Somalia: Creeping Towards Victory

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December 22, 2016: In the last three months of 2016 Ethiopia withdrew 4,000 of its troops from Somalia. These troops had been very effective providing security in Somali towns near the border. These 4,000 troops were not part of the 21,000 AU peacekeeper force but an unofficial addition to it. These Ethiopians were particularly valuable because they knew the area and the people on both sides of the border. The departure of the Ethiopians meant the peacekeepers have not only lost 16 percent of their troops but arguably the most effective 16 percent. These Ethiopians were withdrawn because of various political and economic disputes. Ethiopia has been undergoing an internal crisis and the Ethiopian government was not happy with the international criticism it was getting. Ethiopia says the withdrawal is also linked to the EU (European Union) cutting its cash support for the African peacekeepers by 20 percent. Other peacekeeper contributors have complained about the EU cuts as well. The impact of this withdrawal on Somalia has been severe. For example in central Somalia (Hiran and Bakool, 300 kilometers north of Mogadishu) al Shabaab gunmen took control of six towns since September as soon as Ethiopian peacekeepers left. Al Shabaab quickly seized the abandoned towns and began killing locals they accused of cooperating with the peacekeepers. The peacekeepers and Somali security forces scrambled to move troops in to replace the departing Ethiopians and this had the effect of slowing down the effort to clear al Shabaab out of all parts of Somalia.

Peacekeeping Plan In Peril

Meanwhile current plan is still for all peacekeepers to be gone by the end of 2018. Right now most (nearly 70 percent) of the government forces are UN peacekeepers contributed by AU (African Union) members. The AU would like to get another 4,000 troops before then to crush the few thousand remaining al Shabaab and ISIL fighters and make it possible for the Somali Army (currently 11,000 troops) to take over. The AU is unlikely to muster another 4,000 troops for six months duty and it appears that Somalia will slide back into anarchy after 2018. At the moment the peacekeeper force cannot even maintain its authorized strength of 22,000.

There are other reasons for this mess the main one being a shortage of resources to improve that situation. For example the security forces are not well coordinated when it comes to intelligence. Some of the troops (like those from neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya) report back to their national military commands, not the head of the Somalia peacekeeping force. Ugandan peacekeepers also do this a lot, but not as much as Ethiopia and Kenya who both consider their operations inside Somalia an extension of border security efforts, which is how these two countries get involved in Somali peacekeeping in the first place. But what the peacekeeping forces needs as a whole is more pooling of information and an air force (for recon and attack) the peacekeeper commander has some control over. Currently Ethiopia, Kenya and the United States fly a lot of air reconnaissance over Somalia they don’t pass all the data, or even much of it on to the people running the peacekeepers.

Another problem is the Somali Army which, despite years of efforts (and several hundred million dollars) only has 11,000 largely ill disciplined, poorly led and badly treated troops in action. The goal has always been 20,000 trained and disciplined troops but that is unlikely to be achieved. Corruption is the big problem with officers stealing whatever they can and leaving the troops unpaid, hungry and understandably in a bad mood. 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 really caught on. Before the 1960s Somalia never had a local government that controlled all of what is now Somalia. Some things never seem to change.

Pirate Patrol Ends

The international piracy patrol off Somalia and in the Indian Ocean has lost nearly all of its NATO contributions and is basically a shut down as a regular warship patrol. The patrol effort began in 2009 and by 2012 seizures of large ships off Somalia stopped. There have been none since. Some of the patrol effort will move north to Yemen and the Red Sea but for now shipping companies will have to continue paying for armed security personnel on vessels moving through Somali waters still prone to pirate activity. Some anti-piracy efforts will continue. Patrol aircraft stationed in Djibouti will still be available and some countries, like China and India, will still send warships to the area if only because these two nations have so much of their economy dependent on these sea lanes. The EU (European Union) also extended its Somalia anti-piracy efforts (which are mostly surveillance and escorts for aid deliveries to dangerous areas) for another two years.

December 21, 2016: In the south (Lower Jubba) local tribesmen fought back when Al Shabaab tried to collect “taxes”, usually in the form of taking as many camels and other livestock as they can get away with. As many as twenty civilians and al Shabaab gunmen have been killed in these incidents over the last week. Soldiers, peacekeepers and local militia have responded by hunting down the al Shabaab responsible and destroying the camps they are operating from. Al Shabaab lost control of this area along the Kenyan border, and its 1.5 million people, in late 2012. Known as Jubaland (or Azania) it has always been independent minded, like Puntland and Somaliland in the far north. The new Somali government, Kenya and the AU peacekeepers made a deal to allow the local clans to more or less run it as “Jubaland” as long as they kept the remaining al Shabaab and other bandits under control. That continues to be a work in progress although the clans do have a financial interest in keeping the peace and preventing al Shabaab from resuming the years of heavy taxation imposed to fund al Shabaab efforts to conquer all of Somalia.

