Ocean, between Africa and India and the anti-piracy patrol has been warning trawlers and the companies that own them to stay away from the Somali coast. When these trawlers are fishing illegally they are at risk despite the presence of the anti-piracy patrol. When under attack the trawlers can call for help but because trawlers move slowly while working and are close to shore there is rarely time for anti-piracy forces to reach them in time. Many observers (especially Somalis) see the illegal fishing as simply another form of piracy but there is no international outcry over it because the damage done is local and not multinational.

January 26, 2016: In the south, near the Kenyan border, Kenyan peacekeepers abandoned two camps near the towns of Badhadhe and el Adde and moved to new camps closer to the Kenyan border. Al Shabaab forces quickly moved into Badhadhe and took control. Kenya said the movement was a normal redeployment of troops in the area and not a retreat triggered by the January 15 al Shabaab capture of another Kenyan army camp near el Adde. Despite that defeat Kenyan troops soon returned and drove al Shabaab out of el Adde.

In northeast Kenya, near the coast and the Somali border an al Shabaab roadside bomb hit a vehicle full of police killing five policemen and wounding several others.

January 21, 2016: In Mogadishu al Shabaab gunmen attacked a seaside restaurant at night and killed 23 people before security forces were able to regain control of the area a day later. Suicide bombers and gunmen were used to overwhelm security, which is usually pretty strong for places like this.

January 15, 2016: In the southwest (550 kilometers from Mogadishu) al Shabaab attacked a peacekeeper camp near the Kenyan border and drove most of the 150 Kenyan soldiers there from the camp. At least a hundred Kenyan soldiers died or were captured during the attack. The Islamic terrorists looted the camp and took control of a nearby towns (el Adde and Ceel Cadde) the peacekeepers were protecting. Al Shabaab later announced that the captured Kenyan soldiers would be used as human shields for protection from Kenyan air strikes. Based on pictures later released it appears that many of the soldiers were killed after capture, especially if they were wounded. In response to this defeat the Kenyan government said Kenyan troops would remain with the Somali peacekeeping force.

January 14, 2016: In central Somalia (Galgadud) soldiers clashed with al Shabaab killing nine Islamic terrorists and losing one soldiers. Another ten al Shabaab men were wounded and captured.

January 13, 2016: Kenya sent over a hundred additional policemen to the Somali border to improve security there. This comes in response to several al Shabaab attacks in December along the border.

January 11, 2016: ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) released a video in which a former al Shabaab member urged Somalis to come join ISIL and help destroy al Shabaab. Most al Shabaab members have rejected ISIL and remained loyal to al Qaeda. But several dozen al Shabaab men did leave and join ISIL. There have been some skirmishes between this ISIL group and al Shabaab but with this video ISIL is openly declaring war on al Shabaab. The ISIL problem began in 2015 when a growing number of dissatisfied al Shabaab members responded to ISIL recruiting efforts and joined with other dissident al Shabaab men to create several small ISIL groups in Somalia. Al Shabaab has declared those who join ISIL are traitors and seeks to kill them. This has made all foreign members suspect because most Somali members want nothing to do with ISIL. That’s because al Shabaab was founded as a Somali nationalist organization and al Qaeda respected that. ISIL did not and wants to conquer the world. In late 2015 ISIL in Somalia clashed with al Shabaab several times and lost most of its new recruits to death (in battle) or desertion. This helped the security forces and peacekeepers but they don’t like to publicize this. With more foreign al Shabaab members deserting and going public about it, the internal problems of al Shabaab were becoming more widely known. Now ISIL has decided to go public with the “problem” in Somalia.

January 10, 2016: In Mogadishu al Shabaab planted a bomb in a car belonging to a government official. The explosion killed the official and wounded another.

January 7, 2016: In Mogadishu al Shabaab fired two mortar shells towards the Presidential Palace but missed and killed two civilians and wounded three others in a nearby refugee camp.

 

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