The countries supplying the peacekeepers in Somalia (Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Djibouti) are asking the UN to reverse its decision to gradually shut down the operation. The African nations point out that that the 21,000 peacekeepers are holding the country together and without these foreign troops (most from neighboring countries) Somalia would collapse into chaos again. The UN position is that that are many nations needing peacekeepers, more peacekeepers than the UN budget can support. Moreover Somalia is the most corrupt and violent nation UN peacekeepers have to deal with and the stability situation in Somalia is improving too slowly. The U.S. recognizes the pattern and refuses to station many troops in Somalia. There are currently about 500 American troops in Somalia and only 7,500 in all of Africa. These belong to AFRICOM and most of those troops are based in Djibouti, Somalia’s northern neighbor.
Al Shabaab, and the usual clan feuds, remain a threat, mainly because of the difficulty in creating and maintaining effective army and police forces. Somalia has never before had a national military or police force and ancient tribal (or clan) rivalries and rampant corruption make it extremely difficult to create any national institutions. The United States alone has invested over $700 million in recruiting, training and maintaining a Somali Army and that force currently has 20,000 troops on the payroll. Because of the corruption an unknown number of these soldiers do not exist except as payroll entries. This is a notorious scam (“phantom soldiers”) in corrupt areas for officers to steal money. There are many other more direct ways and it is considered bad manners to not steal, especially when someone in your family or clan is in desperate need. Family comes first and to hell with everyone else. The corruption hurts everyone and a major appeal of groups like al Shabaab is the promise to eliminate corruption via the establishment of a religious dictatorship and implementation of sharia (Islamic law). That has been tried many times in the past and never worked. Islamic scripture insists it will and the most faithful Moslems should keep trying, at whatever cost. That is where al Shabaab is coming from and what keeps them going. That and a lot of criminal activity and corruption.
The current, reformist, Somali president is trying to get al Shabaab factions to accept amnesty deals and disarm. More of the leaders are willing to make deals than are the many al Shabaab gunmen out there and their local leaders. Most al Shabaab operate more as bandits than Islamic terrorists these days and that is pretty normal for Somalia. In rural areas al Shabaab extorts cash and goods from villagers. The al Shabaab groups are large enough to intimidate any armed force a village can muster and extort as much as they can without causing the villagers to die from starvation or flee. Then there is the recruiting of children, usually boys, to become bandits. Teenage girls are also kidnapped for sex and free labor. Al Shabaab in rural areas let it be known what they charge for vehicles to pass safely through their territory. There are not enough Somali police or soldiers to protect these rural populations so locals pay the bribes or starve. Sending in foreigners to supervise the distribution of aid is a dangerous move because Somalis will intimidate such officials with murder and kidnapping. Efforts, so far, to break this cycle have not made much progress. There has been some improvement over the last decade but too slow to justify the amount of foreign aid required, not when there are other areas that use the aid more effectively and with less risk (of getting killed) to the aid providers. Despite laws and UN regulations against it foreign aid groups continue to pay bribes and “protection fees” demanded by al Shabaab to allow aid into rural areas. Al Shabaab then demands a portion of that aid from the recipients as “taxes.” Thus al Shabaab survives as a major security problem in rural areas. From these rural bases the more dedicated al Shabaab members can plan terror attacks in or near the capital (Mogadishu) and other large urban areas. Mogadishu is the preferred target because attacks there get the most international media coverage. Thus the capital, Mogadishu, is regularly hit with al Shabaab attacks. There were 45 such attacks in 2017, nearly four a month. That rate of attacks has continued into 2018.
March 10, 2018: Outside Mogadishu a roadside bomb killed four soldiers and wounded four others.
March 8, 2018: The United States designated two senior al Shabaab officials (Ahmad Iman Ali and Abdifatah Abubakar Abdi) as international terrorists and made it illegal for anyone to do business with these two or for them to travel internationally. This makes it more costly for these men to move around and do business.
March 7, 2018: Outside Mogadishu a roadside bomb killed two government officials and their two bodyguards.
March 4, 2018:
About 240 kilometers west of Mogadishu Ethiopian forces clashed with al Shabaab near Baidoa leaving many dead on both sides.
March 2, 2018: An al Shabaab suicide car bomb was used to attack an army base 30 kilometers 0utside Mogadishu. The base security worked and the explosion killed the bomber and one soldier.
In the southeast (Jowhar, 90 kilometers from Mogadishu) al Shabaab ambushed peacekeepers killing three and wounding seven. Al Shabaab then briefly occupied parts of the nearby town of Balad, where they wrecked the broadcasting facilities of a radio station hostile to al Shabaab. The Islamic terrorists were driven out by army forces later in the day.
March 1, 2018: Some 15 kilometers outside Mogadishu al Shabaab used a suicide car bomb at a checkpoint to wound five people.
In the southeast (across the border in Mandera country Kenya) al Shabaab attacked two police bases near the coast and killed five policemen.
February 28, 2018: In Mogadishu al Shabaab fired several mortar shells into a residential neighborhood, killing three civilians and wounding several more.
February 26, 2018: In the south (near Jilib about 260 kilometers south of Mogadishu) an American UAV used a missile to kill two al Shabaab men and wound another. This is the third such attack this month. The other was on the 21st, outside the southern port of Kismayo. On the 19th a UAV hit al Shabaab outside Jilib killing four al Shabaab men. There were two UAV attacks in January. There were 31 such attacks in 2017, most of them directed at al Shabaab but two hit ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) targets. There were 15 UAV attacks in 2016 and three in 2015. It is expected there will be more of these attacks in 2018.
February 23, 2018: In Mogadishu al Shabaab used suicide car bombs and over a dozen gunmen to attack the presidential palace and a hotel. Both attacks failed but not before over fifty people were killed, including about a dozen of the Islamic terrorists.
About 300 kilometers off the east coast a speedboat full of Somali pirates approached and fired on a tanker. The onboard security crew fired back and the pirate speedboat turned away. This was the second such attack this month and both attacks failed. These two attacks in one month were unusual because such attacks are rare these days. There were more than three times as many pirate attacks off Nigeria (and the Gulf of Guinea in general) than off Somalia during 2017. Actually most of the pirate attacks in 2017 were in Southeast Asia (Indonesia and the Philippines). Despite that worldwide pirate activity hit a 22 year low (188 attacks) in 2017 and most of it was far away from Somalia, where the piracy boom there ended in 2012. Those 188 attacks created damage worth $7 billion, most (80 percent) of it was absorbed by the ships and their owners. Higher insurance rates and operating costs were the major additional costs. This is especially true off Nigeria where there is a lot more commercial shipping than off Somalia and the insurance rates are still higher because of the piracy risk. That is why most large ships passing near Somalia have a team of armed security specialists to handle pirates who get too close. No ship with these security teams aboard have ever been taken for ransom.
February 16, 2018: In the south (across the border in Wajir country Kenya) al Shabaab attacked a primary school compound and killed three teachers and wounding several others. Al Shabaab is hostile to all secular education and any education for girls.
February 12, 2018: In the south al Shabaab killed two of their own, ethnic Somalis from Kenya, after accusing the men of spying for the Kenyan military. In 2017 there were four such executions and over the last five years or so at least twenty.