Somalia: Getting Better But Not Better Enough

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January 6, 2016: Despite the continuing al Shabaab violence and endemic corruption the economy continues to grow and some refugees who fled the country (mainly to Kenya) are returning. The Somali Army continues to grow and perform better. There are now about 20,000 soldiers, most of them trained by foreign experts and the defense budget is largely paid for by foreign aid. This makes it possible to at least try to deal with the corruption. Traditional bad habits, like officers stealing money to pay and feed their troops and blaming it all on someone else, are easier to expose and deal with when foreign donors are providing the cash. If soldiers actually get paid regularly being in the army is an attractive career, especially since over 60 percent of younger (under 35 years old) Somali men are unemployed or underemployed (not earning enough to support a family adequately).

Despite the obvious economic and social progress many Somalis still seek to migrate, preferably to the West but any nation that is less violent and more prosperous will do. Access to global media and news from friends or family who have emigrated informs and encourages the desire to get out of Somalia for a better life elsewhere. It doesn’t help that, although al Shabaab has been much reduced in the last few years, the Islamic terrorist group has now split into two factions, the smaller one joining ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). While there has been some fighting between the two factions both the al Qaeda faction (the larger, original one) and the ISIL crew spend most of their time competing to get media attention for carrying out more horrific attacks.

Pirates are still operating off the coast, but 2015 was another year of little success for them as there were only four pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and three off the east coast of Somalia. Again, as it has been since 2012, no attacks on large ships succeeded. All the pirates can capture now are slow moving ocean going fishing ships. These yield little or no ransom.

Turkey announced that it is building a military base in Somalia where Turkish soldiers will train Somalis and troops from other parts of Africa. Turkey has been a major provider of aid from Moslem nations. Western countries still provide most of the aid to Somalia and Turkey is trying to encourage wealthy Moslem nations to change that, at least when it comes to Moslem nations in need. Turkey established an embassy in Somalia in 2011 (one of the first nations to do so) and a Turkish airline was one of the first to establish regular commercial service to Somalia in 2012. Senior Turkish officials (including the president) have visited Somalia recently, giving other potential investors and aid donors encouragement. So far Turkey has provided nearly half a billion dollars in aid to Somalia.

In the last year Kenya and the UN have persuaded nearly 6,000 Somali refugees in Kenya to return home to Somalia. Since 2013 Kenya has been trying to persuade the 500,000 (at least) Somali refugees in the Dadaab and associated camps to go home as soon as possible. The UN, which runs the camp, says it could take up to ten years to persuade the refugees to leave. Kenya says it has persuaded 45,000 Somalis to return since 2013 and a late 2015 agreement has the UN putting more money into Somalia to make it worthwhile for the Somali refugees in Kenya to voluntarily go home. Meanwhile since September 2015 Kenya has increased security efforts to find and arrest Islamic terrorists operating in the refugee camps. The Dadaad population of 350,000 is a source of crime and economic disruption in northern Kenya which makes it very unpopular with the locals. Islamic terrorists are known to live there and were often recruited there to begin with. In addition to the Dadaab camps there are also over 500,000 Somalis in Kenya illegally, often using false documents. Since 2011 Somali Islamic terrorists in Kenya have killed over 500 Kenyans. This has led to a great sense of fear and hatred towards Somalis in Kenya.

In mid-December Saudi Arabia announced the formation of an anti-terrorist organization (the Islamic Military Alliance or IMA) initially composed of 34 Moslem nations including Somalia as well as Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Qatar, the Palestinians, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Yemen. All the initial members are largely Sunni. Some nations are not welcome, like Iran, Syria and Iraq. This is because the Sunni Gulf States (led by Saudi Arabia) are at war with Iran, which considers Syria and Iraq allies. Many IMA members are the recipients of Saudi financial assistance, so refusing to join the IMA was not considered fiscally prudent for Somalia. The only specific terrorist organization IMA is at war with is ISIL. While Somalia has problems with Islamic terrorists, there is little Somalia can contribute to the IMA other than its progress against the local al Shabaab and the al Shabaab faction that joined ISIL. Al Shabaab began as an affiliate of al Qaeda and most members remain loyal to al Qaeda. In the grand scheme of things Somalia was the eighth most active site of Islamic terrorism worldwide during 2015. Iraq and Afghanistan were first and second and Nigeria third while Pakistan and Syria were fourth and fifth. Somalia scores higher (so to speak) in corruption. Number one (Denmark) is the least corrupt and 175 (Somalia and North Korea in a tie) are the most nations on the planet.

