Somalia: Fearwell to the Peacekeepers


July 5, 2023: Somalia remains a very dangerous place and the violence has gotten worse in the last year. So far this year there have been about four violent incidents a day, each resulting in about a dozen deaths. This is for a nation of 17 million. About a third of the population lives in the autonomous north. There, two independent Somali states have enjoyed a degree of peace and prosperity since the 1990s because they declared themselves independent. However, all is not perfect up there. Puntland and Somaliland 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 1990 to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population live in the south, which has been in perpetual chaos since 1990 with a lasting central government established only recently, and demand that Puntland and Somaliland surrender their independence and rejoin the rest of Somalia. The north refuses because they recognize the problems the south still has, even if the American government does not. While the official U.S. government position is that Somalia is safe and stable enough for the north to rejoin, the northern Somalis and many Americans with long experience in Somalia side with the northerners. Despite that, some northerners back reunification but so far they are a minority holding public rallies backing reunification. The northern governments see this as another southerner threat and attack the separatists. The separatists had the support of some northern clan leaders and became another dispute the northern governments have to resolve, which they tend to do more frequently than the southern governments.

Peacekeepers from other African countries have played a crucial role in defeating al Shabaab and reducing areas where the Islamic terrorists could freely operate. This enabled Somalia to create its own army and police forces. The peacekeeping force withdrawal will be completed by the end of 2024.

Peacekeeper duty in Somalia was much more dangerous than anywhere else. At least 3,500 have been killed there over the past 16 years. The EU (European Union) and United States pay for the peacekeeping force and nearly $200 million has been disbursed for their death and disability benefits during that period. That’s in addition to the $200 million a year cost of operating the peacekeeper force. That is provided by the UN via contributions by the U.S. and EU (European Union). The UN approves the size and duration of the peacekeeper force annually. The peacekeepers have been in Somalia since 2007 at a cost of over three billion dollars. So far about 3,500 peacekeepers have been killed and at least as many permanently disabled from their wounds. The African Union (AU) pays for medical care, including long term care for some of the wounded. For years the AU played down the high casualty rates in Somalia, reporting less than a third of the actual deaths. The growing number of corruption scandals involving missing death benefits and other compensation led to the actual loss statistics being revealed. There are sometimes problems with soldiers not being paid during peacetime in their home countries. Too much of this sometimes sparks a rebellion or insurrection over missing pay and other grievances. Despite this there was never a problem obtaining peacekeepers for duty in Somalia, paid for by the AU and a long list of African and Western donors.

Somalia is the most dangerous peacekeeping duty in the world. About 300,000 men served as peacekeepers in Somalia, receiving an average annual compensation of $9,100 each. Officers, NCOs and privates all receive different amounts and peacekeeping duty pays better than their regular pay when back home. In most countries, peacekeeping duty is relatively safe. This was not the case in Somalia, where about three percent of peacekeepers were killed or badly (disabled) wounded.

The first AU peacekeepers (from Uganda) arrived in March 2007 and these 8,000 troops were supposed to be gone within six months. That force did not disappear by the end of 2007 but kept growing and quickly reached 22,000, most of them soldiers plus a few thousand police, trainers and administrators. Uganda and Burundi supplied most of them with most of the rest coming from Kenya and Ethiopia. The peacekeeper force made a difference, but in the face of massive corruption in the Somali government and various Somali communities that demanded help, the operation proved far more expensive and time-consuming than expected. Peacekeepers are due to leave because the best they can do is reduce the violence and disunity, while UN donors are not willing to waste money on that when there are other disaster zones that can make better use of the limited foreign aid. Because of this the UN extends the Somali peacekeeping force on a yearly basis. Currently there are about 19,000 peacekeepers in Somalia and they remained for so long because the UN believed Somalia would quickly regress back to a disaster zone without them. Currently the Somali security forces are supposed to consist of 13,900 personnel. That is what the UN is supplying cash and equipment for. With all the corruption and shoddy record keeping in Somalia, it is difficult for outsiders to verify how many security personnel Somalia actually has.

