Somalia: The Permanent Rebellion

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June 17, 2009: Piracy continues to thrive in Puntland up north. Although 111 pirates are awaiting trial in Kenya, many more have been caught and released by warships, because the new "Law of the Sea" does not deal with pirates (which were believed to be a thing of the past), and each nation has its warships deal with pirates differently. Most just let them go. Thus the anti-piracy patrol off northern Somalia is seen as a nuisance by the pirates, not a threat. In the first half of this year, pirates took 30 ships, compared to 40 for all last year. But the pirates fail in nearly twice as many attacks (because of the increased naval patrols), compared to last year. Some pirates are going much farther from shore to find targets. The anti-piracy patrol has, in effect, increased the cost of capturing a ship, but not made piracy unprofitable. Somewhat less profitable, but still very profitable. The pirates are always coming up with new ways to deal with the naval patrols. The latest trick is to use people smuggling to provide cover. Smuggling Africans to Yemen has remained a big business in northern Somalia, and now the pirates are using some of these refugees as human shields, or just camouflage.

Meanwhile, further south, the Islamic radical groups are implementing, or at least announcing, their goals. Video, either in movie theaters or via DVDs, is now forbidden. Televisions are only to be used to watch approved news and religious shows. Also banned are smart phones (which can store and play video or music). Foreign aid organizations have been ordered to halt education programs, which the Islamic radical  groups will replace with religious based ones.

In addition to conquering Ethiopia's Ogaden province (whose population is mostly ethnic Somali), the Islamic radicals also plan to cut access, for infidels (non-Moslems) to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. This would mean replacing the pirates now up there, with seagoing terrorists. Then there are new threats to "invade" Kenya if Kenyan troops are not pulled back from the border. The Islamic radicals want free access to the Somali refugee camps, and for smuggling, and the increased Kenyan army presence along the border is making that difficult. The Kenyans cannot ignore the invasion threat. Somalis have been raiding across the border for centuries, and sometimes the raids were large enough to qualify as an invasion.

Ethiopia has been battling Somali raiders for centuries, and have increased their cross border military patrols, as the Somali Islamic radicals talk more of taking Ogaden. The Ethiopians know how the Somalis organize their raids (or invasions, which is what large raids are). The Somalis come looking for loot, and to kill the few non-Somalis in the area. If the Ethiopian troops do not counter-attack (which they almost always do), Ogaden becomes part of Somalia, for a while, anyway. The Ethiopian patrols into Somalia are seeking out preparations for these raids, and such information is always easy to discover if your troops can enter Somali towns and villages along the border. Once the Ethiopians know where the raiders will assemble along the border, they can disrupt yet another raid before it gets going.

The Ethiopians are not the only ones who cross the border. American Special Forces operators have people in the country collecting information, and an increasing number of known al Qaeda members are being detected. Some of these guys were earlier spotted in places like Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. Why go to a chaotic place like Somalia? Apparently because it's the least worst choice for al Qaeda operatives these days.

The Transitional Government, with the help of foreign money, has recruited the first 500 men for the new coast guard. Training will take up the rest of the year, in and around Mogadishu. If the Somalis can hold their new navy together until then, armed boats will be provided, and patrols will commence. It's a long shot that this effort will succeed. There are so many obstacles. Corruption could see most of the money (for pay and supplies) disappear. If the armed boats get to sea, the sailors could prove unable to defeat the pirates, or might turn to piracy themselves. But if it all works, this would be the end of the Somali pirates. For Somalis, the new navy would also mean the end of foreign fishing trawlers (really big fishing ships) that have been illegally taking most of the fish available off the coast. This has been going on since the government disappeared in 1991 (during a tribal rebellion that has still not ended, or installed a new government).

Although it's long been known that food aid sent to Somalia is subject to theft (by bandits or warlords), the UN has now discovered (via TV reports and interviews with culprits) that Somali UN employees are openly selling food, by the truckload, to Somali merchants, and that lots of this food, marked "not for resale" is available in markets throughout southern Somalia. This is done by allowing the merchants to establish fictional refugee camps, which are then sent a portion of the food aid each month. The UN moves 45,000 tons of food aid into southern Somalia (from Kenya) each month. There are now naval patrols off the Kenyan coast to protect the ships carrying the food aid (mostly from the U.S.) from pirates. But the truckers have to be paid extra to cover the cost of bribes demanded by warlord roadblocks encountered between the Kenyan border and the refugee camps. Over three million Somalis depend on this free food to survive. The corruption within the UN Somali staff is partly the result of attacks on UN staff inside Somalia. Because of this, most non-Somali UN staff have been pulled out of the country. Somali UN staff that do not go along with the food sales, are threatened with kidnapping or murder by the warlords and bandits. But for some of these officials, just the prospect of making more money was all the incentive needed.

The fighting continues in Mogadishu, but at a decreased level. The Islamic radical militias, like al Shabaab, have been defeated, for the moment. Al Shabaab is recruiting and arming more children (young teenagers), and planning more attacks. In the last five weeks, over 120,000 civilians have fled Mogadishu, to avoid the trigger happy gunmen fighting for control of city neighborhoods. Since early May, fighting in Mogadishu has left over a thousand people dead or wounded.

June 12, 2009: For the first time, Somali pirates seized a cargo ship off (about 100 kilometers) the coast of Oman. The German owned ship was taken back to Puntland, where it will be held for ransom.

 

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