Somalia: Iran Sends A Message

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December 16, 2015: Outside the central Somali town of Beledweyne peacekeepers persuaded two local clans to stop fighting. This violence left over 16 dead in the last week. The peacekeepers arrived on the 14 th and will remain until the two clans can negotiate a settlement to their dispute.

In the north Galmudug clan militiamen in the statelet of Puntland have been fighting government forces for the last few days, leaving at least 16 dead and more than twenty wounded. The violence began in late November and has escalated with over 30 dead so far. In 2014 Puntland cut diplomatic relations with Somalia over a Somali plan to reunite the northern province of Mudug at the expense of Puntland. Back in the 1990s clan wars in Mudug caused the province to be divided. The northern part joined Puntland while the southern half did not. Now Somalia wants to reunite Mudug and Puntland sees that as aggression. Somalia says it will work with the UN to do it peacefully but Puntland still sees it as a land grab. Meanwhile some of the Mudug clans in the Puntland want to join with the Mudug clans in Somalia to form a separate state and are willing to fight Puntland over the issue.

December 14, 2015: Outside Mogadishu someone shot dead a UN aid worker and her driver. Al Shabaab is suspected as they have long had an antagonistic relationship with the UN and aid groups in general.

In northern Kenya (Mandera) al Shabaab attacked police twice in the last two days leaving one policeman dead and seven wounded. Last July al Shabaab attacked a quarry where most of the workers were Christian and killed 14 people. The area around Mandera is near the Somali border and has long been the scene of fighting between the Kenyan Murule (ethnic Somalis) and the Marhan from Somalia. Earlier in 2015 about a hundred armed Marhan crossed the border and raided Murule territory. The Marhan have long been accused of supporting al Shabaab while the Murule oppose Islamic terrorism. The Kenyan government keeps sending more police and soldiers to the area to keep the Somalis out.

December 13, 2015: Outside Mogadishu al Shabaab gunmen used two boats to land near the perimeter of the international airport and try to get inside. That effort failed and the Islamic terrorists were driven away by security forces. The airport compound is heavily guarded and where several foreign embassies as well as homes of senior aid and peacekeeping officials are located. Despite the successful defense of the airport Turkish Airlines temporarily suspended its commercial flights to the airport until the security situation could be reviewed.

December 7, 2015: In the south (Barawe) soldiers arrested an American (Abdimalik Jones) who had deserted al Shabaab and was seeking a way out of the country. Jones reported that there was an increasingly violent dispute within al Shabaab over the desire of many members (most of them foreigners) to join ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant). Violent factionalism within al Shabaab is nothing new. For that and several other reasons the group is constantly losing members. Over half of those who join al Shabaab eventually (after a few months or years) quit. Some later rejoin but al Shabaab members find that Islamic terrorist organization can also be corrupt and inefficient and become disillusioned. Moreover a major attraction for most Somali recruits is regular pay (up to several hundred dollars a month) which is offered deliberately because otherwise the group would be dominated by foreigners willing to work for less (or nothing). Al Shabaab often ran into financial difficulties and could not pay many of their men for months at a time. At that point many would quit and often did so with the permission of their leaders. Al Shabaab had learned that deserters were more likely to inform on the Islamic terrorist group. But allowing departure (and often helping the former followers get home) made the former members less likely to talk and some even returned. This is in sharp contrast with ISIL, which threatens execution of those caught trying to desert. By 2010 al Shabaab was also having serious problems with factional disputes and this also caused a lot of members to quit. Al Shabaab leaders had to pay attention to morale because members leaving, with or without permission, had become the most common source of losses. The Somali security forces suffer from the same problems because of corruption. Meanwhile a growing number of dissatisfied al Shabaab members are responding to ISIL recruiting efforts and joining with other dissident al Shabaab men to create several small ISIL groups in Somalia. Al Shabaab has declared those who join ISIL are traitors and seeks to kill them. This has made all foreign members suspect because most Somali members want nothing to do with ISIL. That’s because al Shabaab was founded as a Somali nationalist organization and al Qaeda respected that. ISIL did not and wants to conquer the world. So far this year ISIL in Somalia has spent an increasing amount of time and effort fighting al Shabaab. This has helped the security forces and peacekeepers but they don’t like to publicize this. With more foreign members deserting, and getting publicized, the internal problems of al Shabaab are becoming widely known.

