Somalia: Depraved Politics Persists

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August 10, 2017: Al Shabaab is again banning food aid to any areas it controls (mainly in central and southern Somalia). This is similar to a situation in 2011 when al Shabaab banned food aid. Back then the reason was that al Shabaab considered the food aid un-Islamic because it came from the West (mostly the United States) and not from Islamic nations. The U.S. has always paid for and provided most of the food aid to Somalia. This policy cost al Shabaab a lot of popular support. The policy is being used this time for different reasons. Al Shabaab believes that those who supply the food (local and foreign aid officials) are reporting the location of al Shabaab leaders, who are being found and killed (usually by American airstrikes) with increasing frequency. Al Shabaab also believes starving civilians make better human shields. Another problem this time is factional fighting within Somalia that encourages all manner of odd behavior. In 2011 about a quarter million Somalis died of starvation, largely because of al Shabaab interfering with the movement of food aid. This time al Shabaab controls less territory and Somalis remember how this worked in 2011, so the starvation is expected to be less extensive.

That al Shabaab controls any territory is mainly because of another problem; corruption. The inability of the government to ensure that their new security forces are supplied and paid regularly (even though foreign aid provides the needed cash) means the Somali army remains unreliable and unable to control areas that al Shabaab has been driven out of (usually by peacekeepers, but sometimes by pro-government militias). It’s another case of greed overwhelming common sense and common interests. This is not unusual for Somalia, which has been rated the most corrupt nation in the world for a decade. One of the side effects of that degree of corruption is the inability to maintain reliable security forces.

Al Shabaab and Somalia have another problem not directly related to corruption. In the north, mainly Galgudud and Middle Shabelle, families are sending children (mainly boys age 10-16) away to areas with more government control to protect the kids from more aggressive al Shabaab recruiting. This now includes raiding schools in the daytime and kidnapping likely recruits. Several hundred children a month are fleeing now and over a thousand kids have done so since January. This was not unexpected because the Islamic terrorist group has suffered heavy losses in the last few years but have maintained its strength by improvising. This is mainly about using children and apparently at least half the current al Shabaab gunmen are armed boys under age 18 and a growing number under 14 years old. This is why, despite losing control of 90 percent of the area it controlled at its peak in 2012, al Shabaab still exists with about half the personnel it had in 2012. The growing use of child soldiers was noted as early as 2010 when the fighting in Mogadishu was not going well for al Shabaab and many of their fighters had been killed or discouraged enough to desert. Unable to entice enough men to join they have convinced (or coerced) some clan elders to allow kids (large enough to handle an AK-47) to join the fight. Like most Somali children they were eager for the opportunity to have an AK-47 of their very own and people to shoot at. This is a big deal for Somali teenagers. By 2012 it was noted that 10-20 percent of most al Shabaab fighters appeared to be kids. The teenagers are not the best fighters. Most are impulsive and inexperienced so they do not last long if there is a lot of combat and even then they require more supervision than adult fighters. But given the choice between disappearing because of heavy casualties or recruiting more and more kids, many African irregular groups (bandits, rebels, Islamic terrorists) will resort to the use of children. This is not a new phenomenon but it did not become as affordable and widespread until the 1990s. That’s because after several million cheap Cold War surplus AK-47s began showing up in Africa in the 1990s the "child soldier" became a more practical solution to heavy personnel losses. The world market for AK-47s was glutted by the late 1990s. The only market left was Africa, but only if you were willing to sell cheap. The gunrunners were, and still are, very active in lawless places like Somalia, Sudan and eastern Congo. The cheap AK-47 made it possible to use kids as young as 10-14 years old as soldiers. This was a new development, because the old weapons (spears, swords, bows) required muscle. Kids had to be older, and stronger. But now, if you could lift a 4.5 kg (ten pound) AK-47 and pull the trigger, you were a killer. Child soldiers changed everything, because warlords could just kidnap or entice kids and quickly brainwash them. These armies of child killers made insurrection and anarchy more common. Tens of millions of Africans fled their homes to avoid these tiny terrors, and many of those refugees died of starvation or disease. These victims were just as dead, even if the bullets didn't get them. In fact, few AK-47 victims died from bullets. It was the massive fear, and breakdown of society, and the economy, that killed most people confronted by all these cheap AK-47s. The kids weren't very good shots, but if they got close enough to you, they were capable of unimaginable horrors. Al Shabaab is continuing this vile tradition, although in the name of God.

