Somalia: The Reason Why

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December 21, 2020: The United States has confirmed that it is moving most of its 700 troops in Somalia to other parts of East Africa. The departing troops who will be missed the most are Special Forces operators training and advising their Somali counterparts. The troops in Somalia also handle intelligence collection and monitoring things in general. This will continue as will the use of American UAVs to search for Islamic terrorists and carry out airstrikes when the opportunity presents itself.

Since early 2017, when Africom (U.S. Africa Command) increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia, there have been over 160 UAV airstrikes that have killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members. So far in 2020 there have been fifty of these UAV airstrikes and 270 in Somalia in the last decade. Striking back at those air operations has long been an al Shabaab goal but the Islamic terrorists have had little success at that. Most of those attacks were against al Shabaab targets with a few directed at ISIL forces in the north. In 2019 there were 63 UAV attacks in Somalia for the entire year. The 2020 attacks have killed several senior leaders although most of the UAV attack missions are in support of Somali Army operations, especially in southern Somalia where the remaining al Shabaab strongholds are.

The Americans are telling the Somali government and military that, if they can continue providing accurate information about al Shabaab and ISIL activities, the U.S. can continue providing UAV and surveillance and airstrike support. The Somali Special Forces troops complain that without their American advisors there is no way to call in airstrikes by American UAVs or medical evacuation helicopters. Past experience has shown that too many Somalis are willing to take a large enough bribe to abuse the ability to call in airstrikes or medevac missions. This usually means calling in an airstrike against a political rival rather than Islamic terrorists. Medical evacuation helicopters can be misled and called into an ambush situation. This sort of thing is another of the reasons why Somalia has been rated the most corrupt nation on the planet for decades. That bad behavior has already driven away most foreign aid donors and foreign help in general.

Somali Islamic terrorists also fight each other, but not enough. A recent example occurred in the north (Puntland) where the small Somalia ISIL affiliate is based. This group recently released a video via the Internet in which they declared war on the Somali al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab. ISIL has gone to war with al Shabaab before and lost. This time the ultra-fanatic ISIL leaders are going after al Shabaab because of the al Qaeda groups concentration on making money. Most of the al Shabaab fund raising is through intimidation. That tactic also works when seeking cooperation from local officials or clan leaders. Al Shabaab also makes deals with local officials to share the profits from some illegal scam the Islamic terrorists are using. In other situations al Shabaab will just offer a bribe. Al Shabaab still uses force when bribes won’t work. Force is not only cheaper but often more lucrative. In the last year about a thousand violent acts can be tracked back to al Shabaab. Most of this violence took place in southern Somalia and northern Kenya, and most were about economics, not religion. Al Shabaab members are more gangster than religious fanatic.

There are still religious fanatics in Somalia and some are in al Shabaab. There they either keep their fanatic beliefs to themselves or move on and join the local ISIL group in the north. That ISIL group has a hard time surviving because they don’t get along with the government security forces, local clan militias or with al Shabaab itself. As a result of all those distractions the local ISIL group could only carry out about five percent as many terror attacks as al Shabaab. The problem was the Somali ISIL group has fewer than a hundred active members and, despite their fanaticism, they get killed and there are not enough new recruits to grow the organization. They do have access to the Internet and declaring war on their Islamic terrorist rival at least garners them a little publicity. Left unsaid in the video is any mention of how ISIL managed to survive in the north. They do so by cooperating with local clan leaders to keep al Shabaab and their greedy tactics out of the north. In return ISIL does not carry out attacks against locals.

This does not protect ISIL from the American UAVs searching for their camps and leaders. Back in July American UAVs attacked an ISIL base with missiles, killing seven of the Islamic terrorists. It got worse because the Americans alerted the local security forces who made a ground attack shortly after the airstrike. Several days of fighting pushed ISIL losses up to about 30 men and loss of a base and much material. ISIL went very quiet after that and al Shabaab saw an opportunity to move in. That was repulsed by a joint force of local clan militia and the remaining ISIL gunmen.

December 19, 2020: In the central Somali town of Galkayo an al Shabaab suicide bomber detonated her explosives while surrounded by a crowd of people waiting to enter a sports stadium where the prime minister was going to speak. Three senior officers died but the rest of the dead and wounded were civilians. Two of the 17 dead were army generals, one of them the commander of the Special Forces Brigade, the other a division commander. The target was not the group of officers gathered near the entrance to the stadium but the prime minister himself. The security was too effective for that to happen so the suicide bomber just killed as many people as she could.

December 18, 2020: In the southeast, a cross the border in Kenya (Mandera county) al Shabaab blew up a cell phone tower.

December 15, 2020: The government ordered the Kenyan ambassador to leave the country and recalled their own ambassador in Kenya. There are three reasons given for this move. First there is Kenyan political support for the autonomous statelets of Puntland and Somaliland in the north. Since the 1990s the two statelets that comprise northern Somalia have been having some internal problems but much less so than in Somalia. Northern Somalia has been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1990s to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south, has been in perpetual chaos since 1990 and the establishment of a lasting central government is still a work-in-progress. Putland gets some help from the United States and may need more to cope with the growing number of ISIL gunmen.

Somali leaders accuse Kenya of plotting to help Jubaland, the area that borders northern Kenya, become like the two autonomous statelets in the north. That is unlikely to happen, especially with help from Kenya. The main goal of Kenya in Jubaland, where they have peacekeepers, is to keep Somali bandits, Islamic terrorists and smugglers from crossing the border and causing problems in northern Kenya. Then there is the dispute over the maritime boundary between Kenya and Somalia, which is still unresolved. This was all about both nations claiming a 100,000 square kilometer offshore area that may contain oil and gas deposits and definitely contains valuable fishing areas. An international tribunal is supposed to decide this issue this year or next.

December 14, 2020: In the southeast, a cross the border in Kenya (Mandera county) al Shabaab destroyed some newly built homes that were to house families of police officers.

December 10, 2020: In the south (Jilib) American UAVs used missiles to attack two al Shabaab targets. One of them was where one of the key al Shabaab bomb makers was known to build bombs and show others how to. Eight ISIL men were killed and two wounded. A bomb building workshop was destroyed along with some completed bombs and components for additional ones. Jilib is the scene of much UAV activity. Most of the time it is surveillance, looking for known al Shabaab personnel who frequently visit this area and the many al Shabaab factions that maintain bases near Jilib.

December 3, 2020: The UN renewed, for another year, authorization for anti-piracy operations off Somalia. These UN backed patrols have been authorized since 2008.

November 27, 2020: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab bomb went off near an ice cream shop popular with foreigners and government officials. Eight civilians died.

November 23, 2020: In the southeast (Lower Shabelle) an al Shabaab roadside bomb killed six members of the Somali Special Forces.

 

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