Somalia: Beyond The Breaking Point

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November 13, 2009: In areas controlled by al Shabaab, foreign aid groups have to meet a new list of regulations, or shut down. The air groups must pay $40,000 a year in "registration fees,", take logos off their vehicles, not take Sunday off, not promote democracy, not employ women and several similar restrictions. Meanwhile, the U.S., which supplies most of the food, is holding back aid, because so much of it is being stolen by Islamic terrorists. The aid groups have to give up a lot of the aid to the terrorists, or risk attack. The terrorists believe that the foreign aid groups would not dare cut off food aid, and risk the bad publicity from the resulting starvation. Over a million Somalis are on half rations because of the American attempt to halt, or at least reduce, the food thefts.

Al Shabaab has cut back on its efforts to take Mogadishu. The AU peacekeepers have proved a formidable foe. Meanwhile, al Shabaab has to deal with growing unrest in parts of southern Somalia that it nominally controls. People are not happy with the strict application of Islamic law, but al Shabaab sees these draconian punishments (stoning, cutting off limbs, floggings) as an effective way to terrorize the population and prevent organized resistance. But more clan militias are being organized to fight al Shabaab anyway. A new motivator is the growing food shortage, brought about by donor nations demanding that more of the food go to the starving, and less of it to bandits and warlords (who demand a cut, in order to allow the stuff through).

Some NATO members, led by Spain, are urging a change in tactics against the Somali pirates. Spain wants the three ports, where the mother ships are based, to be blockaded (warships prevent any ships from entering or leaving), and greater efforts made to find and seize or destroy the mother ship (or ships) that are making the speedboat attacks possible far off the Somali coast. The foreign nations supporting the anti-piracy patrol do not want to go ashore and destroy pirate bases. That's because the Somalis are enthusiastic and persistent fighters. The Somalis have been pacified in the past, but using methods that are politically unacceptable today.

The pirates now hold 13 ships, and 230 crew. The success of pirate mother ships, operating more than 500 kilometers off the east coast, has alarmed seafaring nations. The sea route south, from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, is a major one. With ship insurance rates going up, and some shipping companies taking longer (and safer, and more expensive) routes, much international shipping is being disrupted. So the warships of the anti-piracy patrol are cooperating more, and being more innovative in developing methods to cope with the pirates. Most of the warships use free Internet email services to informally communicate (except for NATO ships, their military communications are often incompatible), because many are not supposed to talk to foreign warships. Unofficial command and cooperation arrangements have been worked out, quietly, so that diplomats or politicians back home don't get involved. When a warship is involved in a pirate encounter, the captain reports it as if no other warships were involved (to avoid any problems with their political masters). But if you examine accounts, from different countries, of some encounters, you can see that there is a lot of cooperation among the warships. The sailors like to point out that, when facing a common enemy, they are all brothers. Thus warships from countries like Russia, NATO, India, the U.S. China and Iran are all working together, unofficially.

Despite the recent spurt of ship captures, the pirate gangs are suffering a cash flow shortage. There are thousands of armed men up in Puntland, hoping to get rich, but there's not enough rich to go around. Tempers are flaring.

November 11, 2009: Pirates seized a cargo ship, headed for South Africa, 700 kilometers east of the Somali coast. In Puntland, a judge who had ruled against several pirates, was shot dead by unidentified men. Puntland had promised to prosecute pirates turned over to them. The pirate gangs said they would retaliate if any of their members were prosecuted.

November 9, 2009: Pirates attacked a large tanker, 1,800 off the east coast of Somalia. While the ship was hit by machine-gun and RPG fire, it sped up and got away.

November 8, 2009: Pirates seized a UAR (United Arab Emirates) ship, headed for Mogadishu,  off the east coast. Pirates report the ship was carrying weapons for the Transitional Government, in violation of the UN arms embargo. The Transitional Government denied the charge.

November 6, 2009: For the third time this year, al Shabaab stoned someone to death for committing adultery. The 33 year old male victim's unmarried, but pregnant, girlfriend, will be stoned to death after she gives birth to the couple's child, in accordance with Islamic law.

 

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