August 4, 2017: In the southeast (Lower Shabelle region) peacekeepers unexpectedly withdrew from in Leego, a town 120 kilometers inland from Mogadishu and long fought over by al Shabaab and government forces. Within hours al Shabaab forces moved in and took control. The withdrawal of the peacekeepers turned out to be part of a temporary redeployment to maintain security on the main road from Mogadishu to the port town of Barawe. This was the last major al Shabaab controlled town and the Islamic terrorists lost control of it in late 2014. But ever since then several groups of al Shabaab gunmen continued to operate in the near Barae and try to position themselves for an effort to regain control of the place Control of a port town is essential if al Shabaab is to make a comeback and Barawe is the most likely port available.

In Mogadishu a car bomb went off downtown and killed three people. Several hours later an al Shabaab death squad killed the governor of Galgadud (north of Mogadishu) and his brother. The two victims were visiting the city and their personal security was not as heavy as it was back home where the al Shabaab presence is more intense.

August 2, 2017: In the south, across the border in northeast Kenya, al Shabaab gunmen ambushed a bus, killing three people. The next day the same group apparently attacked a police station and were repulsed. One policeman was killed while the attackers managed to steal one police vehicle.

July 31, 2017: In Mogadishu a car bomb went off downtown wounding four people. This is the second such bombing in the city in the last two days. The one yesterday killed six and wounded more than 20. These two bombs appear to have been the work of criminal or political gangs, not Islamic terrorists.

July 30, 2017: In the southeast (Lower Shabelle region) al Shabaab ambushed a supply convoy, killing at least twenty of the peacekeepers (all Ugandan) guarding it.

In the south (Lower Shabelle) an Somali-American commando raid near the town of Torotoroow killed Ali Muhammad Hussein, an al Shabaab leader in charge of operations in Mogadishu and responsible for the increase in terror attacks in the capital this year. Hussein had previously been in charge of similar operations in two different areas in the south. This is the second such U.S. commando raid in Somalia this year. While the Somali Army in general is crippled by corruption the small Somali special operations force is not.

July 23, 2017: In the central Somali town of Galkayo a joint U.S.-Somali raid captured Abdirizak Tahlil, an al Shabaab bomb builder who had once lived in the United States.

In Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) an al Shabaab roadside bomb went off as a convoy passed killing four soldiers and wounding two others.

July 21, 2017: In central Somalia (Galgadud) two days of fighting between rival clan militias left at least 20 dead and more than 40 wounded. A ceasefire was arranged by clan elders but the battle (for control of the town of Herale, 600 kilometers north of Mogadishu) is not over. These local wars are not unusual but have been overshadowed by the more vicious (and newsworthy) Islamic terrorist violence.

July 18, 2017: In southeast Kenya, a hundred kilometers from the Somali border, a number of al Shabaab gunmen attacked an army camp and were repulsed. It’s unusual for al Shabaab to operate this far from Somalia and he group is believed composed of Kenyans who are Moslem and ethnic Somalis.

July 14, 2017: In the south, across the border in northeast Kenya, the army is looking for what appears to be an al Shabaab force of up to a hundred gunmen that are attempting to establish a permanent presence in the Lamu area near the coast. Some of the al Shabaab men appeared to Kenyans (ethnic Somalis). Yesterday some of these gunmen ambushed a convoy in the areas and kidnapped a government officials. The captive was quickly recovered and the al Shabaab men fled after suffering some casualties. But five soldiers died during all of this. A week ago Kenya also imposed a dusk to dawn curfew in the Lamu area for the next 90 days.

 

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