Sunday, November 23, 2008

Somali Resistance Weakens U.S.-backed Occupation: Puppet Government Near Collapse

Somali Resistance Weakens U.S.-backed Occupation: Puppet Government Near Collapse

Escalating war on land and sea is proof of U.S. policy failures in the Horn of Africa

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

In a candid statement by the President of the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf, who is bolstered militarily by the Ethiopian army, the regime is "on the verge of collapse." Fighters from the Al-Shabaab organization have not only taken control of vast areas of the country, but are openly challenging the puppet forces inside the capital of Mogadishu.

"Most of the country is in the hands of Islamists and we are only in Mogadishu and Baidoa, where there is daily war," said Yusuf while speaking before an assembly of 100 Somali legislators in Kenya. These remarks were broadcast throughout the region on November 15.

Yusuf spoke about the fragility of the TFG government saying: "We, ourselves, are behind the problems and we are accountable in this world and in the hereafter. Islamists have been capturing all towns and now control Elasha. It is every man for himself if the government collapses." (Reuters, November 16).

The president of the TFG accused the prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein, for the political problems within the regime. The government has failed to appoint a new cabinet after the previous one dissolved months ago. This failure has taken place despite the urging of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional organization, consisting of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. IGAD met in October and demanded that the internal problems between the president and prime minister be resolved.

Yusuf said of the political impasse that: "The prime minister gave me a list of new cabinet ministers but I do not know how to approve names of those who destroyed our government when the constructive ones were excluded."

However, Hussein, the prime minister, said the president bore responsibility for the divisions within the U.S.-backed government, which has never won official recognition by the United Nations and the African Union.

"The Somali president is responsible for the failure of the transitional federal government to achieve its goal of forming a new cabinet, Yusuf told journalists in a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya on November 16. "It is unfortunate that the president has become the first to oppose the IGAD directives though he was one of the signatories."

Resistance Forces Advance

As the TFG bickered over cabinet seats within an ineffective regime, reports from the ground in Somalia indicated that the resistance movement al-Shabaab had taken control of the port town of Barawe, located approximately 180km from the capital of Mogadishu. During the week of November 10, the organization seized the town of Merka where a strategic airstrip is located.

In Mogadishu, where the TFG claims that it still maintains control, al-Shabaab fighters operate openly in carrying out recruitment drives and training excercises. The organization is already presenting itself as a parallel government to the US-backed TFG.

The resistance forces also consist of groups within the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that are negotiating agreements with the TFG in Djibouti. This faction is led by Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys and have been described as more moderate than al-Shabaab, which was the youth wing of the UIC during its burgeoning period of influence prior to the Ethiopian invasion in late 2006.

Another Islamic leader, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, a very prominent figure, who was also a part of the UIC, has rejected talks with the TFG until the Ethiopians withdraw from Somalia. The United States government has accused Aweys of supporting "terrorism" and consequently has actively discouraged the TFG from reaching an agreement with his forces.

Ship Seizures Escalate in the Gulf of Aden

During the month of November a number of cargo ships have been seized by Somalis in the Gulf of Aden. On November 19 Somalis took over three ships off the coast of the Horn of Africa. Just two days before, on November 17, the Sirius Star, a Saudi vessel, was captured with $100 million worth of oil on board.

Although the advances made by the resistance forces on land combined with the seizure of ships have created a crisis for the United States and other western countries, there have been reports that al-Shabaab is attempting to distance itself from the taking over of ships.

According to the Associated Press on November 22, a spokesperson for al-Shabaab, Abdelghafar Musa, who claims he is authorized to represent the organization, said that vessels belonging to Muslim countries must not be impeded.

"We are really sorry to hear that the Saudi ship has been held in Somalia. We will fight them (the pirates)," Musa told AP Television News.

Nonetheless, within a period of 48 hours, a Greek tanker, a Thai fishing boat and a Hong Kong-registered ship were captured even though there exist a large naval presence from various countries in the area. An Indian warship was deployed in the Gulf of Aden and later attacked the Somalis.

Under the guise of fighting piracy, the Indian warship engaged in a battle and reportedly destroyed the attempt to seize additional vessels by the Somalis operating off the coast in the Gulf of Aden.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has described the situation in the Gulf of Aden as "spiralling out of control." There had been eight reported ship seizures over the period of two weeks in mid-November.

