Somalia: No Peace To Keep

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December 23,2008: Somalis have a hard time working together. Both the Transitional National Government (TNG) and the Islamic radicals have not been able to stay united. The TNG has split into several factions, and the thousands of trained police and soldiers have largely deserted (taken their weapons and skills back to their clans, or whatever warlord is hiring). The Islamic radicals have split up into Islamic Courts (bring peace via force and Islamic law), and al Qaeda (the usual terrorism and dreams of world conquest). This lack of unity has led nations with peacekeepers in Somalia (Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi), to withdraw them, or threaten to. The attitude is, "if the Somalis can't get organized, we're can't do it for them." As a result, the UN has stopped trying to recruit more peacekeepers for Somalia, pointing out that there is no peace to keep. While Islamic radical groups promise bring (Islamic) law and order, in practice these groups provide shelter for Islamic terrorist groups and antagonize most of the people they "protect" by trying to impose strict lifestyle rules.

About a third of the population (over three million people, mostly in the south) are destitute, and dependent on foreign food aid to survive. That aid is constantly threatened by Somali pirates and bandits. Somalia isn't the biggest humanitarian crises on the planet (the chaos in eastern Congo is), but it is the most out-of-control. At least peacekeeping efforts in the Congo are making progress. In Somalia, things just keep getting worse.

Somalia's neighbors are suffering economically from the growing Somali piracy. Kenya is seeing fewer cruise ships, and ships in general are avoiding Kenyan ports, especially those close to the Somali border. Yemen is seeing more and more Somali pirates (often with many Yemenis among the freebooters) operating off the Yemeni coast, and interfering with shipping and fishing. The pirates are avoiding the growing number of warships in the Gulf of Aden. The pirates use satellite phones and radio to share information and assist in the search for vulnerable merchant ships to attack. So far this year, the pirates have attacked at least 120 ships (out of over 20,000 that pass through the area each year), and seized 40 for ransom. Currently, 17 ships and crews are being held by the pirates.

December 21, 2008: China is sending two destroyers and a support ship to join the anti-piracy patrol off the Somali coast. Seven Chinese cargo ships have been attacked so far this year. Iran has also sent a warship, as has Germany. Over two dozen warships are now operating in the Gulf of Aden, guarding convoys and and most heavily trafficked sea lanes. But the pirates continue to capture ships.

December 17, 2008: The UN passed resolution 1851, which authorizes member states to go ashore in Somalia to deal with pirates. There is some dispute over whether 1851 permits invading forces to use Somali air space. That was the result of UN politics and trepidation among some members about allowing the invasion of an Islamic state. The U.S. complains that it lacks sufficient intelligence about pirate activities to send in a ground force.

A Chinese cargo ship, boarded by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, was rescued by a resolute crew (that locked themselves in their living quarters and called for help) and a nearby Malaysian warship, that dispatched a helicopter, which shot at the pirates and caused the survivors  to flee in their speedboats.  Three other ships (a yacht, a tugboat and a cargo ship) in the Gulf of Aden were not so fortunate.

December 13, 2008: Off the north coast, an Indian warship interrupted a pirate attack on a cargo ship. The Indians then tracked the pirate speedboats back to their nearby mother ship, and captured it, along with 23 pirates. These men were eventually turned over to Yemen for prosecution. Initially, no nation wanted to take these 23.

 

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