Somalia: Thirty Years War Burnout


October 7, 2021: Foreign donors, who are ready to further cut economic and military aid, have told the Somali politicians feuding over when the elections should take place and who is in charge until then, to settle their differences and do it quickly or foreign money as well as peacekeepers will withdraw. The two principal politicians leading this dispute are current prime minister Hussain Roble and outgoing president Mohamed Farmajo. There are still disagreements over who and when voting takes place for the 54 members of the senate, then the 275 members of parliament and after that the combined senate and parliament will elect a new president. Like previous agreements, this one might not actually work. After a year of bickering and threats of civil war followed by the withdrawal of foreign aid, there has been one delay after another as election agreements fell apart after agreements were achieved. These elections were supposed to be held in December 2020 but were delayed over a year because of difficulty in agreeing on how and when.

Meanwhile the AU (African Union) is pressuring the UN to extend financial support for the Somali peacekeeping operation. two months ago, the AU agreed with the UN plan to reduce the Somalia peacekeeping forces. What changed the minds of the AU was the sudden Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August. This fearful proposal may not succeed because UN peacekeeping specialists understand the Taliban are a special case and there has not been any impact on Somalia because of the Taliban victory. Al Shabaab power continues to decline.

The UN and AU had agreed to greatly reduce or eliminate the current 19,400 strong peacekeeper force. This process is supposed to start by the end of 2021. In January the United States completed moving most of its 700 troops out of Somalia to other parts of East Africa. Two months later the AU announced plans to do the same or at least greatly reduce the number of peacekeepers in Somalia. Soldiers from five AU countries (Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti) comprise the current force that costs about $200 million a year. That money is provided by the UN via contributions by the U.S. and EU (European Union). The UN approves the size and duration of the peacekeeper force annually.

The peacekeepers have been in Somalia for fifteen years at a cost of over three billion dollars. So far nearly a thousand peacekeepers have been killed and at least 4,000 wounded or injured. About a quarter of those were so badly wounded that they received disability payments while families of the dead received a lump sum in death benefits. Somalia is the most dangerous peacekeeping duty in the world.

The first AU peacekeepers arrived in March 2007 and these 8,000 troops were supposed to be gone within six months. That force did not disappear by the end of 2007 but kept growing and quickly reached 22,000, most of them soldiers plus a few thousand police, trainers and administrators. The peacekeeper force made some difference, but in the face of massive corruption in the Somali government and various Somali communities that demanded help, the operation proved far more expensive and time-consuming than expected. Peacekeepers are due to leave because the best they can do is reduce the violence and disunity, while UN donors are not willing to waste money on that when there are other disaster zones that can make better use of the limited foreign aid.

Because of the threat of peacekeeper reductions or elimination, the Somali army, which is about the same size as the peacekeeper force, has been particularly active and effective this year. If the peacekeepers go the army will have to face all the fighting alone and current assessments conclude that the army might not survive that for long, and instead fall apart because of casualties, desertions and a lack of new recruits. The Somalis have been saying this for nearly a decade but the AU and UN are fed up and the major donors needed to support the peacekeeper force have warned that they will reduce or eliminate contributions because of the continued corruption and ineffectiveness of the Somali government. The increased army effort against al Shabaab has apparently paid off with more surrenders of veteran al Shabaab members including prominent leaders. Somalia has been in a state of war for three decades and it has become an endurance contest with everyone ready to give up.

October 4, 2021: In the south (Lower Shabelle region) army special forces killed seven al Shabaab gunmen, including three known leaders, during a surprise attack. Elsewhere in the area the special forces captured wounded al Shabaab men after attacks on al Shabaab bases. Al Shabaab has been on the defensive in this area for several months as the army, led by special forces teams, act on information from locals about where al Shabaab safehouses and weapons stockpiles are.

