The pirates keep at it, despite the fleet of warships and aircraft off the coast. In the last 18 months, over a $100 million has been paid in ransoms (for ships, and over 1,000 crew). So far this year, there have been over 250 attacks, more than twice as many as the same time last year. While fewer of these attacks succeed, the increase in attempts keeps merchant ship sailors anxious. In addition to piracy, the former fishermen of northern Somalia have also increased their smuggling efforts (by about a third this year). Smuggling people across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen is steady money, because there are always Somalis, Ethiopians and other Africans reaching northern Somalia and willing to pay a hundred dollars or more to cross over 200 kilometers of shark and pirate filled waters. There are also two patrolled (by foreign warships and aircraft) "safe lanes" for commercial shipping seeking safety from pirate attach in the Gulf of Aden. The east bound lane begins at 45 degrees east (between 11 48 north and 11 53 degrees north), and ends at 053 degrees east (between 14 18 north and 14 23 degrees north). The west bound lane begins at 053 degrees east (between 14 25 north and 14 30 degrees north) and terminates at 045 degrees east (between 11 55 north and 12 00 degrees north.) The smugglers move about a thousand people a week, and lose 1-2 percent of them in the process.
Fighting in Mogadishu continues, with the daily skirmishes causing several hundred casualties in the last week (including 50 dead.) Al Shabaab, and other Islamic radical groups, have made themselves unpopular with most Somalis, causing several clans and religious groups to form militias to resist the Islamic radicals. Al Shabaab is increasingly dependent on the thousand or so foreign Islamic radicals in the country. While Somalis can be pretty brutal, the foreign radicals can be really nasty, and they are being used to terrorize Somalis into compliance. But al Shabaab still needs more gunmen, and has increased its recruiting efforts among refugees in Kenya, as well as young men from the ethnic Somali population of Kenya. Currently, several hundred Somalis a day cross the border, seeking shelter in refugee camps in north Kenya. Al Shabaab has used NGOs (Islamic charities) as front organizations for this recruiting, and Kenyan police recently shut down two of them. These NGOs had plenty of cash, and offered money for those who were willing to go to Somalia and fight.
The 5,000 AU peacekeepers have proved able to deal with whatever local militias have thrown at them, but have suffered several hundred casualties in the 30 months they have been there. This includes 33 combat (mostly from roadside bombs) dead, and 20 dead from disease (including eight from malnutrition). Mogadishu is a tough neighborhood. The area west and south of Mogadishu is occupied by over a million hungry refugees. Al Shabaab continues to demand payoffs from the aid groups trying to supply the refugees with food, and some medical care. Al Shabaab sees the refugees as a source of recruits.
France revealed that it is still sending advisors to help train Transitional Government security forces. Two of these were kidnapped July 14th, and one of those escaped last week. Thus one is still held, and the French are trying to negotiate his release.
September 1, 2009: The warlord (Abdirahman Ibrahim Maow) controlling the town of Beledweyn, has split from the Transitional Government over the use of Ethiopian troops to chase the al Shabaab out. Maow had been out of the area when the Transitional Government and Ethiopian forces took Beledweyn, and was upset that he was not consulted. Maow may now ally with al Shabaab, or be forced to. The Ethiopians want to force al Shabaab away from the border, to lessen the risk of another invasion by Islamic radical Somalis.
August 30, 2009: Ethiopian and Transitional Government troops pulled out of Beledweyn, and set up camps just outside the town. These troops had earlier driven al Shabaab fighters out, and now appear ready to make sure the Islamic radicals do not return.