Somalia: Al Shabaab Confronts Doomsday

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October 5, 2014: The AU (African Union) led offensive against remaining al Shabaab held towns in the interior and along the coasts that began in early 2013 has accomplished about 75 percent of its goals. The peacekeeper commander believes that the rest of the active Islamic terrorists can be captured, killed or driven out of the country within a year. Al Shabaab men are increasingly fleeing the approaching AU and government forces and many of the Islamic terrorists are surrendering or simply deserting and returning to their home villages. A government amnesty program, which keeps getting extended, has been successful in getting a lot of low-level al Shabaab men to surrender. There are still believed to be at least 3,000 al Shabaab men in Somalia, including several hundred foreigners. At least a third of the remaining al Shabaab men are hard core and unlikely to surrender or desert.

Currently al Shabaab is still recovering from the death of their leader on September 2nd. The new leader has similar hard line goals as his predecessor. But dissident factions have forced the new leader to at least discuss reforms (to reduce the number of assassinations and civilian casualties in order to gain more popular support). The hardliners who have been running al Shabaab for the last few years are under pressure because their tactics appear to have resulted in heavy losses for the organization and a lot more hostility from most Somalis. The recent loss of port towns like Adale and Barawe have greatly reduced al Shabaab income and their ability to move in and out of the country. This cash shortage can be seen in action as peacekeepers report that in the last month or so al Shabaab men looted stores and homes when they were ordered to flee as peacekeepers approached. This looting was planned in advance and kept secret so that merchants would not hide a lot of their goods.

In the southeast (lower Shabelle region) peacekeepers and soldiers have been on the offensive against al Shabaab forces there since August and over 500 of the Islamic terrorists have surrendered while over a hundred have been killed or wounded. More than a thousand simply fled the approaching government forces and avoided contact with them. Al Shabaab has avoided fighting the government forces, who are better armed and equipped than the Islamic terrorists and usually win big when al Shabaab stays to fight. So the Islamic terrorists have adopted a strategy of avoiding the government forces and returning to terror attacks only.

As if the government didn’t enough problems they have had to contend with more soldiers and police becoming less effective over the last few months because of cheaper khat. Britain banned the import and use of the tropical plant khat in July, joining most other European nations and many in the Middle East. Even the UN has identified khat as a dangerous substance. This has brought joy to Somalia, where khat producers, having lost a major customer for khat exports has been selling a lot more of it in Somalia and at bargain (at least 50 percent less) prices. While this is great for all the soldiers, militiamen and gangsters who spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for some action, these guys become more unpredictable when under the influence of khat. Moreover, men with guns are the wrong people to turn into khat addicts. Khat is very addictive and an armed man with a desperate need for more khat will do crazy things to obtain the cash to buy more of the stuff. Wives complain that husbands will spend all their money on khat and ignore their starving children. It is believed that recent accusations of soldiers and peacekeepers abusing women is in part due to khat use.

Since August Kenya has deployed thousands of troops to man additional checkpoints on roads leading from the Somali border. This has made it much more difficult for Somali smugglers to get weapons and drugs into Kenya. While the smugglers can (and usually do) bribe the border guards, the additional check points are manned by many troops who refuse to take bribes and that makes getting truckloads of goods into Kenya much more difficult. The smugglers are now relying more on ships and small loads carried cross country on motorcycles or pack animals.

October 4, 2014: Al Shabaab fled the coastal town of Barawe (200 kilometers south of Mogadishu) as government forces approached.

October 1, 2014:  Peacekeepers and soldiers drove al Shabaab out of the port town of Adale (200 kilometers northeast of Mogadishu).

In the north (Puntland) government forces attacked an al Shabaab base and killed over twenty of the Islamic terrorists while losing at least three soldiers. Since the 1990s the two statelets that comprise northern Somalia (Puntland and Somaliland) 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. The two statelets have a festering border dispute that periodically flares into armed clashes. Puntland has had al Shabaab groups camping out near the southern border for several years. The number of al Shabaab men there has increased to several hundred this year as more of the Islamic terrorists flee the continuing government offensive in the south. Puntland recently decided to forget about trying to tolerate the al Shabaab presence and went on the offensive against the Islamic terrorists. The al Shabaab men in Puntland have few resources and are vulnerable. A growing number of them are returning south and surrendering to the government there.

