Somalia: Greed, Guns and Paranoia

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April 11,2008: Over a hundred Islamic militants are driving around southern Somalia, raiding towns for loot and headlines. Most towns and villages have a smaller force of troops or police on duty, so the Islamic raiders can roll in, take control for a few hours, then flee before they are outnumbered by local gunmen rushing to the scene. This band of Islamic warriors keeps everyone on their toes, and provides foreign journalists with a steady supply of stories. Any warlord with a hundred or so gunmen, a dozen trucks and a willingness to play foreign journalists, can get into the news. Most strong men prefer to stay in one place and extort from the locals and use roadblocks to shake down travelers. But the ICU has sponsored at least one travelling gang of thugs.

The unrest in southern Somalia has created nearly two million refugees of the drought or the clan battles over what few things that are left to steal. Some of these marauders are doing it under religious supervision, but all are murderous and out for themselves.

The Transitional National Government (TNG) has opened negotiations with the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU has a base in Eritrea (which seeks to do whatever it can to hurt traditional enemy Ethiopia). The ICU were one of the few factions in Somalia that refused to join the TNG. But the ICU were not strong enough to take control of the entire country (or at least the southern half, the north is controlled by quasi independent Puntland and Somaliland). This was especially true once Ethiopia came to the aid of the TNG (mainly because the ICU urged clan militias to raid into Ethiopia.) The problem is that too many clan leaders have too high an opinion of themselves, are paranoid, or just plain greedy, and will not compromise and make a deal. This is changing very slowly.

April 10, 2008: In Somaliland, three terror bombs have gone off in the last two weeks. This is blamed on party politics, where the minority parties see violence as more practical than discussion.

April 7, 2008: France have a frigate keeping an eye on the seized cruise ship "Le Ponant", and has flown in a team of commandos to Djibouti, just north of Puntland.

April 6, 2008: In Puntland, gunmen tried to rob two foreign aid workers driving in the countryside. But the police escort fought back and arrested the four attackers.

April 4, 2008: Somali pirates seized a small French cruise ship (the 288 foot long "Le Ponant," described as a yacht, but it has 32 cabins for 64 passengers) in the Gulf of Aden. This is another use of a larger mother ship, to spot prey and launch a speedboat full of gunmen. In this case, one or more speedboats and about ten gunmen scrambled aboard and took the 30 crew (22 of them French) prisoner. The "Le Ponant" was then directed to the central Somali coastal village of Garaad. There, the pirates got into a gun battle with local clan militia. The yacht then moved north to the village of Garacade in Puntland. The maritime community is demanding that the worlds naval powers do something about the pirates. Now that the attacks are taking place in the Gulf of Aden, this could lead to a huge jump in insurance rates for ships headed for the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. That would motivate nations with navies to consider a military campaign against the pirates. This would involve land operations, to destroy the coastal villages that the pirates use as bases. No one wants to get involved with fighting Somalis on land, because the Somalis are fierce and persistent fighters. The traditional solution to that, of killing entire populations until the others calmed down, is no longer possible. The alternative is unattractive as it takes too long and gets more of the peacekeeper troops killed.

April 2, 2008: Two foreign aid workers were kidnapped in the south. There are about 250 foreign aid workers in Somalia, most of them in the north (Puntland and Somaliland). Only a third are in the south, and only a dozen or so in Mogadishu, where most of the fighting is taking place.

April 1, 2008: Somali pirates seized a Yemeni fishing boat and are holding it for ransom.

 

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