Saturday, August 27, 2016

Somalia: We Have A Problem We Cannot Solve

August 27, 2016: Peacekeeper and Somali military commanders agree that the biggest problem facing Somali security forces is logistics (keeping soldiers and police supplied with working vehicles, weapons and other gear) and corruption (most commonly seen in commanders or government officials stealing money and equipment meant for the security forces). That agreement is an accomplishment but as yet there is no working solution. Too many Somalis still see power as a license to steal. Changing that widely held attitude has proved difficult in many parts of the world, but particularly in Africa.

Another example of the corruption problem is the difficulties the government is having with scheduled national elections. These are supposed to take place now but many current politicians want to delay that until there is more security nationwide. That attitude is opposed by many politicians as well as nations supplying aid and peacekeepers. Some foreign donors believe this is a ploy so the interim government can stay in power longer and steal more aid money. The election for president has now been delayed to October 30th although the constitution stipulates that a president can only serve four years (which in this case ends September 10) and after that the Speaker of Parliament takes over for 30 days. Part of the problem is political with many of the clans (tribes) maintaining armed militias and refusing to abide by a “one man, one vote” system. That is, some clans demand more (foreign aid and other resources) than their numbers justify.

Angry Neighbors

The continued unrest in Somalia is a major concern to neighbors, particularly Kenya which wants to expel all Somali refugees by the end of 2016. UN and peacekeeper officials agree that this would not be practical because of security problems in Somalia that will not be solved by the end of 2016. That (and several hundred million dollars in additional foreign aid) convinced Kenya to delay the April decision to close two major refugee camps and send all the Somali refugees back home in 2016. So far this year over 20,000 refugees have returned to Somalia. The Dadaab Refugee Camp in northeast Kenya has become the largest refugee camp in the world since it was established in 1991. Containing over 330,000 Somalis it was built outside the town of Dadaab. The population in the area is largely ethnic Somali but the camp is unpopular because it disrupts more than benefits the locals and has become a base for criminal gangs and Islamic terrorists. The other camp, Kakuma, is in the northwest and has some 150,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia. Like Dadaab it has become unpopular with nearby Kenyans and for the same reasons. The UN also has to deal with accusations of repeated broken promises and tolerating bad behavior by refugees. For example Kenya had previously sought to expel all legal and illegal Somali refugees by the end of 2015. That expulsion threat came in response to ever more horrific al Shabaab attacks inside Kenya, including an April 2015 massacre of 148 Christian students at a university. The UN halted this expulsion by making a lot of promises it did not keep. Now the UN says it will help with refugee camp security and moving more of the refugees back to Somalia. The UN offers this as an alternative to closure of the camps and expulsion of all the Somalis back to Somalia. These assurances are not very convincing because they have been made before and the UN quietly failed to deliver every time. In Somalia politicians and al Shabaab agree that Kenya should stop mistreating Somalis in Kenya if only because this mistreatment is used by al Shabaab for recruiting. The Kenyan government recognizes this problem and talks about curbing violence against Somalis in Kenya. Yet controlling popular hatred of and hostility towards murderous Somalis is even more difficult. The local Kenyans vote while the Somali refugees don’t. Thus the continuing al Shabaab activity in Kenya reminds every one of the centuries of Somalis violence against Kenya. It’s an old problem that does not lend itself to quick or easy solutions.

August 26, 2016: In Mogadishu al Shabaab is believed responsible for a grenade thrown at a crowd gathered to watch firemen extinguish a fire in a row of shops. No one was hurt in the fire but the grenade killed two civilians.

August 25, 2016: In Mogadishu al Shabaab attacked a restaurant on the beach using a suicide car bomb to destroy the heavily guarded main entrance and allow al Shabaab gunmen to get into the restaurant compound. The attack turned into a siege as the Islamic terrorists took some people hostage. By the time it was all over the next day over twenty people were dead, including five attackers, five soldiers and police and the rest civilians. Al Shabaab made a similar attack in this Lido Beach area back in January. That one killed 17 people and was not unexpected because in late 2015 al Shabaab issued a warning to Somalis that visiting hotels, beaches and nightclubs favored by foreigners was immoral behavior that would be punished. These attacks are expensive for al Shabaab as well as they get a lot of skilled and experienced Islamic terrorists killed or captured. But al Shabaab believes it is worth it because attacks like this in the capital achieve maximum local and international publicity. What al Shabaab leadership does not pay attention to is that in the longer term these tactics create more hostility among the populations they are trying to terrorize and eventually leads to the defeat of the Islamic militants involved. Unfortunately Islam is the only major religion whose scripture encourages and praises this sort of violence and while most Moslems are not interested (if only because other Moslems are usually the victims) for over a thousand years some Moslems periodically get organized and go on a jihad (armed struggle to defend their version of Islam). This has happened several times in this region over the last two centuries and here it is again.

