Somalia: Culture Clash

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June 14, 2021: The army, and especially its U.S. trained special operations troops, have been successful this year in attacking and defeating al Shabaab groups throughout the country. Leading this offensive has been small teams of Somali special operations troops. There are only about 400 of these Somali special operations troops, in part because standards are very high and the corruption-prone trainees were avoided. The American trainers were withdrawn at the start of the year and the Somali special operations troops are on their own. While they no longer have the use of American helicopters, they were trained for carrying out most operations without helicopters and have been very good at it. The Americans are still providing aerial surveillance and all manner of intel from a base in Djibouti. The American Special Forces continue to provide advice the Somali special operations troops request. The army is also under pressure to make the most of the 22,000 UN/AU peacekeepers, who will probably be gone within a year. The army has been on the offensive since February and al Shabaab has been on the run because the Islamic terrorists are not able to stand up to attacks by trained and experienced troops. While American trainers have left, British and Turkish trainers remain. The Turkish trained Somalis are currently being used by renegade president Farmajo to remain in power. The British training operation is outside Mogadishu and trains troops for the regular Somali army forces.

The Somali army has had a lot of problems with corruption, and there are a growing number of Somalis in the military and government who agree that the future is less corruption and more democracy. This is a struggle that has been going on for years and progress is being made despite the continued prevalence of cultural customs that sustain corruption. It is still a struggle, as can be seen with the continuing political dispute over the upcoming presidential election.

Election Drama

The presidential electoral crisis continues as an agreement between incumbent president Farmajo supporters and the opposition remains out of reach. There is no agreement on how to determine who is non-partisan and eligible to replace 34 ousted members of the National Independent Electoral Commission. An agreement made last month was supposed to have solved this problem. Farmajo supporters refused to cooperate and allow disclosure of background information of those proposed for membership in the Electoral Commission.

These disputes have been going on since mid-2020 and turned violent in April when president Farmajo used Turkish trained-troops and loyal (to him) police to take control of Mogadishu. He continues blocking serious efforts to hold the long-delayed elections. Farjamo persuaded parliament to extend his current term, which expired in February 2021, two more years. That was something parliament did not have the power to do and Farmajo used his Turkish-trained troops to stage a coup against police and any other armed, or unarmed groups in Mogadishu that opposed him. Farmajo underestimated the resistance in Mogadishu and the rest of the country and has now agreed that the two-year term extension was illegal and is trying to negotiate a settlement. Farmajo apparently believes that if elections are held, he will lose. So do many Somalis, both traditionalists and reformers.

The election crisis began in June 2020 when the National Independent Electoral Commission told parliament that it was impossible to hold elections for parliament and a new president as scheduled on November 27 2020. The delay was blamed on the usual suspects; political deadlocks, poor security (bandits and Islamic terrorists), bad weather (floods this time) and covid19. To assure a minimum level of legitimacy the six million eligible Somali voters must be registered biometrically, which requires special equipment that had not yet been obtained because the Electoral Commission lacked the money and needed at least $70 million to set up 5,000 polling stations and carry out the biometric registration. More time was also required but it was never going to be enough. Foreign aid donors are fed up and threaten to withdraw aid, which is still being stolen by corrupt politicians and officials. The government pleads for foreign aid to deal with the many internal problems. Billions of dollars in aid over the last decade has been provided but little of it has reached the people in need. Even Moslem donors are threatening to halt the aid.

Farmajo and many other Somali politicians and leaders do not believe the foreign donors will completely abandon Somalia again, as they did in the 1990s for the same reasons. A majority of Somalis apparently agree with the aid donors but Somali culture still puts clan loyalty above anything else. A national government has to distribute a lot of foreign aid to clan leaders to get any meaningful cooperation. Fair elections are seen as a threat to the traditions that create and sustain clan leaders, who are often warlords. That tradition leaves it to clan leaders to negotiate how much clout their clan should have, irrespective of how many eligible voters each clan has. That tradition is now seen by most Somalis as more of a problem than a solution. Fair voting is seen as a major threat to these traditions, which groups like al Shabaab depend on.

June 10, 2021: Kenya lifted its ban on commercial aircraft flights to or from Somalia. The ban was a month old and part of a response to Somali accusations that Kenya was interfering in Somali politics and refusing to settle a maritime boundary dispute. Kenya would not back down so Somalia did quiet down and aircraft flights were resumed.

In Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) a two-day battle between al Shabaab and the army ended with an al Shabaab defeat after al Shabaab was repulsed when they attacked an army base yesterday and the army pursued and caught up with the attackers today. Most of the 19 dead al Shabaab men were killed today when the Islamic terrorists were cornered. Two of the trucks used by the al Shabaab force were also destroyed. The army had some wounded but were better prepared to handle the attack and pursuit than al Shabaab, which increasingly relies on inexperienced teenagers to replace more experienced fighters who have been killed or wounded or just deserted.

June 9, 2021: In the southeast, across the border in Kenya’s Mandera county, a Forest Services vehicle was attacked with an al Shabaab roadside bomb, killing two of the six people aboard. This attack was apparently carried out by the same al Shabaab group that carried out an attack on a bus two days earlier and was being pursued by police. The June 7 attack was farther from the border. Police blame al Shabaab intimidation of local Kenyans who are ethnic Somalis for a lack of information from locals on the movement of these al Shabaab attackers.

June 7, 2021: In the south (Lower Shabelle region) the army investigates reports of a major explosion at an al Shabaab occupied village. The troops found one walled compound in the village in ruins. Locals reported that the compound was being used by al Shabaab to store weapons and explosives, build roadside and suicide bombs and train new bomb builders. The massive explosion threw out debris that injured some villagers. Army medics helped with these injuries and got more information about the extent of the damage. Apparently several hundred al Shabaab men were in the compound when the explosion occurred and most (as many as 70) were killed. Many of the local al Shabaab men were not in the compound and quickly organized an evacuation of the village, fearing that the army would soon show up. Al Shabaab bomb builders vary in skill quite a lot and accidents like this are not unusual, but they usually don’t take place near an explosives stockpile and are vulnerable to detonation if a bomb building effort goes wrong. Even al Shabaab may never find out what exactly went wrong because so many of those involved were killed.

June 6, 2021: In the north (Puntland) a multi-day operation to find and attack an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) group known to be hiding in the Almadow Mountains. The search succeeded and the ISIL hideout was captured. Most of the thirty or more ISIL men in the base escaped, leaving behind a lot of weapons and equipment. Some of the Islamic terrorists were killed and among the bodies found was one identified as Khalid Osama, a veteran Pakistani Islamic terrorist. There were known to be a growing number of foreign ISIL veterans in Puntland, where they were seeking refuge from areas in the Middle East where ISIL was still taking heavy losses. The ISIL groups hiding out in Puntland do not carry out operations locally in return they expect to be left alone. But these ISIL men have to live and will carry out attacks in nearby areas and this generates demands that Puntland forces act, Periodically they do act but ISIL keeps coming back.

June 5, 2021: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide bomber, seeking to attack a military convoy, detonated his explosive vest too soon and five civilians on a mini-bus were killed and seven wounded. Attacks like this are meant to demoralize the military but often go wrong when carried out in populated areas and injure more civilians than security personnel.

June 3, 2021: North of Mogadishu (Middle Shabelle) an army special operations unit carried out several attacks on al Shabaab camps they had located. At least 70 al Shabaab men were killed, several of them apparently Islamic terrorists wounded in earlier operations and recuperating.

June 1, 2021: In the north (Hiran, a region 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) Al Shabaab suffered heavy losses as army special operations units carried out surprise attacks on al Shabaab camps. Operations today left at least 25 Islamic terrorists dead and lots of weapons and documents, often electronic, seized. The special operations troops, because of their training and planning skills, often suffer no casualties at all during these attacks.

May 28, 2021: In Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) an al Shabaab suicide bomber attacked a crowded market place, killing three civilians and wounding many more.

May 22, 2021: In the north (Hiran, a region 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) the army carried out attacks on al Shabaab forces in a town the Islamic terrorists had changed hands frequently over the last few years. Six Islamic terrorists were killed and the rest fled, to plan on retaking the town. This time the troops kept pursuing the fleeing al Shabaab men. This was a new tactic to reduce long-term al Shabaab influence in a region.

May 21, 2021: In the southeast, across the border in Kenya’s Mandera county a police vehicle travelling near the border was ambushed by al Shabaab from Somalia. Three members of the counterterrorism police were killed but others fought back, driving away the al Shabaab gunmen who hoped to kill all the police and take their weapons and other equipment.

May 17, 2021: In the south (Lamu County, across the border in Kenya) al Shabaab ambushed a police patrol, killing three policemen and wounding several others. Kenyan reinforcements were called in and went looking for the al Shabaab men responsible. Al Shabaab frequently carries out attacks in Lamu country while operating from camps in the nearby Boni Forest, which has long been a refuge for outlaws because of the thinly populated woodlands on both sides of the border. The Kenyan military is trying to improve its ability to find these camps before they provide a base for many attacks against local civilians and security forces.

 

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