Somalia: Stealing Salvation


June 16, 2014: Somalia has arranged for Ethiopian troops to escort aid supplies to towns in southern Somalia that are having problems with al Shabaab gunmen who are attacking and robbing aid convoys. There are over a thousand al Shabaab gunmen taking refuge in the south and they live off plunder and extortion. In the last few months many of these al Shabaab gunmen have been driven out of the towns and villages they operated from and been forced to live in the bush and survive as bandits.  The al Shabaab men are not happy with that at all.

Then there’s the rampant corruption in Somalia and, to a lesser extent, in Kenya, has made it increasingly difficult for the UN to get nations to donate money or goods for Somali refugees or drought victims. Previous donors have nothing but horror stories of corrupt local officials, warlords, Islamic terrorists and even Somali security forces stealing aid (for resale in local markets) and anything the aid workers have that is worth taking. There are better places (where the aid is more likely to reach those it is intended for) to send the limited amount of aid money available. Somalia’s bad reputation is increasingly keeping the aid away. Even UN predictions that over 200,000 could die from a lack of aid is having little effect. Why donate if you are pretty certain (from recent experience) that the aid will never reach those who will die without it.

Al Shabaab continues to make bold moves to keep itself in the news. For example in one southern town some al Shabaab men recently took the unusual step of seizing over a hundred women who were then told they would be publicly whipped if the al Shabaab came back and found they were not completely covered (with a burqa type dress) when out in public. Al Shabaab made sure that the international news media was informed of this event. Such publicity helps al Shabaab fund raisers to get donations, especially in the Gulf Arab oil states.

The Somali security forces continue to be crippled by corruption. Government officials and senior officers steal much of the donated cash intended for the troops. This means the troops are often paid late (if at all) and don’t receive needed equipment. Ammo is often in short supply as are heavy weapons. The original plan was to organize and train a force of 28,000 soldiers and 12,000 police. This was to take three years and cost $160 million. The corruption has crippled this effort and less than half the forces has been raised and desertions (often because of no pay and other shortages) keeps the effort to build the security forces from succeeding. Most of the fighting against al Shabaab is done by 22,000 foreign peacekeepers and local clan militias fighting in self-defense.

One thing al Shabaab and the Somali government agree on is opposition to Kenyan efforts to push Somali refugees out of Kenya. There are over half a million such refugees and only about 400,000 are legally registered as such and these live in large refugee camps near the Somali border. The camps have become bases for Somali gangsters and even some al Shabaab groups. Worse yet are the nearly 100,000 unregistered and illegal Somalis in Kenya. Most of these live among Kenyan Somalis in coastal towns and cities. These Somali communities tolerate the presence of al Shabaab and this provides support and secure bases for al Shabaab men planning attacks in Kenya. In response to those attacks over the last two months Kenya has arrested more than 4,000 Somalis in the capital and coastal towns and forced 2,000 illegal Somali migrants to move to refugee camps. So far nearly 500 Somalis have been expelled from Kenya and more are to follow. This has outraged the UN, the Somali government and al Shabaab, who all, for different reasons, want continued access to refuge for Somalis inside Kenya. That clashes with Kenyan popular opinion, which is increasingly hostile to all Somalis. As energetic as the Kenyan counter-terrorism efforts are they are crippled by the corruption so common in Kenya. If you can afford to pay large enough bribes you can get the security forces to ignore your illegal status and go harass someone else. Thousands of Somali refugees who cannot afford bribes have voluntarily returned to Somalia. Al Shabaab has responded by announcing that it was going to increase its attacks in Kenya. Technically this is an effort to coerce Kenya to withdraw its peacekeepers from Somalia, but it also about maintaining refuge for Somalis in Kenya.

Over the last two weeks peacekeepers and Somali security forces have been conducting raids throughout Mogadishu to seek out remaining al Shabaab terrorist cells in the city. There are still a lot of al Shabaab sympathizers in the city, or people willing to work with al Shabaab is the price is right. Some arrests were made but no major al Shabaab safe houses were found.

