Somalia: Al Shabaab Cut Down To A More Manageable Size


October 29, 2014: Al Shabaab still controls six towns in the interior, but they have lost control of eight other towns since September. The Islamic terrorists also control some smaller places, usually remote villages, at least part of the time. In many cases the local defenders (formal or informal local security groups) are strong enough to keep bandits out, but not local al Shabaab groups. In these cases al Shabaab has their way when they show up to collect “taxes” (food and other supplies). The peacekeepers maintain a list of such places and are continuing to move down that list. Yet the Islamic terror group still has lots of supporters in Somalia. This is largely because there are still a lot of Islamic conservatives in the area and young men are attracted to the outlaw life (and a paying job) al Shabaab offers. Then there is the culture of victimhood and resentment that Islam fosters. Thus the presence of foreign troops (peacekeepers, especially those from neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya) is a traditional cause of resentment. The presence of missile armed American UAVs overhead is also annoying to many Somalis. It is believed that al Shabaab can be reduced to a small enough size to be manageable. At least in the context of normal Somali life, which has always contained an endless supply of bandits and ambitious warlords. Thus al Shabaab won’t disappear, but it is getting cut down to a more manageable size.

The government is again offering amnesty for al Shabaab members who surrender. The last amnesty, which lasted 45 days and ended October 25, resulted in over 700 Islamic terrorists surrendering and being rehabilitated. The new amnesty will last from November 1st through the end of the year. This, plus the increased efforts to cut al Shabaab income means there are fewer armed Islamic terrorist out and about in Somalia.

Uganda is sending 2,700 more troops to Somalia. These men have been trained to provide security for the capital and the government and key facilities (like the port in Mogadishu) found there. The new peacekeepers will guard senior officials and basically make it more difficult for al Shabaab to make attacks in Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab maintains some support in Somalia because they present themselves as the only sure cure for the corruption that cripples the economy and keeps the country so poor. In reality al Shabaab is less corrupt but in return for that people are forced to accept a harsh religious dictatorship that still limits economic opportunity (restrictions on education and what businesses can exist). Thus a majority of Somalis reject al Shabaab. An even larger majority disdains the current government.

Corruption, mismanagement and all manner of bad behavior characterize the Somali government. A recent example of this is the president and prime minister openly feuding over who gets appointed to senior positions. This is not about appointing the most effective officials, but the ones who will steal the most for the president or prime minister (the two most powerful politicians currently in government.) A recent UN study found that many officials will steal over 70 percent of the government funds they have control over. Because of the corruption and bad government Somalia is often, and accurately, described as a failed state. This is about more than just corruption. The concept of the "nation of Somalia" is a very recent development (the 1960s). It never caught on. Before the 1960s Somalia never had a local government that controlled all of what is now Somalia.  Another common problem in failed states is a large number of ethnic groups. This is a common curse throughout Africa, which is why the majority of the worst failed states are there. Europe, and much of Asia, have managed to get past tribalism, although that has not always resulted in a civil society. Tribalism has kept most African nations from making much economic progress. The top failed states tend to be African, Moslem or both. Somalia is also unique in that it is one of those rare African nations that is not ethnically diverse. Instead, Somalia suffers from clan animosities and severe warlordism. All the clans are ethnic Somalis but see themselves as members of a specific clan, not “Somalis.” The Somalis also have cultural characteristics that make them good entrepreneurs or bandits. The Somalis are exceptionally opportunistic, and anything goes with people not belonging to your clan. All this continues to make it very difficult to get an effective national government going. Changing the ancient attitudes that are the core problem is something that happens very slowly.

The piracy situation off Somalia continues to be very difficult but not hopeless for the remaining pirates. A large ship has not been taken in over two years and the shipping industry is saving $3 billion a year in reduced costs (fuel, security and insurance) as a result. While the EU has agreed to continue its anti-piracy patrol to 2016, unless law and order is achieved in Somalia the pirates could return when the anti-piracy patrol is shut down. Meanwhile the anti-piracy patrol warns ships of any size (especially smaller ones, including yachts) to stay away from the Somali coast. Many of the locals are armed, have small boats (for fishing or hauling cargo or people) and some will seize an opportunity to take a ship and the people on board for ransom. There have been some close calls recently with ships who got sloppy along the coast and more warnings are being circulated. The remaining Somali pirate groups are still holding 37 sailors. These are from small ships owned by companies without insurance to pay a ransom. In most cases the owners simply abandoned the captured ships and their crews. There is an international effort to try and raise enough money to ransom the abandoned 37.

Kenya has increased its counter-terrorism efforts. In part this is in response to the economic damage done by the Somali terrorism. One result of this violence has been a noticeable (13.6 percent) decline in foreign tourists arriving in the first six months of 2014. For Kenya, tourism accounts for 11 percent of GDP, so a decline like this is widely felt. 

October 25, 2014: In Mogadishu a car bomb went off outside a hotel, killing one person and wounding six others.

