In the far north Puntland (one of two autonomous parts of Somalia) is having a hard time with Yemen. Despite the civil war in Yemen there is still trade (via boat) and those cargoes headed for Puntland often contain weapons, because Yemen has been the center of a regional black market for weapons for a long time and Somalia has always been a good customer, or a conduit for getting the weapons to other parts of Africa. The weapons smuggling has attracted al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Normally either Islamic terror group would avoid Puntland because the Somalis there are better organized and more hostile to Islamic terrorism than is the case down south. Yet the constant, and growing, pressure on al Shabaab in Somalia has led a growing number of desperate al Shabaab members to head for Puntland, where they can barely survive as bandits but are not subject to the constant threat of attack by peacekeepers or American airstrikes. There are plenty of al Shabaab sympathizers in Somalia but not enough to establish a serious Islamic terrorist network. For the moment several groups of al Shabaab and one ISIL group are hiding out in the hills. They are surviving, but not much more.
The Ethiopian Connection
Next to Puntland there is Somaliland which, like Puntland, declared their independence in 1991 and avoided most of the ensuring mayhem down south. But Somalia still considers Puntland and Somaliland part of Somalia but are unable to make reunification happen. For now the two statelets and Somalia seek out allies and generally leave each other alone. But now Somaliland has agreed to a deal that would enable a UAE (United Arab Emirates) company to turn Berbera the major port of Somaliland into a major conduit for Ethiopian imports and exports. This would be facilitated by expanding the port and building a rail and road link to landlocked Ethiopia. This would make it more difficult for Somalia to regain control over Somaliland because so far the two statelets have been unable to gain any international recognition of their independence. The Berbera deal would change perceptions.
Backing Somalia in this dispute is Qatar, which is currently feuding with the UAE and most other Arabian states. Because of that in mid-2017 a UAE diplomat offered the Somali president an $80 million bribe to turn against Qatar in that diplomatic dispute. The bribe was turned down but the Somali leader made a case for allowing Somalia to be neutral in this matter. Somali needed all the foreign aid it could get and Qatar and other Gulf States were major donors as was Turkey, which was siding with Qatar. Then there was the United States, which was also trying to maintain good relations with all concerned and would not appreciate it if anyone used large bribes to cause more unrest in Somalia. This crises began in
June 2017 with an unexpected escalation in an Arabian dispute that could threaten Somali access to foreign aid from wealthy Gulf States as well as the growing Turkish presence in Somalia. It began when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic, economic and military relations with tiny Saudi neighbor Qatar. Ambassadors were expelled, borders were closed and Qatar was made to feel very unwelcome. Yemen and several other Moslem nations followed suit. The expulsion comes after years of criticisms regarding Qatari support for Islamic terrorism and the perception among Arab states that Qatar could not be trusted. Cutting ties with Qatar is partly retaliation against the Qatar based and subsidized al Jazeera satellite news network which often reports on real or imagined (depending on who you ask) bad behavior by Sunni Arab governments and their security forces. Qatar also openly supports Palestinian terror group Hamas. Al Jazeera reporters have a hard time avoiding arrest (or worse) in Egypt and other Moslem states but they are often abused by Islamic terror groups as well. Qatar is also seen as siding with Iran in the current struggle between Shia Iran and the Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. This sort of behavior is not uncommon in the region and the small Arab Gulf states like Qatar, Kuwait and the member states of the UAE have survived for centuries using these methods. One could say Qatar has been too successful and the current unpleasantness is the price of that success. As is the local custom secret meetings are being held, demands discussed and agreements made. How long this takes will depend on how long Qatar can last without its usual providers of all the food and just about everything else. The expulsion cut off half of that immediately and a naval blockade would be disastrous. About 40 percent of imports came via Saudi Arabia. Dealing with that did not become a problem.