A border dispute in northern Somalia has gotten violent again. Since the 1990s the two statelets that comprise northern Somalia, Puntland  and Somaliland, have been squabbling, and sometimes shooting, over possession of the Sool region that lies astride their border. Both sides claim it, and both are willing to fight for it. The dispute has been going on since Puntland was formed in 1998. Back then Puntland declared they controlled the Sool because the inhabitants belonged to a Puntland tribe. Somaliland based their claim on borders drawn by the colonial governments of Italy and Britain a century ago. Years of negotiations have not settled anything. Recently both statelets sent additional troops to the border in anticipation of a fight for Sool. Meanwhile, both statelets have been coming apart because of internal problems. Despite that, northern Somalia has been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1990 to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south, has been in perpetual chaos since 1990.

June 15, 2014: In Kenya three vehicles full of al Shabaab gunmen attacked the coastal town of Mpeketoni and killed at least 26 people. Several resort hotels were set on fire. The gunmen also attacked a police station but were repulsed. Most of the dead were civilians who were on the street or in crowded cafes watching the World Cup. Total dead were about fifty.

June 14, 2014: In the north two soldiers were wounded by a bomb thrown by members of a rebellious clan faction.

June 10, 2014: In the Kenyan port city of Mombasa al Shabaab gunmen murdered a local Moslem cleric who regularly preached against Islamic terrorism. Most of the Moslem minority in Kenya are ethnic Somalis who live along the coast. 

June 7, 2014: :  In the north (Puntland) a local warlord (Mohamed Said Atom) who was long part of al Shabaab denounced al Shabaab leadership for being un-Islamic (especially for killing Moslems) and made peace with the Puntland government. Atom had long acted a weapons supplier for al Shabaab. Atom bought the weapons from Yemeni gunrunners and then arranged to have the weapons moved south. But since al Shabaab lost control of several ports in southern Somalia over the last two years there have been far fewer orders for weapons, or much of anything else. Atom, often accused to being more of an opportunist than a dedicated Islamic radical, apparently decided it was time to find new friends. There is still business to be done with some al Shabaab factions, but this now involves smuggling ivory and other illegal items out of Central Africa to buyers in the Middle East or even further away. Apparently Atom wasn’t getting enough of that business to make his continued membership in al Shabaab worth the risk.

June 1, 2014: In the southwest (Bakool) Ethiopian peacekeepers attacked several al Shabaab bases and killed over 70 Islamic terrorists. There were some Ethiopian and civilian casualties as well, but far fewer. This was apparently in retaliation for an al Shabaab attack on May 27th in the same area.

May 27, 2014:  In the southwest (Bakool) several al Shabaab gunmen attacked a village on the Ethiopian border. The attack was repulsed but at the cost of 27 pro-government militiamen and 12 al Shabaab. As many as twenty civilians also died.

May 25, 2014:  The Somali National Security minister resigned hours after an al Shabaab assault on the parliament building. A car bomb was set off at the gate to the parliament compound and right after that eight heavily armed al Shabaab gunmen, some wearing explosive vests, tried to attack the parliament building itself. The attack failed, with all eight attackers killed along with four security guards. Four members of parliament were wounded.

May 24, 2014: In neighboring Djibouti two al Shabaab suicide bombers attacked a restaurant killing themselves and one other person. Another 15 people were wounded. The restaurant was popular with foreign troops. As inept as this attack was it was the first to occur in Djibouti, which has become the one official U.S. military base (Camp Lemonnier) in Africa. France and the United States SOCOM (Special Operations Command) have had special operations forces (commandos and special aircraft) outside the Djibouti capital since 2002. The U.S. just signed another ten year lease for that base. U.S. forces in Djibouti were increased after resistance collapsed in Iraq in 2008 and the base is now the command post for a network of American operations through the region. 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 20, 2014: Kenyan warplanes bombed two al Shabaab camps near the southern Somali 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 raids were apparently in response to recent al Shabaab terror attacks in Kenya.

May 19, 2014: In Mogadishu a Somali politician and a bystander were wounded by an al Shabaab bomb. Across the border in Kenya al Shabaab gunmen ambushed some vehicles on a road, killing twelve people. This was apparently in retaliation for recent air attacks against al Shabaab targets in Somalia.





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