January 5, 2016: The U.S. has quietly shut down its UAV operations at an airbase in Ethiopia. Many of the UAV operations there were over Somalia. The U.S. still operates larger (mainly Reaper) UAVs from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, where that has been going on since 2003. The Ethiopia operations began in 2011. The Reaper and Predator UAVs are operated remotely (via satellite) back in the United States. The local airbases handle maintenance of the UAVs and sometimes landings and takeoffs.

January 4, 2016: Some 60 kilometers south of Mogadishu (Lower Shabelle) soldiers and peacekeepers drove al Shabaab out of a town they were trying to occupy. The fleeing Islamic terrorists left three bodies behind and the soldiers lost three dead. Elsewhere in the area another al Shabaab attack on an army camp was more successful, killing at least six soldiers while losing four of their own. The attackers were able to carry off some of the weapons and equipment from the camp.

January 3, 2016: In the southeast (Lower Shabelle region) al Shabaab attacked a police station using automatic weapons and RPGs. The attack was repulsed with three attackers dead. One policeman also died.

January 1, 2016: In Mogadishu a group of al Shabaab attacked a police station but were repulsed, with three of the attackers killed.

December 30, 2015: In central Somalia (200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) soldiers and peacekeepers destroyed two al Shabaab terror cells in the town of Bula-Burte. During the operation two Islamic terrorists were killed and seven captured. Al Shabaab lost control of Bula-Burte in 2013 and have been trying to get it back ever since without much success.

December 27, 2015: In northeast Kenya al Shabaab gunmen ambushed a police vehicle, killing two policemen and wounding two others.

December 25, 2015: In northeast Kenya al Shabaab gunmen ambushed two police vehicles, killing a policeman.

December 22, 2015: In Mogadishu al Shabaab used a roadside bomb to attack a peacekeeper armored vehicle. The explosion caused some damage but no casualties.

December 21, 2015: In the southeast (Lower Shabelle region) soldiers and peacekeepers battled to drive al Shabaab out of a village. The Islamic terrorists fled after five of them were killed along with two soldiers. Elsewhere in the Lower Shabelle an American UAV fired several missiles into an al Shabaab camp, causing a number of casualties and causing the Islamic terrorists to flee the camp (because such UAV attacks are often followed up by the appearance of soldiers).

In northeast Kenya, near the Somali border, al Shabaab gunmen fired on a bus and truck carrying passengers, killing two people and forcing the vehicles to stop. The gunmen then tried to get all the passengers to identify who the non-Moslems were. Most of the passengers were Moslem but none of them would speak up. Frustrated, the Islamic terrorists robbed the passengers and left without killing anyone else.

December 19, 2015: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab car bomb exploded killing three people and wounding many more.

December 18, 2015: Off the Somali coast two Iranian fishermen were killed (and three wounded) when their boat was attacked by Somali pirates. The Iranians were armed and fought back and repulsed the pirates. Currently two other Iranian fishing boats and their crews are being held by the Somali pirates. Iran advises its ocean going fishing boats to stay away from Somalia. These slow moving ocean-going fishing trawlers cannot out-run the pirates using speedboats. These "freezer trawlers" are up to 100 meters (310 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 15-30. The pirates don't get as large a ransom for fishing ships as they do for larger cargo and tanker ships but for the last few years these trawlers and slow coastal freighters are all the pirates can get. The Iranian ships are coastal freezer trawlers, which are often old and worth less than half a million dollars each.

December 16, 2015: In northeast Kenya the army is extending indefinitely its search for al Shabaab gunmen in the forests along the Somali border. This area has been the scene of several deadly al Shabaab raids in the last year. Kenyan intelligence believes that most of the hundred or more al Shabaab members who have formed an ISIL faction are hiding out in northeast Kenya on both sides of the border. There has been an increase in al Shabaab violence along the border in the last few months and there are rumors that the ISIL faction wants to carry out larger attacks in Kenyan cities.

 

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