October 24, 2014: The UN gave the anti-piracy patrol the authority to stop ships off Somalia to search for illegal cargoes (mainly weapons coming in and charcoal going out). This is in response to an American government investigation that revealed, back in July, that corrupt Kenyan Army officers with the Kenyan peacekeepers in Somalia have taken bribes to keep the illegal charcoal trade going. Al Shabaab still has enough presence in southern Somalia to enforce a $2 tax on each bag of charcoal smuggled out to Arabia. Somali charcoal exports are banned by international sanctions because it has long been a major source of income for Islamic terrorists. Al Shabaab makes several million dollars a year from extorting those who produce and transport the charcoal. Al Shabaab has also been accused to involvement in smuggling illegal goods into Kenya as well. Such criminal activities by terrorist organizations is a common way for these groups to raise funds. For them it is not illegal but simply another manifestation of “God’s Will.”

October 23, 2014: Kenyan warplanes attacked two al Shabaab camps outside the southern port of Kismayo and claim to have killed at least 80 Islamic terrorists. At least four trucks with machine-guns mounted on them were destroyed as well, along with other vehicles, weapons and supplies. Kenyan troops eventually reached the bombed locations and confirmed most of the losses. Some al Shabaab men had survived the attacks and got away, taking some of the dead and wounded with them. 

October 20, 2014: Recent revelations that weapons, ammunition and equipment used by the Somali Army have appeared in local arms markets led to accusations that corrupt government officials were responsible, not individual soldiers. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud had to publically deny detailed accusations that he, or one of his subordinates, was responsible for this.

October 19, 2014: UN forces in Somalia are the latest peacekeeping operation to be hit with accusations that the troops have been abusing the local women. Such misbehavior is nothing new, but once the Cold War ended in 1991 and the old superpower rivalries were gone, it was a lot easier for the UN to organize peacekeeping operations. Now there were a lot more peacekeepers in action and the usual dynamic of men with guns and women without much of anything continued. By the end of the 1990s the media was beginning to notice and since then all manner of misbehavior by peacekeepers has been noted and publicized. With that there was more pressure on the UN to end, or at least regulate, the practice. Since most of the peacekeeping operations have been in Africa that’s where most of the incidents of misbehavior have been noted. The latest complaints come from Somalia but in 2013 the UN was called on to investigate charges that some of its Mali peacekeepers were guilty of corruption and “sexual misconduct” (which apparently includes rape, prostitution, or other mistreatment of women). Before that it was Ivory Coast, where Moroccan peacekeepers were accused of having sex with local teenage girls. In fact, just about every peacekeeping operation in Africa, and most of those elsewhere, have been found to be tainted by some sort of bad behavior. After 2001 the accusations piled up and the old ways of handling the complaints no longer sufficed. For a long time the UN did not bother with the sexual activity of peacekeepers unless it involved rape or murder. Even then, someone, preferably an aid worker (NGO or UN) had to make the complaint. If was quickly discovered that complaints got a lot more attention, and more quickly, if they were made to Western media, preferably British. The British media has a thing for sexual abuse in far off lands.

October 18, 2014: On the Ethiopian border peacekeepers and soldiers stopped an SUV after the five armed men triggered a gun battle. The five inside the vehicle were killed and found to be al Shabaab. A search of the SUV found six suicide bomb vests and 173 kg (381 pounds) of explosives. It was later discovered that this vehicle (originally from Kenya) had tried to enter Kenya from Ethiopia. The area of Ethiopia adjacent to Somalia are largely populated by ethnic Somalis and it is easy for al Shabaab to set up bases there.

October 15, 2014: In Mogadishu a car bomb went off near the presidential compound, killing five and wounding seven. Most of the casualties were from a crowd of children passing nearby when the explosion occurred.

October 13, 2014: In Mogadishu five mortar shells landed in a neighborhood where the president was due to visit. There were several civilian casualties. A few hours later elsewhere in Mogadishu a car bomb went off as two mechanics were working on the vehicle, wounding them both. The car belonged to a senior police commander.

October 12, 2014: In Mogadishu a car bomb went off in front of a popular café, killing eleven and wounding even more.

October 11, 2014: The government has agreed to halt the already (by international sanction) illegal charcoal exports from Somali ports. This will increase costs for the charcoal producers as they now have to pay larger bribes or export the charcoal from smaller ports where it costs more to get the cargo on ships. Persian Gulf states spend at least $250 million a year buying this charcoal from Somali producers. It is a big business, even though it is destroying the remaining forests.

October 10, 2014: Just across the border in Kenya al Shabaab gunmen kidnapped give Kenyans who were transporting a truckload of Khat. Al Shabaab is more frequently engaging in theft and robbery to finance themselves.

October 6, 2014: In the south (Bula Gadud) soldiers and Kenyan peacekeepers fought with al Shabaab. When it was over 22 Islamic terrorists were dead and four soldiers (one Kenyan, three Somalis) wounded. Three al Shabaab vehicles were destroyed in the fighting but many weapons and much ammo was seized. 

October 5, 2014:  Peacekeepers and soldiers took control of Barawe (200 kilometers south of Mogadishu), the last major port under al Shabaab control. This was where the Islamic terrorists exported most of the illegal charcoal and imported the equally illegal weapons. Al Shabaab fled the coastal town yesterday as government forces approached.





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