Somalia: The Pointless Quagmire Gets Crowded

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August 5, 2009: Nearly half the population is surviving on foreign food aid. Young Somalis are attracted to radical groups like al Shabaab, which help young men get guns and encouragement to do what they like with them. But the young men have proved unable to fight AU peacekeepers, or many of the older and more experienced fighters working for the Transitional Government or Sufi religious militias. So al Shabaab has shifted to kidnapping (for political and fiscal reasons) and suicide bombing (to terrorize their opponents and kill key government leaders.)

It's taking longer for hijacked ships to get released, because the insurance companies are arguing over who should pay what proportion of the ransom, and whether higher ransoms should be paid at all. The pirates expect Western owners to pay more, and recently increased, at the last minute, the ransom for a German cargo ship, from $3 million to $4 million, because they believed they had waiting too long, and that the Germans could afford it. After more wrangling, the pirates agreed to let the ship go for $2.7 million in cash.

Kenya is cracking down on expatriate young Somali men travelling to and from Somalia via Kenya. The young men say they are tourists, but few have tourist visas, or the appearance of being there to enjoy the sights. However, the Kenyan police are corrupt, and can be made to go away with a suitable bribe. When police commanders apply pressure to their officers, they can get some of the Somali interlopers arrested, and this has led to speculation about how many of these expatriate young men are joining al Shabaab. It's believed to be less than a hundred, given the number who have shown up dead inside Somalia, or arrested in Kenya, or elsewhere, for suspected (or actual) Islamic radical activity. Meanwhile, Kenya is having more problems with al Shabaab recruiting young Kenyans who are ethnic Somalis. This is further complicated by the fact that ethnic Somalis (who are black and consider themselves Arabs) and Kenyans (who are black and consider themselves black), have never gotten along. The Somalis are aggressive, self-assured and consider themselves superior to anyone who is not Somali. This has led to centuries of violence with neighbors. That adventure continues. Added to the mix are al Qaeda personnel (foreign Islamic radicals). There appear to be several hundred of these in Somalia, and they are responsible for the suicide and roadside bombs. It also appears that the al Qaeda fighters might even outnumber the al Shabaab force (which may be less than a thousand armed men). There is, however, a lot of cooperation between al Shabaab and al Qaeda, but no one seems to be in overall command.

What makes al Shabaab more of a threat is the small group of men who have managed to build an international recruiting network for al Shabaab. This group has obtained cash, and a few people who are able to find the Islamic radicals in Somali expatriate communities, and arrange for susceptible young men to be found, and offered a one way ticket back to the motherland, there to fight and die for God, justice and the Somali way (which consists of a lot of violence and posturing).

A Sufi militia, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama'a, is now active in central Somalia, fighting back against Islamic radicals who consider Sufis heretics (an uncommon attitude in Islam, but one supported by the Wahabi strain of Islam that influences groups like al Qaeda and al Shabaab.) The Sufi fighters have proved to be more than al Shabaab can handle, and the Islamic radicals have been driven out of several central Somali towns. But the Sufis militia is not part of the Transitional Government, but another independent force. However, the Sufis could be persuaded to cooperate with the Transitional Government, if promises were made, and kept, not to mess (extort, threaten) the clans and such who are supplying the Sufi militia with men.

The U.S. has again agreed to supply the Transitional Government with money, weapons, equipment and training. The problem, as always, is delivering the goods without the corrupt practices, so common in Somalia, making the goods disappear before they can be put their intended use. This is not easy to accomplish, as Somalia has proved to be a black hole of foreign aid. No U.S. personnel will go to Somalia (at least not officially, U.S. Army Special Forces are believed to operate inside Somalia from time to time). Somalis will be trained in Djibouti, and other nations in the region.

August 1, 2009: Burundi has sent a third battalion of infantry to Mogadishu, giving the AU peacekeeper force 5,000 troops. The Somalia force was supposed to have 8,000 peacekeepers, but many African governments have been reluctant to get involved in Somalia, which, to all appearances, is a pointless quagmire.

July 30, 2009: The U.S. has warned Eritrea to stop supporting Islamic radicals in Somalia. Eritrea denies doing any such thing, and knows that it would take the U.S. months to mobilize any support in the UN for any kind of sanctions.

 

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