Somalia: Situation Normal, All Messed Up

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May 11, 2016: Al Shabaab is still active in central Somalia and the southwest despite the fact that soldiers and peacekeepers have been very active there this year. The security forces are aided by air support (mainly Kenyan) and a local population that is generally hostile to al Shabaab and thus a good source of tips (thanks to the growing presence of cell phones.) The government still has big problems with corruption but the peacekeepers and foreign trainers have coerced/persuaded the Somali soldiers to treat local civilians better and not attack them and loot their villages as much as in the past. Progress is slow for tradition is strong in Somalia.

ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is still around, somewhere. Few attacks this year have been claimed by ISIL and none have been particularly effective. There have been no reports of al Shabaab and ISIL groups fighting. This occurred in 2015, mainly because ISIL was (and still is) composed largely of al Shabaab members who had formed a local ISIL branch to protest the failures of al Shabaab in the past few years. This new ISIL branch was never very large and it was believed they have headed south to seek sanctuary in northern Kenya. Some would hide their weapons and go to one of the large Somali refugee camps but others would hold onto their weapons and operate as bandits.

May 10, 2016: American and Somali commandos raided an al Shabaab base 110 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu. Helicopters brought the commandos in and al Shabaab fighters appear to have fled rather than fight. The United States is training a Somali special operations unit of some 500 troops. It takes years of training and combat experience for new recruits to achieve skills that make them exceptional (and not just better infantry or commandos in name only). Apparently the American Special Forces troops take their most promising students out on these carefully planned and rehearsed operations. That last known one took place in March.

May 9, 2016: In Mogadishu al Shabaab used a suicide car bomb and gunmen to attack a police station. The attack killed three policemen but was repulsed with the bomber and one gunman killed. Two civilians were killed by the crossfire.

May 6, 2016: In the southwest (Bardhere) al Shabaab attacked the home of a local official and were repulsed. Two attackers died and two of the soldiers guarding the compound were wounded. Some of the retreating attackers appeared to have been wounded. At the same time there was also an unsuccessful attack on the airport outside the town, which is the site of a major peacekeeper base. Although al Shabaab was driven out of the town in mid-2015 the security forces have not yet been able to eliminate the al Shabaab men still operating in nearby rural areas.

Kenyan again announced it will close two major refugee camps and send all the refugees back home. The Dadaab Refugee Camp in northeast Kenya has become the largest refugee camp in the world. Containing over 330,000 Somalis it was built outside the town of Dadaab. The population in the area is largely ethnic Somali but the camp is unpopular because it disrupts more than benefits the local economy and has become a base for criminal gangs and Islamic terrorists. The other camp, Kakuma, is in the northwest and has some 150,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia. Like Dadaab it has become unpopular with the locals and for the same reasons. The UN is trying to convince Kenya to keep the camps open but faces accusations of broken promises and tolerating bad behavior by refugees. In 2015 Kenya also planned 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 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 continuing al Shabaab presence 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. 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.

May 4, 2016: In the southeast (Lower Shabelle region) someone threw a grenade at policemen guarding a livestock market. One policeman died and two were wounded as were two civilians. This is the second such attack in the last month. The police believe it is al Shabaab but the locals believe it is people who use the livestock market protesting the corruption (in the form of police demanding payoffs). No took credit for either attack.

May 2, 2016: The first ten of 70 British troops arrived in Mogadishu. This British detachment will serve as trainers for the Somali army.

May 1, 2016: In the northwest (Middle Shabelle region 120 kilometers from Mogadishu) al Shabaab demonstrated they were still dangerous by attacking Runirgod, a village the army and peacekeepers had occupied the day before. As usual the al Shabaab men retreated rather than fight for Runirgod but what the security forces did not notice that there were a lot more al Shabaab men in the area than they realized. So today over a hundred al Shabaab gunmen attacked Runirgod from three directions, forcing the soldiers and peacekeepers to retreat. At least eleven soldiers were killed. It is unclear what al Shabaab casualties were.

April 30, 2016: In the northwest (Middle Shabelle region) soldiers and peacekeepers continued their April offensive in the area by driving al Shabaab out of three more towns without a fight. Elsewhere in the area (50 kilometers from the town of Beledweyne) soldiers and peacekeepers drove al Shabaab out of another town. Al Shabaab men in the area appeared more concerned with staying alive than fighting but few of them surrendered and all were still armed.

April 27, 2016: Kenya announced it would resume construction of a security fence along most of the 869 kilometer Somali border. Construction was supposed to start in October 2015 but was delayed because of corruption (money to get the fence going had “disappeared”) and opposition from some of the pro-government militias on the Somali side of the border. Many still believe the fence is unlikely to be finished because of high cost and the government corruption that cripples so many major efforts. The recent announcement is an attempt to refute that. The Somali militia were persuaded to accept the fence and the Kenyan government made it clear that the fence was necessary to reduce Somali Islamic terrorism inside Kenya. This has killed over 400 Kenyans since 2012 and voters most definitely back anything that can reduce the terrorist threat. The Kenyan government says it has the needed funds and has organized the workforce. There is still concern that the fence (wall, watch towers and fencing) would cost more than Kenya can afford as the most effective security wall was built by the Israelis at a cost of $2 million per kilometer. A less effective wall would slow down illegal border crossers but that would not keep determined Islamic terrorists out. Somalia accuses Kenya of planning to build some of the wall in Somali territory. The border was never precisely defined and that is a dispute that has largely been avoided because the frontier area is rural and it normally makes little difference where the border actually is. Kenya and Somalia appear to have settled that dispute.

April 26, 2016: In the central Somalia al Shabaab attacked an army base near the town of Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu). Five soldiers were killed and twelve wounded but the attack was repulsed with at least twenty Islamic terrorists killed. Some bodies and all the wounded were carried away by the retreating al Shabaab men.

April 25, 2016: Outside Mogadishu a roadside bomb was used against an army convoy but there were no casualties. ISIL took credit for this, which is one of the few times lately that ISIL has been active.

April 24, 2016: In the southwest (25 kilometers from Bur-hakabo town) six al Shabaab were killed and three captured during an army raid. The troops acted on tips from local civilians and were able to surprise the al Shabaab force. The army suffered no casualties. Locals were angry because the day before al Shabaab had attacked a restaurant in the town and killed one civilian and wounded six others.

April 20, 2016: In central Somalia (75 kilometers outside Elbuur) a large group of al Shabaab gunmen fought with soldiers and peacekeepers and lost. At least 25 Islamic terrorists were killed. Increasingly the al Shabaab men do not stand and fight and it is unclear why this group did. They may have been trapped or ambushed.

 

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