Somalia: Give Me Shelter

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May 21, 2009:  As al Shabaab reinforcements enter Mogadishu, they are still stymied by the 4,000 African Union (AU) peacekeepers, who support the new government. Unless the Islamic radical al Shabaab can drive the peacekeepers out of town, the government will not fall. Meanwhile, AU calls for UN reinforcements have been turned down. The UN does not want to get involved with the endless fighting in Somalia. On a more practical level, the UN asked around and found few (well, basically no) nations willing to supply peacekeepers for Somalia duty. The AU is asking for the UN, or the anti-piracy patrol, to blockade ports where al Shabaab is bringing in military supplies from Eritrea and Iran. That may happen, but not quickly.  

Ethiopian troops are increasing their patrols along the border. These troops sometimes cross the border, either to check for the presence of armed men, or to get some water or other supplies. This has been going on for years, but some Somalis in the border areas are reporting that the Ethiopian incursions are more frequent. This could be due to fears that al Shabaab might be preparing to invade Ethiopia again (as Islamic radicals tried to do three years ago.)

Nearly 50,000 civilians have fled Mogadishu since al Shabaab gunmen began fighting for control of the city two weeks ago. About 150 have died in the street fighting so far, a third of them civilians, and the rest members of various armed groups (about half of them al Shabaab, or allied with the Islamic radicals.)

The Al Shabaab fighters that have been rampaging through central Somalia for the past few months, are led by several hundred foreign al Qaeda members, who have fled to Somalia, as one of the last refuges for Islamic terrorists. The al Qaeda fighters have an advantage because they are generally unconcerned about getting killed. While the Somalis are fierce fighters, they will retreat when they sense that they are up against a more powerful foe. A force of fanatical Islamic radical gunmen is the kind of enemy Somali gunmen will fight for a while, then retreat from. But the Burundi and Ugandan AU peacekeepers are better trained, equipped and led than the warlord and clan militias that compose the government "army." So far, al Shabaab has not been able to scare the peacekeepers off.

Eritrea continues to supply al Shabaab with weapons, and other military equipment, despite UN pressure to halt this aid. Eritrea simply denies that it is helping al Shabaab, but the evidence on the ground is different. These supplies are flown in, but most arrive by sea at coastal towns controlled by al Shabaab.

Attempt to negotiate with al Shabaab have failed, leaving the government (which is now run by Islamic conservatives) to believe that al Shabaab is controlled by Islamic terrorists mainly interested in using Somalia as a refuge for groups like al Qaeda. Al Shabaab has not made any effort to make itself popular with most Somalis. When al Shabaab does interact with civilians, its either to shoot at them, or to order them to adhere to strict Islamic lifestyle rules (that are not very popular in Somalia.)

May 20, 2009: Al Shabaab leader, Sheikh Muktar Abdirahman, was wounded when a training device exploded. He is being treated in a clinic outside Mogadishu.

May 19, 2009: The South Korean navy issued a warning to its sailors serving in the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia, that the pirates may have obtained U.S. Stinger portable anti-aircraft missiles. These could be used to shoot down the helicopters warships carry, and use to scare off pirates found attacking merchant ships. The South Koreans did not reveal where they got their information. The Stinger missiles in question are some of those provided to the Taliban  over twenty years ago. These missiles have long sense been rendered useless by dead (custom made) batteries and electronic and chemical components that have degraded. If the pirates have any similar missiles, they are probably Russian designed SA-7 or SA-14s. These are not as effective as Stingers, but can still bring down a helicopter that is not equipped with a defensive system.

May 17, 2009: Al Shabaab fighters seized a crossroads town, Jowhar (90 kilometers from Mogadishu). Al Shabaab is also making deals with clan militias in Mogadishu, to get these militias to either join the fight against the government, or sit out the war.

May 15, 2009: A week of fighting in Mogadishu has left at least 135 dead, over 500 wounded and over 30,000 civilians fleeing the city. Al Shabaab fighters have called for reinforcements.

 

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