Somalia: Killing Doctors In The Name of God

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December 6, 2009: The government is gathering evidence to make it clear that al Shabaab was responsible for the recent suicide bombing of a university graduation ceremony in Mogadishu. Many of the graduates were medical specialists, which Somalia is desperately short of. In cases like this, where a bombing attack creates great public anger against the attacker, the terrorists responsible either remain silent, or, if suspected, deny responsibility. This attack had al Shabaab written all over it, and there's no mystery why it was carried out. The attacker was a man disguised as a woman (wearing a burqa). Four government ministers were killed in the attack, which al Shabaab believes will intimidate the surviving senior officials of the Transitional Government, and discourage other prominent Somalis from opposing Islamic radicals like al Shabaab.

Currently, the only thing keeping the Transitional Government in Mogadishu is the AU (African Union) peacekeeping force. The 5,000 professional soldiers of the AU force have been able to deal with the al Shabaab irregulars. In three years of action, the AU troops have suffered about same rate of casualties the foreign troops have (400 dead per 100,000 troops per year) in the last two years of fighting in Afghanistan. That's half the rate of loss for the peak years of fighting in Iraq (which itself was about a third of the rate in Vietnam or World War II). This is a rate of loss (60 dead, about 200 wounded) that the peacekeepers can sustain, especially since battalions stay in Mogadishu for only a year (or less) at a time. The biggest problem the peacekeepers are having is with their own leaders, as much of their pay appears to have been stolen by the corrupt officials.

The civil war between Islamic radical groups Hizbul Islam and al Shabaab is partly about a leadership struggle, and partly about nationalism. Al Shabaab has allied itself with al Qaeda, thus gaining international support from Islamic radicals, including many Somali expatriates. But in doing so, al Shabaab has come to be seen, by Somalis, as a bunch of foreigners invading the country while pretending to be allies. Hizbul Islam is more a coalition of tribal Islamic radical factions. Sort of an Islamic radical "Somalia for the Somalis". Hizbul Islam believes it can successfully play the "expel the foreigner (over a thousand al Qaeda gunmen)" card and defeat al Shabaab. There is a real danger here for al Shabaab, which is why they openly deny any responsibility for the December 3rd suicide bomber attack that killed all those medical personnel. But Hizbul Islam also has problems, the main one being that is more factious than al Shabaab, and many of those factions don't want to fight al Shabaab.

There's growing enthusiasm in the UN, and among nations losing ships to the Somali pirates, that a more robust response to the pirates is required. But there are two schools of thought on how to go about this. The more timid want to go after the foreign contracts the pirates are using to handle negotiations and delivery of the ransom, as well as those merchants who are supplying the pirates with consumer goods, purchased with the ransom money. This would be difficult to do, because the pirates are using a lot of the same foreign merchants (largely in Yemen or the Persian Gulf) who handle all commerce for Somalia (which still has an economy, despite the chaos, and millions of consumers). The other faction backs more aggressive action against the pirates. This includes an attempt to halt the payment of ransoms, and the use of force to take back captured ships. This will get people killed, but is seen as the only way to halt the pirate activity. However, many UN members, and leftists in general, sympathize with the pirates, who are seen as freedom fighters against illegal fishing, and dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters.

Yemen is asking for more help in dealing with a million Somali refugees. Even more Somalis have crossed the Gulf of Aden since government disappeared in Somalia in the early 1990s, but many of those moved on to find refuge in other countries. Smuggling Somalis (and Africans in general) across the Gulf of Aden, to Yemen, is a big business, and what many Somali fishermen did before they discovered piracy pays better.

So far this year, the pirates have seized 40 ships and over 500 sailors. Most were held for ransom, but some of the seagoing fishing ships were kept for use as mother ships, for the increasing attacks far off the east coast of Somalia.

December 4, 2009: Ukraine is sending 25 commandos to join the piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden. Such troops are often used to board suspicious ships.

December 3, 2009: In Mogadishu, an al Shabaab suicide bomber attacked a graduation ceremony for 43 college graduates, many of them medical specialists. The main target was the large number of government officials there, and four Transitional Government ministers (out of 37) were killed, along with 16 others (including some of the graduates). There were over 40 wounded. This is only the second year that Benadir University in Mogadishu has graduated medical doctors (as well as some engineering and computer science majors). Somali doctors and businessmen founded the medical school in 2002. Getting a medical degree takes six years.

November 30, 2009: Hundreds of Hizbul Islam supporters (mainly the families of Hizbul Islam leaders and gunmen) have fled to villages and refugee camps just across the Kenyan border. If these Hizbul Islam exiles proceed to launch raids on al Shabaab forces across the border in Somalia, al Shabaab has said it will invade Kenya to destroy the Hizbul Islam sanctuaries.

November 29, 2009:  A tanker, 1,400 kilometers off the Somali coast, and carrying a crew of 27 and $20 million worth of oil, was captured by pirates. The pirates appear to be concentrating on the slow moving, low in the water (because of the cargo) and hard to defend (because of the fear of starting a fire) oil tankers.

 

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