September 27, 2014: The government offered a $2 million reward for information leading to the arrest or death of Ahmed Omar Abu Ubeyd, the new al Shabaab leader. The identity of those receiving the reward would be kept secret.

September 26, 2014: In the south (Barawe) al Shabaab carried out a public execution (by stoning) of a woman accused of having three husbands.

In Kenya the government, for the first time, closed a madrassa (religious school) for teaching Islamic radicalism. The school was in a Moslem neighborhood in the town of Machakos (60 kilometers outside the capital). The school had been operating since 1997 and recently 21 former students were arrested for joining al Shabaab.

September 25, 2014: In the central Somali town of Galkayo there was a gun battle between former pirates who had recently received $1.6 million in ransom for one of the few valuable captives still held by pirates. At least three of the pirates were killed and one group made off with the cash. No big ships (that can be ransomed for a lot of money) have been taken in over two years and few pirates are still trying. Most have found other employment (usually fishing or smuggling people into Yemen). Some pirate gangs still holding captives have fled to inland areas to continue waiting for their ransom demands to be met. Most of the captives still held are from poor families who cannot afford a ransom and are from countries that will not pay.

September 24, 2014: In the north (Puntland) the government is using satellite photos to prove that foreign fishing ships (usually from East Asian countries) are illegally fishing in Somali coastal waters. This led to the recent seizure of four South Korean ships which although they had permits to fish in Somali waters were photographed working in areas they were not supposed to be in and thus leaving local Somali fishermen with little or nothing to catch. The foreign ships with permits are supposed to operate far off shore, where the smaller Somali fishing boats rarely venture.  The companies who own the four ships will have to pay fines to get them released, which is standard international practice in cases like this.

September 23, 2014: Pirates in central Somalia freed a German-American journalist after receiving a $1.6 million ransom. While the U.S. refused to pay ransom for the journalist, the Germans were willing (because the captive was a dual citizen of Germany and the United States) but refused to pay the $5 million the pirates had been demanding since they seized the man in January 2012. Fearing an American commando raid to free their captive, the pirates agreed to lower their demands and settled on $1.6 million which was delivered via Somali middlemen. The pirates were actually out of the piracy business and hiding out in central Somalia. But with government forces continuing to regain control over interior Somalia, it was only a matter of time before they showed up at the pirate hideout. This journalist was the only valuable captive they had left and now the pirates could use the money to flee. 

September 21, 2014: In Kenya an opinion poll showed that over 65 percent of Kenyans believe that al Shabaab will carry out more major terror attacks in Kenya and over half believed that Kenyan troops should be withdrawn from Somalia to provide more forces for counter-terror operations in Kenya.

September 20, 2014: In Mogadishu al Shabaab gunmen shot dead three Somali engineers working for the AU.

September 14, 2014: In Uganda a series of police raids resulted in the arrest of 19 Somali men and the seizure of explosives to be used in an al Shabaab terror attack. The Islamic terrorist group has been threatening to carry out attacks in Uganda as revenge for all the Ugandan peacekeepers serving in Somalia.

September 13, 2014: In Mogadishu al Shabaab gunmen killed the deputy commander of a counter-terrorism unit. The Islamic terrorists claimed this was revenge for the recent death of their leader (via an American missile fired by a UAV) on September 2nd.

September 9, 2014: Al Shabaab used a mortar to fire several shells into a residential neighborhood in the outskirts of Mogadishu. Five civilians were wounded.

September 8, 2014: An al Shabaab roadside bomb killed about 16 civilians 30 kilometers south of Mogadishu.

AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) announced its support for the new head of al Shabaab in Somalia. AQAP and other al Qaeda branches are hoping that the new al Shabaab leadership does not declare its allegiance to the far more radical (and al Qaeda rival) ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria).

September 7, 2014: The government replaced its National Security Director, who had held the office for only two months. No reason was given and his deputy took over temporarily and then a former member of the supreme court took the job. 

September 6, 2014: Al Shabaab announced that hardliner Ahmed Omar Abu Ubeyd was their new leader.

 

 

 

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