December 4, 2015: Outside the central Somali town of Beledweyne fourteen al Shabaab men were killed when they tried to ambush a convoy of Somali and Ethiopian troops. The soldiers quickly counterattacked and this led to a three hour gun battle that the Islamic terrorists lost.

December 2, 2015: In Kuunyo-Barrow (330 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) an American air strike killed senior al Shabaab leader Abdirahman Sandhere and two of his associates. It took another five days for the Americans to confirm that they had killed Sandhere. These attacks are made possible by the increase of information coming from Somalis. Many do it for the rewards, but there is also a lot of hostility towards al Shabaab and the Islamic terrorists can no longer terrorize people into remaining silent.

December 1, 2015: Kenya began construction of a security fence along most of the 869 kilometer Somali border. Construction was supposed to start in October but was delayed because of corruption (money to get the fence going had “disappeared”). Many believe the fence is unlikely to be finished because of high cost and the government corruption that cripples so many major efforts. The fence (wall, watch towers and fencing) would cost more than Kenya can afford as the most effective security wall was built by the Israelis at a cost of $2 million per kilometer. A less effective wall would slow down illegal border crossers but that would not keep determined Islamic terrorists out. Somalia accuses Kenya of planning to build some of the wall in Somali territory. The border was never precisely defined and that is a dispute that has largely been avoided because the frontier area is rural and it normally makes little difference where the border actually is.

November 30, 2015: Kenya sent several hundred additional troops to the Somali border to deal with the recent appearance of several small (under ten armed men) groups of al Shabaab in border villages. The Islamic terrorists demanded food and other supplies then moved on. It is believed these are al Shabaab men fleeing the peacekeepers and pro-government militias that are trying to eliminate the al Shabaab presence along the Kenyan border.

November 29, 2015: Some 400 kilometers north of Mogadishu (near the port town of Harardhere) soldiers attacked Somali pirates there and killed seven of them and wounded two others. An Iranian fishing boat the pirates had seized a week earlier was then seen departing the port, apparently with all 15 crew on board. Long a base for pirates Harardhere came under control of al Shabaab in 2009 and is one of the few port towns they still control for short periods before being driven out again. The main pirate bases were always are in the far north (Puntland) where the local government provided some protection from foreign interference. It is rare for Somali security forces to attack pirates because the pirates usually bribe everyone to prevent that or have so much firepower that no one will go after them. It is different now. The pirates have fallen on hard times since 2012, the last year they captured a large ship that could yield a multi-million dollar ransom. The few pirates still in business now try to grab the smaller foreign fishing ships. The Somali pirates often justified their crimes by claiming to be protecting local fishermen from illegal foreign fishing ships (trawlers). But this was largely a myth. The pirates only attacked the trawlers when they thought they could get a ransom (usually they could not) or to use the trawler and its crew as a mother ship for long range piracy operations. Many of the Somali pirates have gone back to fishing or smuggling and note with anger that anti-piracy aircraft and warships will pass right by foreign trawlers obviously fishing illegally in Somali waters. The foreign trawlers are often what is called "freezer trawlers." These ships are up to 100 meters (320 feet) long and have facilities on board to store hundreds of tons of frozen fish. These ships normally stay at sea months at a time and have crews of 14-30. The smaller (coastal) freezer trawlers are often old and worth less than half a million dollars each and almost impossible to get a ransom for. The owner cannot pay whatever ransom the pirates often demand for these ships. These trawlers are all over the Indian Ocean, between Africa and India and the anti-piracy patrol has been warning trawlers and the companies that own them to stay away from the Somali coast. When these trawlers are fishing illegally they are at risk despite the presence of the anti-piracy patrol. When under attack the trawlers can call for help but because trawlers move slowly while working and are close to shore there is rarely time for anti-piracy forces to reach them in time. Many observers (especially Somalis) see the illegal fishing as simply another form of piracy but there is no international outcry over it because the damage done is local and not multinational. A lot of Iranian trawlers have been showing up to fish illegally and several have been taken. Iran will not pay ransom so it is believed they did pay someone to have the pirates holding Iranian trawlers. This policy punishes the pirates and reminds the fishermen that illegally working Somali waters is dangerous.

 

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