Somalia: Operation Eagle Chases Ghosts


May 19, 2014: Since April 23 rd over 20,000 peacekeeper and Somali Army troops have been conducting the first major joint offensive in central and southern Somalia. This effort, called Operation Eagle, has officially cleared al Shabaab driven out of most of the area. As a result al Shabaab forces are gone from towns and most villages in the area from central Somalia (west of Mogadishu) south to the Kenyan border. Al Shabaab ordered its gunmen to flee the advance, so it’s become largely a matter of chasing the Islamic terrorists constantly, trying to leave them little opportunity to organize attacks. Because of Operation Eagle most al Shabaab men are now forced to forage and loot to survive, which makes them even less tolerable to the locals. There has been some violence, or threats of violence because of Operation Eagle and this has produced over 50,000 refugees. There are also a lot of roads that go through thinly populated and remote areas where al Shabaab hide and often ambush and rob vehicles. This has made delivery of aid more difficult. There are still over half a million people in the Operation Eagle operating area dependent on food aid. Al Shabaab publically insists that it will fight on, so the peacekeepers are attempting to wear down al Shabaab to the point where the Islamic terrorists are no longer a major threat. That could take years, as in until the end of the decade. That is what has worked against similar terrorist movements in the past and grinding them down still appears to be the only solution.

The big problem in Somalia is with the government, or what passes for one, and the culture of corruption that still thrives. Most government officials see their jobs as an opportunity to steal and they do so at every opportunity. That includes taking bribes from those seeking government jobs or to get someone out of jail or whatever. For the new Somali Army it means poor discipline and indifferent loyalty. Troops will desert whenever they feel like it and will try to take their weapons with them. Al Shabaab knows that a large enough bribe can get most soldiers, even senior officers, to do just about anything. Of course, al Shabaab also has problems with corruption, but it is worse in the army because the army and Somali government are receiving a lot more foreign aid than al Shabaab and for those out to get rich, the government is the place to be. Religious fanatics are a minority in Somalia and they, naturally, gravitate to al Shabaab. Another problem with Operation Eagle is the police and intelligence force sent to restore and main order in the newly liberated towns tend to be more interested in stealing than administering. This does not gain much support for the national government from the locals.

Operation Eagle is also discovering that al Shabaab is not the only problem in the south. Also encountered were several local warlords who had their own private armies and wanted nothing to do with any outside control (al Shabaab or government). When efforts to negotiate fail the warlord must be suppressed with force or left to rule his little part of the landscape and make war on his neighbors. To further complicate matters the warlords and, to a lesser extent, al Shabaab have businessmen and merchants who are close allies but not always armed. So when a town is “liberated” there are often still bad guys in plain sight, collecting information and waiting to help their armed partners regain control. It’s rare for one of the locals to risk retribution by warning the soldiers of who supports who in the area. A major reason for suppressing the warlords is that they often make war on each other and anyone else who seems worth fighting.

Foreign diplomats in Kenya are telling their bosses back home that al Shabaab continues to be active in Kenya largely because of corruption, incompetence and lack of cooperation within the Kenyan security and intelligence organizations. This is a problem throughout Africa and there is no quick fix. That’s why many Western nations recently warned their citizens to avoid Kenya, especially the coastal areas containing many ethnic Somali Kenyans and the areas near the Somali border where over half a million Somali refugees are housed.