Qatar does have local allies. Iran offered to ship food and other emergency supplies to Qatar and Turkey has offered to send 3,000 more troops to the small base Turkey already has in Qatar, along with a few hundred troops. Turkey is a major customer (over $700 million a year) of Qatari natural gas and Qatar has invested some $20 billion in Turkey. Qatar has assured the United States that the American bases and about 10,000 military personnel in Qatar were safe. Turning to Iran was obvious but Turkey is a more interesting case. Turkey is establishing a military base in Qatar to support Turkish peacekeeping and efforts in Africa (especially Somalia) and relations with the Arabian states. Turkey is less eager to get too close to Iran. Meanwhile Somali leaders and businessmen want to protect their fragile diplomatic and commercial relationships in the Persian Gulf as much as possible. The U.S. has been pressuring Qatar to address the terrorism support issue and Qatar recently agreed to list Islamic terrorists and groups as international terrorists, as other Arabian states already have. Meanwhile Qatar survives but only so long as it retains its Western allies.
Qatar was one of the first Arabian states to return to Somalia. In mid-2014 Qatar reopened its embassy in Mogadishu, the first time in over 20 years Qatar has had an embassy there. At the time nine other nations had embassies in Mogadishu (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, Britain and Yemen.) UAE aid efforts have been increasingly active in Somalia since 2015. This is part of a more active and determined attitude towards aid to Moslem nations suffering from violence and natural disasters. As recently as 2014 the UAE regularly warned its citizens to stay away from Somalia (as well as Afghanistan, South Sudan and many other areas) due to security concerns. Yet the UAE has centuries of commercial relationships with the coastal cities of East Africa. But Somalia is a special case since it has never been a united country, just a few coastal towns and cities to trade with and has resisted unification. As a result businessmen and gangsters from the UAE have long facilitated much illegal behavior in Somalia because that was about the only kind there was. Somalia does not want to lose any of these allies nor does it want to offend Ethiopia, which has played a major role in defeating al Shabaab.
Saudi Arabia has offered to mediate the Somaliland port dispute but that is not likely to settle the matter right away. Meanwhile Ethiopia wants its new sea link via Somaliland operational as soon as possible but has to wait until the Arabs settle their differences. .
April 2, 2018: In central Somalia (Hiraan) seven civilians died when their vehicle hit a mine placed on the road by al Shabaab.
April 1, 2018: In the south (Lower Shabelle) al Shabaab forces in eight vehicles attacked a peacekeeper camp. Two al Shabaab vehicles got into the camp, one of them a suicide bomb vehicle which exploded and killed eight Ugandan peacekeepers. Another al Shabaab suicide car bomb was destroyed before it could get close. All eight al Shabaab vehicles were destroyed and about 40 Islamic terrorists killed. Many weapons were seized from al Shabaab because of this failed attack.
In central S0malia (Galgaduud) an American UAV destroyed a vehicle carrying some al Shabaab leaders and killed them.
March 31, 2018: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab death squad killed two local officials from outside the city. The killers got away and since this was a targeted killing it probably had something to do with al Shabaab intimidation efforts against those running rural areas that are back under government control.
March 28, 2018: In Mogadishu a bomb went off near the compound of a major foreign aid organization, wounding three civilians.
March 22, 2018: In Mogadishu a car bomb went off near a popular hotel downtown leaving at least 14 dead. The bomb was not close enough to the hotel to do any serious damage to the hotel, where there was a meeting of government officials going on.
March 21, 2018: Near Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) an American UAV destroyed a vehicle carrying al Shabaab killing two and wounding three of the Islamic terrorists.
March 19, 2018: In the southwest (Gedo, 320 kilometers from Mogadishu) about 90 al Shabaab gunmen attacked an army camp but were repulsed, losing at least six dead and many wounded. Two civilians were also killed in the crossfire. The army reported taking no casualties.
March 14, 2018: In the south (outside Kismayo) soldiers ambushed an al Shabaab attack force and killed seven of the Islamic terrorists. One soldier was wounded. Al Shabaab was its way to attack the army camp but someone tipped off the army.