December 20, 2016: In the north (Puntland) al Shabaab assassins shot dead a government official in a restaurant. This comes six days after a similar attack left a senior police commander dead.

December 19, 2016: Kenya has sent hundreds of additional police and soldiers to help prevent al Shabaab raiders from getting across the border and attacking resort areas in northeastern and coastal Kenya.

December 18, 2016: In the north (Puntland) local security forces found and destroyed an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) base in a village some 30 kilometers south of Qandala (a port town). This comes a week after a clash at Qandala, which ISIL seized in late October and controlled or threatened until early December when a major operation (involving some Somali army troops) killed 30 Islamic terrorists at the loss of four soldiers and drove ISIL out of the town and areas around it. Since 2015 ISIL has been trying to take advantage of local (Puntland and Galmudug) clan feuds to establish a presence. This began in October 2015 when an al Shabaab faction declared itself the local branch of ISIL. This was mainly about clan politics, as was the ISIL seizure of port of Qandala (population 19,000) which is 550 kilometers south (across the Gulf of Aden) of Yemen.

December 17, 2016: In the south (Lower Shebelle) someone fired an RPG rocket at a bus and killed six civilians. Al Shabaab is suspected.

December 15, 2016: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint, killing only the attacker. Elsewhere in the city five soldiers died when a bomb went off outside a tea shop.

December 14, 2016: In Mogadishu police arrested six al Shabaab members before they could carry out any attacks.

December 11, 2016: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide car bomb off near a military base and the new port facilities, killing over twenty and wounding more than 50 people. Nearly all the victims were civilians as the truck was unable to reach the base or port because of security and crowded roads.

December 9, 2016: In the south, across the border in northeastern Kenya four al Shabaab men were killed after they fired on a Kenyan army border patrol. Several more of the al Shabaab men fled back across the border.

December 8, 2016: In central Somalia soldiers defeated al Shabaab gunmen attacking their base outside Baidoa. Hours of combat left at least a dozen dead and over twenty wounded. Nearly all the casualties were among the attackers who didn’t expect such an effective base defense or quick counterattack.

December 1, 2016: In central Somalia (the Bakool region) two al Shabaab men were killed as well as one soldiers as troops and peacekeepers sought to clear the Islamic terrorists out of the area.

November 30, 2016: Elections that were supposed to take place today to select a new president have been delayed again. These were originally scheduled for September but have been rescheduled four times now. The current plan is to do it in early 2017. The main problem is that too many of the current politicians regard elections as a threat to their income (from corruption). Some foreign donors correctly see this as a ploy so the interim government can stay in power longer and steal more aid money. This led to threats to halt aid if elections were not held. That worked, sort of, and the electoral process lurches forward, if only to keep the free money coming. Part of the problem is political with many of the clans (tribes) maintaining armed militias and refusing to abide by a “one man, one vote” system. That is, some clans demand more (foreign aid and other resources) than their numbers justify. A compromise had been achieved to accommodate that. In effect there will be more of a “selection” than an election. The national parliament will have 275 members who will be elected by 14,025 “voters” selected by 135 clan elders. The 54 members of the upper house of parliament are selected by local (state or regional) assemblies. A Western style election (in which all adult citizens can vote) is not expected until the early 2020s, if ever. Meanwhile al Shabaab insists that any form of democracy is un-Islamic and threatens to kill those who participate. Al Shabaab represents ancient, pre-Islamic, customs and traditions that have long defined Somali culture. Thus someone with greater power, especially if some of it is supernatural, should be in charge. That’s a tradition that is not unique to Somalia but many Somalis have remained enthusiastic and loyal practitioners of this sort of thing. That’s why the corruption and disunity continue to flourish. There is no easy or quick solution.

November 28, 2016: In the north (Galmudug, an autonomous region of Somalia just south of Puntland) tribesmen organized and fought back when al Shabaab sought to impose taxes. At least 30 people died in several hours of fighting, all but two of them al Shabaab men. Galmudug was formed in 2006 and has a population of about 1.8 million. To maintain its autonomy the local tribes have to deal with any local al Shabaab (or other Islamic terrorists and bandits).

November 26, 2016: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide car bomb off near a police station, killing at least eleven and wounding more than 26 people. Nearly all the victims were civilians as the car was unable to reach its target because of crowded streets and the growing risk of discovery.

November 25, 2016: In the north (Galmudug) seven al Shabaab men were killed when they clashed with a clan militia and lost.

 

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