Al Shabaab recently released a slick recruiting video aimed at the Somali refugees and migrants living in the United States. The video calls on young Somalis overseas to get on the next plane to Mogadishu and join the jihad (struggle) against the enemies of Islam (anyone who does not agree with al Shabaab and al Qaeda). A large minority of Somalis survive because of money (nearly a billion dollars a year) sent from family members now living in the West to Somalia. A small portion of that money has been going to groups like al Shabaab. At least a thousand expatriate Somalis have been persuaded to return and join al Shabaab. Most have died, but some have returned home either disillusioned or motivated to bring some jihad to the Western country that took them in. It is believed that less than a hundred of these foreign recruits came from the United States, but al Shabaab needs all the help it can get, from wherever it can get it. In 2013 (about a year ago) pro-terrorist Internet sites, however, lit up with discussion of the criticism of al Shabaab because of the many setback the Somali terrorists had recently suffered. Most fanboys (and a few fangirls) demanded that something be done (one way or the other) to revive al Shabaab. The impact of this al Shabaab collapse was felt in the Somali exile community. Al Shabaab was no longer able to obtain much money, or recruits from these expatriate Somalis. Al Shabaab had lost its luster and is again using the Internet in an attempt to regain some of its appeal to the young expatriate Somali men with lives to give and their parents with money to donate.

Since 2009 Kenya has been cracking down on expatriate young men (especially ethnic Somalis) travelling to and from Somalia via Kenya. The young men say they are tourists, but few have tourist visas, or the appearance of being there to enjoy the sights. However, the Kenyan police are corrupt, and can be made to go away with a suitable bribe. When police commanders apply pressure to their officers, they can get some of the Somali interlopers arrested, and this has led to speculation about how many of these young Moslems are getting into Somalia and joining al Shabaab. It's believed to be less than a thousand, given the number who have shown up dead inside Somalia, or arrested in Kenya, or elsewhere, for suspected (or actual) Islamic radical activity. Meanwhile, Kenya is having more problems with al Shabaab recruiting young Kenyans who are ethnic Somalis. This is further complicated by the fact that ethnic Somalis (who are black and consider themselves Arabs) and Kenyans (who are black and consider themselves black), have never gotten along well. The Somalis are aggressive, self-assured and consider themselves superior to anyone who is not Somali. This has led to centuries of violence with neighbors. That adventure continues with the addition of al Qaeda personnel (foreign Islamic radicals) showing up in Somalia, especially since 2008. There appear to be several hundred of these in Somalia, and they are responsible for showing al Shabaab how to build and use suicide and roadside bombs. Rather than tolerate a rival, al Shabaab openly pledged allegiance to al Qaeda. But this caused a split within al Shabaab as many Somalis resented these foreigners. In 2013 this led to a brief civil war, which left al Qaeda foreigners the dominant force in al Shabaab.

May 18, 2014: For the first time the UN has organized and deployed its own security force to defend its personnel in an area where there is already a force of UN peacekeepers. The 400 Ugandan contractors were specially selected and trained to protect key UN facilities in Mogadishu (especially the airport). The extensive corruption in Somalia and determination of Islamic terrorists in Somalia makes this force necessary. It’s too easy to use bribes and intimidation to get past strong security supplied by the locals so the special UN security forces was created to prevent that sort of thing.

In Somalia Kenyan warplanes bombed two al Shabaab camps near the southern town of Jilib. This is one of the few areas left in Somalia where al Shabaab men can still openly go about their business. These two air raids were apparently in response to recent al Shabaab terror attacks in Kenya.

May 16, 2014: In Kenya (Nairobi) two bombs went off in a crowded market, killing twelve and wounding over 70. Al Shabaab was suspected, via supporters among Kenyans who are ethnic Somalis and the Somali refugees given sanctuary in Kenya. This attack caused more foreign tourists to flee, which is what al Shabaab wants.

May 15, 2014: Kenya complained that Britain, the United States, France and Australia were being unfair in warning their citizens to stay away from Kenya because of the increased terrorist threat from al Shabaab. 

May 13, 2014: Off the coast an Australian warship (with the anti-piracy patrol) intercepted a dhow (small local cargo ships of traditional construction) and found it carrying 449 kg (nearly half a ton) of heroin worth over $120 million. Al Shabaab is involved and smuggling drugs to the Persian Gulf area (where a growing number of drug users live) is big business and this is the seventh (and not the largest) seizure of heroin off the coast this year. Each one does some real hurt to al Shabaab because the terrorists don’t get paid unless the stuff gets through to Arabia. 

