Somalia: Food Fight

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July 18, 2008: The increased number of attacks on aid workers was initially attributed to Islamic Courts gangs trying to insure that the aid groups provided the gangs with a share of the aid. This has long been the only way aid groups could survive in Somalia, by giving a cut of the aid to the strongest armed gang in the area. But the Islamic Courts gangs are more ruthless, and media savvy. Their al Qaeda advisors have changed the rules. Thus you see senior aid officials murdered, and the Islamic Courts denying responsibility (but quietly suggesting to the aid groups that such murders can be avoided via cooperation.) Same deal with the media. Spin stories so that it favors the Islamic Courts, and you live. Report honestly, and you die. Reporters are expected to put an anti-U.S. spin on their reports, even though most of the food, and much of the other aid, is paid for by the United States. No good deed goes unpunished in this part of the world.

The Islamic Courts are not strong enough to take on the clans belonging to the Transitional National Government (TNG), but they are strong enough to regularly raid throughout southern Somalia. The Ethiopians, AU peacekeepers and TNG forces are not well organized enough to hunt down and destroy the raiding parties (a hundred or so gunmen in trucks and cars.) So the mayhem can continue indefinitely, as it has since 1991, as long as the foreign aid continues to arrive. It's the foreign aid that keeps the fighting going, and also prevents mass starvation. Without the food aid, over a million people could die of starvation and disease, and another million or so would flee to Kenya, or at least try to. Kenya is increasing it police and army strength on the Somali border. The Islamic Courts tactics are in danger of backfiring. Some aid groups are leaving southern Somalia, and there are not a lot of others willing to step in.

July 9, 2008: A German cargo ship was released in the north, after a ransom of $750,000 was paid. Some of this money was shared out to the dozens of gunmen who participated in capturing and guarding the ship. This encourages others along the coast to go after any ships that come too close to the coast. At least two clan militias are competing to rescue four German tourists kidnapped across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen last month. The kidnappers are holding the hostages along the Puntland-Somaliland border, and militias from both countries are competing to see who can free the hostages and claim a reward. In the last six months, the Somali pirates have shifted their operations to the far north, on the Gulf of Aden (which separates Somalia from Yemen, in southern Arabia). Over 80 percent of the pirate attacks are now taking place in the Gulf of Aden, where heavy Red Sea traffic provides a larger number of potential victims. For the last three years, an international naval patrol (CTF, or Combined Task Force, 150, operating out of Djibouti) has patrolled the 3,000 kilometer long coast. But with only about fifteen ships (from half a dozen nations), the CTF 150 has been able to slow down the pirates, but not stop them.

 

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