July 4, 2023: As the peacekeepers depart, some Somali government officials warn that Somali security forces may not be able to keep the remaining al Shabaab groups under control. The AU (African Union) consensus is that this is unlikely. The peacekeeper withdrawal is gradual and if al Shabaab does start to regain ground, the peacekeepers can return before al Shabaab makes significant progress. Most of the peacekeepers are from countries near or bordering Somalia. If al Shabaab makes a comeback, the neighbors will eventually have problems with Islamic terrorists.

July 1, 2023: AU (African Union) peacekeepers completed the first phase of their withdrawal from Somalia. This one involved the peacekeeper force being reduced by 2,000 troops. The Somali army took over seven military locations abandoned by the departing peacekeepers. Another 3,000 peacekeepers will be gone by the end of September. This will result in more abandoned facilities Somali forces can use or otherwise dispose of. At its peak, the AU peacekeeping force contained 19,000 personnel from African nations, especially Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. All will be gone by the end of 2024.

June 24, 2023: In the south (Lamu County, across the border in Kenya) 30 armed men, believed to be al Shabaab Islamic terrorists from Kenya) attacked and looted two villages. At least five villagers were killed and many others wounded as hundreds of villagers fled their homes. Al Shabaab frequently carries out attacks in Lamu country because the Islamic terrorist group has been 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.

June 23, 2023: Kenya agreed to reopen three border crossings with Somali. These provide easier access between Somalia and the Kenyan border counties of Mandera, Garissa and Lamu. Al Shabaab will continue making cross border attacks by using unofficial crossings in remote areas. The official crossings are meant to encourage trade and commerce in general.

June 21, 2023: In the south (Jubaland) an army base was attacked by al Shabaab, who used two suicide bombers made attacks on the main entrance. Al Shabaab was unable to get inside the camp, where Ethiopian troops were training Somali forces. Seven people were killed and about twenty wounded.

June 20, 2023: The government replaced the head of the armed forces with another officer in an effort to improve the performance of the army.

June 18, 2023: In the south (Lower Juba) an airstrike by American UAVs killed 43 al Shabaab members, including two notorious leaders. This was the third American airstrike in Somalia this year. Since early 2017, when Africom (U.S. Africa Command) increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia, there have been about 172 UAV airstrikes that have killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL members. In 2020 there were fifty of these UAV airstrikes and 275 in Somalia in the last decade. In 2021 there were seven UAV airstrikes and fifteen in 2022.American forces, and airstrikes, returned t0 Somali in 2022. This was prompted by the formation of a new Somali government. All American airstrikes are at the request of the Somali government.

June 13, 2023: In the southwest (Barawe) a gun battle broke out between soldiers and members of a local militia. Ten people were killed and many others wounded before the shooting ended hours later. It was not known what the dispute was about or why it escalated to lethal violence. Such incidents are rare, but have occurred before.

In the autonomous north (Puntland)

June 12, 2023: In the south (Garissa County, across the border in Kenya) eight Kenyan policemen were killed when al Shabaab men used a roadside bomb to attack the vehicle. A political dispute turned violent, leaving 26 dead, sixteen of them soldiers. Another 30 soldiers and civilians were wounded.

June 10, 2023: In Mogadishu, al Shabaab attacked a hotel and took some guests hostage. Soldiers and police surrounded the hotel and went in, killing the al Shabaab men and rescuing the hostages. Six civilians, three policemen and all five al Shabaab men were killed and the several Kenyans who were wounded.

June 8, 2023: Al Shabaab attacked an Ethiopian army base in Somali near the Ethiopian border. These troops are not part of the peacekeeping force and are on the border to keep al Shabaab out of Ethiopia. The pre-dawn al Shabaab attacks failed because the maintained excellent security, particularly at night when al Shabaab prefers to attack army bases. The Ethiopian troops guarding the base detected the approaching al Shabaab suicide bombers and killed them before they got close enough to damage the base. The al Shabaab gunmen following the suicide bomber were repelled by gunfire.

May 26, 2023: In the south (Lower Shabelle) about 800 al Shabaab gunmen attacked an army base before dawn and briefly occupied it as they looted the base. The defenders were not driven out of the base, but two Kenyan officers decided to withdraw with about forty soldiers. This action is still under investigation. Left behind were the bodies of 54 Kenyan peacekeepers who died defending the base. Al Shabaab men apparently killed the Kenyans who were wounded.




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