May 12, 2014: In the central Somalia town of Baidoa al Shabaab set off a car bomb that killed 19 and wounded three times as many.

May 10, 2014: In Mogadishu some 700 former soldiers (dismissed for bad behavior) demonstrated and demanded to get their jobs back. Several members of parliament backed the soldier’s demands. The army has been trying to impose some discipline by identifying the most troublesome soldiers and firing them. The dismissed troops are often indignant over this because they were only doing what is commonly done in Somalia. 

May 9, 2014: In the south (Jilib) al Shabaab leaders made a rare public appearance to award eight clan leaders combat uniforms and AK-47s as thanks for continuing to support al Shabaab during Operation Eagle. The clan leaders may not have had much choice and everyone knows they can switch allegiance anytime they want (or need) to.

May 6, 2014: Opposition parties in Kenya are now calling for the government to pull Kenyan troops out of Somalia as a way to appease al Shabaab and get the Islamic terrorists to halt their attacks inside Kenya. This sort of talk encourages al Shabaab and other Kenyan politicians responded by pointing this out and noting that al Shabaab does not just want to key foreign troops out of Somalia but also want to forcibly convert all Kenyans to Islam and create an Islamic religious dictatorship in East Africa. The opposition politicians respond by noting that over 4,000 ethnic Somalis have been arrested in the last month in an attempt to halt the al Shabaab bombings in Kenya and that has not worked. Most of those arrested were probably innocent but are now angry at the Kenyan government and more likely to help al Shabaab. Many of those arrested had to pay bribes to police to get released. On a wider scale the intense security and growing al Shabaab terrorism near ethnic-Somali neighborhoods has kept shoppers away from the commercial districts in these Somali areas. Moslems and Somalis in Kenya are not happy with all this. About 76 percent of the Moslems (four million people) in Kenya are ethnic Somalis who are citizens. Kenya is largely Christian with a Moslem minority (12 percent of the population) that has been harboring Islamic terrorists. Kenya also hosts nearly 300,000 other refugees from Ethiopia, Sudan, Burundi and Congo. Many Kenyans feel that the rest of the world does not appreciate what a heavy burden this places on Kenya and resent criticism of their efforts to deal with the Islamic terrorism.

May 5, 2014: The United States announced a deal with the Djibouti government to remain in the country for another ten years. The U.S. is spending nearly a billion dollars to expand its operations in Djibouti (northeast Africa). There is one official U.S. military base in Africa, the one in Djibouti. France and the United States SOCOM (Special Operations Command) have had special operations forces (commandos and special aircraft) stationed in Camp Lemonnier, which is next to the main airport outside the Djibouti capital since 2002. The new ten year lease for Camp Lemonnier has the annual rent payment going from $38 million to $63 million a year.  

U.S. forces in Djibouti were increased after resistance collapsed in Iraq in 2008 and Camp Lemonnier is now the command post for a network of American operations through the region. That includes a UAV facility on the Seychelles Islands (1,500 kilometers to the east) and permission to move troops and aircraft through countries like Kenya and Uganda. There is even a small, and unofficial, CIA base in Mogadishu. The CIA, and similar outfits from other nations, also work from Djibouti. But most of the effort is directed at monitoring what is going on in the region (mainly Somalia and Yemen but also Eritrea, Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Kenya, and Ethiopia) not at interfering with the local terrorists. Not much, anyway. The Djibouti base also supports operations throughout the Sahel (the semi-desert strip between the North African desert and the Central African jungles, which stretches from the Atlantic to Somalia).

May 3, 2014: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab bomb attached to the car of a police official was detonated by remote control. This killed three policeman and four civilians.

In Kenya (Mombasa) someone threw a grenade into a crowded bus terminal, killing four and wounded many more. Elsewhere in Mombasa a group of Islamic terrorists tried to attack a seaside tourist hotel but were prevented from getting in by security guards. The attackers threw a bomb as they fled and the explosion caused damage but no injuries. 




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close