October 3, 2021: In the north (Somaliland) a long simmering territorial dispute flared up again as the Somaliland government rounded up and expelled 750 people from southern Somalia who were living and working illegally in Sool region. This action was an aftereffect of disputes with Somalia over the independence of Puntland and Somaliland as well as border disputes between these two and Somalia to the south. The Sool area has been quiet since mid-2108, when there was renewed violence lasting about a week that left fifty dead. Since the 1990s these two statelets that comprise northern Somalia; Puntland and Somaliland, have been squabbling, and sometimes shooting, over possession of the Sool region that lies astride their border. Both sides claim it, and both are willing to fight for it. The dispute has been going on since Puntland was formed in 1998. Back then Puntland declared they controlled the Sool because the inhabitants belonged to a Puntland tribe. Somaliland based their claim on borders drawn by the colonial governments of Italy and Britain a century ago. Years of negotiations did not achieve anything. Both statelets sent additional troops to the border in anticipation of a fight for Sool. The 2018 Sool violence got started after several months of escalating demonstrations and threats. This has been the case since the last outbreak of violence in mid-2014. Before that there was brief fighting in early 2012. There was some Sool tension in 2009 and fighting in early 2008. This was a continuation of a confrontation that started in late 2007. The first real threats of violence were in 2003 and ever since the best the two statelets could do was keep things quiet. A resolution of the Sool dispute continues to be out of reach.

Both statelets have been suffering from other internal disputes, but nothing as widespread and destructive as the rest of Somalia. Northern Somalia has been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1990s to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (5.7 million). Somaliland established its autonomy in 1991, followed by smaller Puntland in 1998. Puntland is willing to join Somalia as a federal state while Somaliland is not.

The other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south has, until about 2016, been in perpetual chaos since 1990. The two northern statelets have noticed that the security and economic conditions have greatly improved down south. While there are still some rural areas where al Shabaab is active, more as bandits than a threat to national security, the rest of Somalia is, for many in Somaliland and Puntland, a source of envy. In Somaliland there have been demonstrations with people demanding reunification with the rest of Somalia as Puntland was doing. The majority in Somaliland still prefer to be like neighboring Djibouti, where 70 percent of the population is Somali and, unlike Somalia, was colonized by the French. In Somalia the foreign powers were Italy and Britain. Djibouti accepted colonial status longer than Somalia and did not vote for independence until 1977 and has been quiet and prosperous ever since. Djibouti and Somaliland have ancient roots as both were once part of the ancient (4,500 years) “Land of Punt” and recognized by ancient Egypt. Punt, as a distinct territory, lasted for more three thousand years before the locals voluntarily converted to Islam and became part of the growing Islamic empire created by Arabs six centuries earlier. The Ottoman Turks took control six hundred years ago and were replaced by Egypt as Egypt broke free of the Ottomans in the 19th century. France replaced Egypt in 1883 and remained in the area ever since, even though not as a colonial power since 1977. This explains the different attitudes towards Somalia by Somaliland and Puntland. This division is expected to be a source of conflict for some time to come.

October 5, 2021: In the south (Lower Jubba) al Shabaab publicly executed, by firing squad and in from of a hundred villagers, two men. One was accused of sorcery and the other of spying. This took place in a village 70 kilometers north of Kismayo where al Shabaab has carried out public executions. The Islamic terrorists have long controlled this area.

September 30, 2021: In the north (Galmudug) al Shabaab has been defeated by a coalition of Somali army troops and the powerful ASWJ (Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama) local militia. But now this coalition is coming apart over ASWJ accusations that the army is not able to protect locals who have accented Somali offers of protection from further al Shabaab violence. ASWJ recently ejected soldiers from two towns where the locals were most critical of Somalia efforts at providing security. Now there has been growing tension between army forces and ASWJ, with some shots fired.

September 27, 2021: In the south (Kismayu) there was an explosion at a popular beachside restaurant killing two and wounding several others. It’s unclear if this explosion was the work of al Shabaab, local gangsters or an accident.

Further south (Lamu County, across the border in Kenya) fifteen al Shabaab members died when their vehicle triggered a roadside bomb placed by other al Shabaab members who did not warn their fellow al Shabaab in the area that the bomb was there and rigged to detonate whenever a vehicle passed by. It may be that the al Shabaab men in the vehicle believed the bomb was rigged to go off by remote (wireless or wired) control of al Shabaab gunmen who would then fire on the vehicle and loot it.

September 25, 2021: In Mogadishu, a suicide car bomber killed at least eight and wounded many more when he detonated his explosives near the presidential palace.

September 14, 2021: In Mogadishu, a suicide bomber killed seven and wounded ten when he walked into a popular restaurant and set off his explosives.




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