Somalia: All Problem, Not Much Solution

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February 20, 2016: Kenya and al Shabaab are involved in a public dispute about the Kenyan claim that their air force bombed an al Shabaab camp in southwest Somalia (Nadaris) on February 8th that killed the deputy head of al Shabaab (Mohammed Karatey), ten other al Shabaab commanders and about 40 of the new al Shabaab members that were graduating from a training course. Al Shabaab claims that Karatey is alive and that there was no attack. Neither side has offered proof of what happened (or didn’t happen). Karatey is also head of intelligence for al Shabaab and organizer of terror attacks. He is believed responsible for several attacks in Kenya and Somalia that left hundreds of civilians and security personnel dead. The United States offers a $5 million reward for his capture or death.

In the last few weeks peacekeepers have been on the offensive throughout central and southern Somalia. At the same time several major al Shabaab attacks on army and peacekeeper camps failed. All this is in sharp contrast to January where there were several successful al Shabaab attacks. The peacekeepers said they and the Somali army would reorganize their deployments, improve their intelligence and develop new tactics. All this appears to have worked so far.

Meanwhile al Shabaab still has a lot of popular support. The majority of Somalis oppose Islamic terrorism but a significant minority (up to 20 percent) support or tolerate groups like al Shabaab. The main reason for the support is desperation for a solution to the poverty, corruption, factionalism and chaos that make Somalia such a dangerous place to live in. Al Shabaab is still attracting recruits and is still a dangerous factor in Somali life. Then again al Shabaab is part of the problems that bother most Somalis.

The most recent (2015) international study found Somalia one of the two (along with North Korea) most corrupt nations in the world. Corruption in this Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The two most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 (North Korea and Somalia) and the least corrupt is 91 (Denmark). A look at this index each year adds an element of reality to official government pronouncements. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones.

Pirate activity may be largely gone in Somalia but the pirates are still a threat , even if the pirates not based in Somalia . It was recently revealed that on January 27th Somali pirates operating out of an al Qaeda controlled town (al Mukalla) in southern Yemen attacked a large cargo ship but fled when armed security guards fired back, killing one of the pirates. Islamic terrorists based in Yemen have been known to work with Somali pirates before, usually for money. Providing sanctuary for the pirates in return for a cut of any ransom money was the usual deal. Because of the civil war in Yemen al Qaeda has gained control of much of the southeast Yemen coast. Pirate activity in Somalia has been declining since 2012 but it was always believed that some of the pirate gangs were waiting for the expensive anti-piracy measures (armed guard on large ships and the international anti-piracy patrol) to disappear.

February 18, 2016: In the southwest (Gedo, 320 kilometers from Mogadishu) a peacekeeper raid on an al Shabaab training camp left at least twenty Islamic terrorists dead. Among those killed was Maalim Sheriff, an expert bomb maker who was the main target of the raid. Several more al Shabaab men escaped, some of them wounded. Many weapons and much equipment was captured in the camp, including 16 assault rifles, bomb making materials and electronic gear (like GPS devices).

In Mogadishu soldiers and police conducted one of their periodic raids into neighborhoods where there has been al Shabaab activity and arrest and interrogate suspected al Shabaab supporters. This time the overnight raids led to the arrests of about 300 people. Some 90 percent of these suspects were released after questioning.

February 15, 2016: In Mogadishu a prominent politician (and former Defense Minister) was killed by a bomb planted under his car. Al Shabaab was suspected of being responsible as they have made several similar attacks in the last year.

February 14, 2016: In the south (Kismayo) al Shabaab fired several mortar shells at the port city’s airport. None of the shells hit the airport and instead hit a residential area wounding three civilians. Al Shabaab believes that American UAVs are operating from the airport.

The government admitted that Nigerian Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram had some members who were trained in Somalia by al Shabaab. It was not made clear if this was still going on. Probably not because Al Shabaab and Boko Haram have gone in different directions. Boko Haram has aligned itself with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) while al Shabaab remains loyal to ISIL arch-enemy al Qaeda. Moreover in early 2015 defectors and captured al Shabaab members reported that that group’s leaders were dismayed that other Islamic terror groups like ISIL in Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria are crowding al Shabaab out of the media. Al Shabaab needs that media attention for fund raising and recruiting, both of which were (and still are) in decline for other reasons as well. Al Shabaab is seen as less attractive to Somali expatriates seeking to become Islamic terrorists. In part that’s because al Shabaab made itself very unpopular inside Somalia because of how the mistreated civilians, many of whom had kin in the West. This unpopularity made it easier for the UN and AU to get a peacekeeping force in and build a new Somali Army and government.

February 11, 2016: A leader of the peacekeeper force in Somalia warned that al Shabaab was apparently planning to use captured peacekeeper uniforms to disguise their men for attacks on civilians in areas controlled by peacekeepers. This is intended to discredit the peacekeepers because some Somalis will believe the subsequent al Shabaab claims that the foreign peacekeepers are oppressing the Somali people.

February 7, 2016: In the south al Shabaab men entered the coastal town of Merka and chased away police and local militia. But the next day soldiers and peacekeepers came and drove the Islamic terrorists out. Small ports like Merka were once frequently used by al Shabaab for smuggling goods and people in and out of the country. During 2015 al Shabaab lost regular access to many of the small port towns it had long depended on. The attack on Merka was an attempt to see if they could regain that access and apparently they cannot.

February 4, 2016: In the northwest (Middle Shabelle region 120 kilometers north of Mogadishu) soldiers searching for al Shabaab raided an Islamic terrorist camp and after brief gun battle killed eight al Shabaab men and seized a large quantity of weapons and ammo. The area where this took place (near the town of Mahaday) has been under government control since 2014 but there are still small groups of al Shabaab men around who live off plunder.

February 2, 2016: In Mogadishu an airliner took off and while still climbing suffered an Islamic terrorist bomb explosion in the passenger cabin. The suicide bomber was sucked out the hole created in the fuselage but the aircraft was still intact and was able to safely return to land in Mogadishu. No one else on the aircraft was hurt. Al Shabaab later took credit for the attack and an investigation tracked down those at the airport who had got the bomb through security. Al Shabaab had meant to get their bomber on a Turkish airliner but that flight was cancelled and passengers were transferred to an aircraft from an Arab airline. Al Shabaab wanted to punish the Turks for supporting the Somali government and reopening their embassy in Mogadishu.

February 1, 2016: In northeast Kenya police detained three trucks carrying aid for Somali refugees in Somalia. The police were suspicious that the truck drivers were working for al Shabaab because aid trucks in this area had been seized by the Islamic terrorists recently. Officials from the foreign aid organization involved arrived and eventually persuaded police to let the trucks through. Al Shabaab did not seize any of these trucks.

January 31, 2016: Just across the border in Kenya (Lamu) five al Shabaab gunmen entered a village at dawn looking for Christians to kill. Three Kenyans were killed before the gunmen left. Attacks like this are nothing new in northeast Kenya, which has a mixed Christian-Moslem population. Al Shabaab considers any area where Moslems live as Islamic territory where non-Moslems should be converted, driven away or killed. Because of this attitude there is growing tension between Kenyan Christians and Somalis. About ten percent (4 million) of Kenyans, mostly along the coast, are Moslem and most of these are ethnic Somalis. There has always been some Islamic radical activity among Kenyan Moslems, but the police have been particularly attentive to it after Kenyan Moslems were found to be involved in terrorist operations in the 1990s.

 

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