April 19, 2010:
Over the weekend. Al Shabaab mortars fired at the airport, and fire was returned. Over a hundred people were killed or wounded, most of them civilians. Both al Shabaab and the government have announced they will launch a "major offensive" to take control of the city. But, so far, neither side has made a big move.
Al Shabaab has banned music on radio stations in Mogadishu. There are 15-20 radio stations in the city, and most are vulnerable to attack by small groups of Islamic terrorists. In response, the government threatened to shut down any station that stopped playing music. It gets worse, as in a town north of Mogadishu, al Shabaab ordered a local school to stop using a bell to call children to their studies, as this was too similar to the bells used in Christian churches. Al Shabaab is determined to eliminate all vestiges of Western culture, except weapons and equipment useful to keeping al Shabaab an effective military force.
Al Shabaab continues to use landmines and roadside bombs against government gunmen. But al Shabaab is taking casualties when facing the UN peacekeepers, or the increasing number of Western trained government fighters. Many al Shabaab gunmen are quitting or deserting to head north and try a little piracy (and a shot at a piece of a multi-million dollar ransom). Thus it's getting harder for the Islamic radicals to recruit. As a result, al Shabaab is now offering a $400 sign-up bonus, in addition to monthly pay and the prospect of loot.
The Kenyan continues to threaten to halt the prosecution of Somali pirates. It is believed this is being done to encourage foreign nations to provide bribes to officials, in addition to the agreed upon sums paid to cover the costs of prosecution. Kenyan jails currently hold 118 Somali pirates (some convicted, most awaiting trial.) Kenyan jails hold over 50,000 prisoners.
With about 40 warships off the Somali coast, fewer ships are being captured. But it's still profitable to be a pirate, and not very dangerous. So the pirates keep coming. While it costs $300-400 million a year to maintain the warships off the coast, what worries the naval commanders the most is that their efforts only inconvenience the pirates. Naval commanders want merchant ships to either arm their crews or carry armed security personnel. Most shipping companies resist this, for legal (some ports forbid weapons on merchant ships) and liability (accidental injuries on board) reasons. But the merchant sailors are fine with guns on board, while the ship owners prefer to take their chances. That's what insurance is for, to pay the ransom if needed. The crews don't like to endure months of captivity, but jobs are hard to come by, and shipping companies sometimes pay "captivity bonuses." Currently, twelve ships, and over 250 crew, are being held captive. On average, the period of captivity lasts about 120 days.
Military commanders, in general, keep telling their political bosses that the only solution to the piracy is the traditional one; kill pirates caught in the act and destroy their land bases. Politicians fear a media backlash for being inhumane to pirates who, after all, don't harm most of their captives and are only in it for the money. In response to this, the U.S. is trying to find those who handle the ransom money for the pirates, and possibly prosecute them.
April 15, 2010: For the second time this month, Somali gunmen attacked and looted the Kenyan town of Liboi (which is 18 kilometers from the border.) The raiders apparently drove past a checkpoint manned by Kenyan border guards. Either bribes or intimidation got them past without trouble. The raid lasted two hours, during which the raiders looted and destroyed property.