Somalia: Locals Unite Against Al Shabaab


November 22, 2011: Al Shabaab is reeling from multiple foreign attacks. There is the Kenyan force (about 2,000 troops) that crossed the border last month. Last week, a column of Ethiopian troops crossed the border. This is actually a regular occurrence, as the Ethiopians disrupt any hostile (to them) activities just across the border. Islamic radicals in Somalia have long sought to conquer the Ethiopian province of Ogaden, which contains a largely Somali population. The Ethiopians have been defeating these efforts for generations. That is not going to change, especially since oil and gas has been discovered in Ogaden, and drilling is underway.

Kenyan troops continue to establish positions around the towns of Kismayu (the major al Shabaab port) and Afmadow (a major trading center inland from Kismayu). Kenyan troops are moving to surround Kismayu, or at least control all the roads. Same with Afmadow, which is at the center of the local road network. Kenya is apparently reluctant to attack these two towns, preferring to control access and wait for friendly locals to expel al Shabaab.

Kenya says it will not leave southern Somalia until al Shabaab has been cleared out of the area. But al Shabaab continues to fortify Kismayu, determined to put up a fight. In over a month of operations, Kenya says it has suffered only about a dozen combat casualties, plus five killed in a helicopter crash. Kenyan forces claim to have killed, wounded or captured over a hundred al Shabaab fighters. In general, the al Shabaab gunmen avoid the Kenyan troops. The local Somali clans, and their leaders, have been cooperating with the Kenyans, with the understanding that the Kenyan troops will withdraw once all al Shabaab have been eliminated from the border area. Kenya then promises to keep the border clans supplied with weapons, ammo and other supplies. Kenya wants the border clans to keep al Shabaab out of Kenya.  Farther north, it's unclear if Ethiopia is doing one of its regular border clearing operations, or is moving to clear al Shabaab from a large portion of Central Somalia.

Recent rains, and more success in getting food past bandits and al Shabaab gunmen, have reduced the number of Somalis in danger of starvation from 3.2 million to 2.2 million. In Mogadishu there is a growing problem with TNG (Transitional National Government) troops and pro-TNG militiamen stealing food aid. The AU has threatened to make arrests (and kill those that resist) if the stealing does not stop.

In Mogadishu, there are still several terror attacks a week by al Shabaab. Given the number of armed civilians in the capital, and the usual level of chaos, the Islamic terrorist violence does not stand out.

November 21, 2011: Over the weekend, Ethiopian troops were spotted up to 80 kilometers inside Somalia. Al Shabaab has withdrawn its gunmen at the approach of the columns of Ethiopian military vehicles. Since the Ethiopians have done this before, and always pull back, al Shabaab expects to return to the border towns they normally control.

November 20, 2011: Off the coast, near the Kenyan border, Kenyan Navy patrol boats clashed with four boats full of armed men. There was lots of shooting in the dark and one of the Kenyan patrol boats caught fire (which was quickly put out). This appeared to be an al Shabaab attempt to chase the Kenyan navy from waters near Kismayu.

November 19, 2011: The first reports of Ethiopian troops entering central Somalia in large numbers (several hundred troops and dozens of vehicles). Locals in several border areas phoned in sightings of Ethiopian army vehicles inside Somalia. 

November 17, 2011:  Al Shabaab launched a night attack on AU (African Union) peacekeepers in Mogadishu. Four civilians were killed and several more wounded, but there were no casualties among the Islamic terrorists or peacekeepers. The al Shabaab attack was carried out with mortars and long range machine-gun fire.

November 16, 2011: Yemen reports a record number (nearly 13,000) of Africans (mainly from Somalia) were smuggled into Yemen last month. So far this year, Yemen has received about 85,000 of these refugees, compared to 77,000 for all of 2009 (and a lower number last year).

Somalia (the TNG), Uganda and Kenya have agreed to coordinate their efforts to defeat al Shabaab and bring some level of law and order to Somalia. Meanwhile, the U.S. and France are sending armed UAVs and aircraft over Somalia, providing intelligence for peacekeepers, TNG and Kenya. The UAVs have also been accused of making missile and bomb attacks, but no one will admit to that.




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