August 23, 2016: In the south (the Bay region) soldiers and peacekeepers clashed with al Shabaab gunmen outside Baidoa and killed at least eight of them, including a local al Shabaab leader.

August 22, 2016: In central Somalia (Beledweyne) police arrested seven suspected al Shabaab members who were pretending to be civilians.

August 21, 2016: In the far north (Puntland) al Shabaab used a suicide truck bomb and a suicide car bomb to make two attacks that killed over twenty people. This sort of attack is rare in this part of the country. 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 north has been an example to the rest of Somalia. The economy in the north is doing much better and there is a lot less crime. There were problems with pirates in the north for a while, but these seagoing brigands were mainly preying on foreigners and the foreigners with navies responded. The pirates were largely out of business in 2012. But a growing number of al Shabaab have fled to Puntland to escape the pressure from peacekeepers, Somali soldiers and local militia in the south. Al Shabaab is trying to use attacks like this to intimidate local leaders and attract recruits in the far north. So far the al Shabaab violence just makes locals more intent on killing or driving away the Islamic terrorists.

August 19, 2016: In the south (Lower Jubba) soldiers and peacekeepers clashed with al Shabaab gunmen and killed at least four of them.

August 17, 2016: In the south (60 kilometers southwest of Kismayo) soldiers and peacekeepers ambushed a group of al Shabaab gunmen and killed at least three of them. Others in the group got away.

August 16, 2016: In Mogadishu al Shabaab soldiers, police and peacekeepers carried out a series of raids in two villages outside the city that were known to be centers of local al Shabaab activity. At least 316 suspected al Shabaab members or supporters were arrested. In cases like this most of those arrested are released after questioning. But the interrogations yield hundreds or thousands of bits of information (incidents, names, dates) that, once compiled into existing databases and analyzed yields more information about al Shabaab and other criminal activity in the area.

Elsewhere in the city, after a two week trial, nine of 18 accused Ugandan soldiers were convicted of corruption (stealing weapons, equipment and supplies and selling the loot to local civilians). Those receiving the longest sentence (three years) were officers. This sort of thing is a common problem with UN peacekeeping missions and continues. In the past this sort of thing was kept quiet and often not prosecuted in Somalia but in 2013 Uganda cracked down, conducted an investigation of the many incidents that had become public. Uganda arrested 40 of its soldiers, including a brigadier, for corruption while serving as peacekeepers in Somalia. The arrested men were accused of the same crimes as the current group. Uganda supplies most of the peacekeepers in Somalia and these prosecutions do not stop the corruption but appear to have reduced it considerably. The 2016 trial was unique because for the first time peacekeepers accused of criminal activity in Somalia were tried by a military court while still in Somalia instead of being sent home for prosecution. If nothing else this makes it easier and cheaper to use local witnesses.

August 15, 2016: In the southwest (Bardhere) soldiers and peacekeepers drove al Shabaab out of four villages they were using as bases.

August 13, 2016: In the south (Middle Jubba) American and Somali commandos raided a location outside the town of Sakow where al Shabaab leaders were believed to be. There was a similar raid in the same general area on the 10th. The United States revealed that these two operations resulted in 30 al Shabaab members killed or captured, including al Shabaab leader Ahmad Umar and three of his senior associates. Ahmad Umar became al Shabaab leader in September 2014 and replaced Ahmed Abdi Godane who had been killed by an American air strike. The U.S. offered a $6 million reward for information leading to capturing or killing Ahmad Umar.

August 7, 2016: In Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) al Shabaab fired two mortar shells into a residential neighborhood, causing some casualties.

August 3, 2016: In the south (90 kilometers west of Kismayo) local police confronted and killed four Al Shabaab gunmen who had just stolen a van (used as a bus). Police returned the van to its owner.

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