With the seizure of the Saudi vessel, the Sirius Star, which is reported to be the largest ship ever hijacked, the South Korean government has warned that it will join the United States, French and Russian warships that are patrolling the waters off the coast of Somalia. Noel Choong, the director of the IMB's piracy reporting center, said on November 19 that the attacks on the vessels are becoming "more violent, frequent and extending further from the attackers' bases."

Mathew Oakely, a security consultant who specializes in maritime affairs, has said that the efforts to protect these vessels will be stepped-up.

According to Oakley: "The rules of engagement are now that the military may, if necessary, open fire on suspected pirate ships in international waters, as there was not any order to do this before." He told Al-Jazeera on November 19 that: "I am not advocating that you blow people out of the water unless you can be as sure as possible that they are indeed pirates. But I think it may make a difference in due course if examples are made to these people of what the consequences are going to be if they continue with this reprehensible behaviour."

It has been reported that at least 13 vessels and more than 270 crew members are presently being held by Somalis. These vessels include a Ukrainian-registered cargo ship which has tanks and other heavy weaponry on board. At present the Ukrainian ship is still anchored off the Somali coast.

Representatives of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program have said that: "The pirates are sending out a message to the world that 'we can do what we want, we can think the unthinkable, do the unexpected."

The ship seizures have created such a precarious security situation that Norwegian shipping group Odfjell has recently ordered its 90 or more tankers to travel around the Cape of Good Hope in order to avoid attacks by the Somalis.

Terge Storeng, the CEO of Odfjell said in an interview with Al Jazeera that: "We took this decision to avoid exposing our crew members to risk on their way through the Suez Canal. We have two to three ships in this area every week. We have already had one attempt of hijacking, so we have been continuously evaluating the risk. Of course, this is a huge step for our company to re-route our ship to go all the way around Africa.... But for a chemical tanker to have armed people on board and this risk of a gunfight--its not a good idea."

During the week of November 10, the European Union (EU) conducted its first naval mission as a security operation off the coast of Somalia in an effort to protect its ships from seizure. The Pentagon has expressed its concern and willingness to act against the Somalis who are seizing the vessels.

Geoff Morrell, the U.S. Defense Department press secretary, said that the idea that the threats are not prompting action "is just utterly false."

In an Associated Press report on November 20, Bonny Apunyu says that: "Morrell takes issue with the notion that it's up to the navies of the world to solve the problem. He says private shipping companies should do more to protect themselves. Among his suggestions: use more lookouts and hire armed guards."

Apunyu continues by explaining that: "The Pentagon spokesman salutes the efforts of other military forces who've been striking at the pirates, but declines to say whether the U.S. is considering a more aggressive approach."

Will Horn of Africa Policy Change Under Obama?

It is not yet clear whether the incoming United States administration will make any significant changes in its military policy towards the Horn of Africa. Obama's selection of several top-level Clinton administration appointees indicate that there will be a continuing reliance on military force in the region.

Clinton inherited the Bush initiated invasion of Somalia in December of 1992. The situation grew tense during 1993, leading to the coordinated resistance by the Somali masses which forced the United States to withdraw from the country in 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations.

On November 20, the United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous resolution to impose sanctions against so-called "pirates, arms smugglers and perpetrators of instability in Somalia." (AP Report).

The Associated Press also reported on November 21 that: "The council's quick approval of the British-sponsored resolution was followed by an open meeting on the deteriorating situation in Somalia--both on land and at sea off its nearly 3,900km coastline, which includes some of the world's most important shipping routes."

Raisuddin Zenenga, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, articulated the view that is held by many industrialized states and their allies by saying that: "Piracy, as well as the recent terrorist attacks against international targets, are only symptoms of the fundamental problem which is the state of anarchy in Somalia."

The Deputy United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Rosemary DiCarlo, appealed for the immediate implementation of measures to address the worsening security situation in the Horn of Africa. This situation is threatening the October 26 ceasefire agreement between some Islamic groups in Somalia and the TFG. The more militant resistance forces such as al-Shabaab are not party to the October 26 agreement.

"Though we may be tempted to address piracy as a discrete issue, it is a direct result of the lack of rule of law and desperate economic conditions on the ground," DiCarlo told the Security Council. DiCarlo called for the strengthening of the 3,450 African Union troops in Mogadishu so that much needed food aid can be delivered to the population.

DiCarlo then said that if 6,000 AU peacekeeping forces from various countries cannot be mobilized, then the United Nations should intervene directly in Somalia. The U.S. proposed a draft resolution on November 20 that would continue the purported authorization of countries to engage Somalis off the coast in territorial waters and to "use all necessary means to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."

A greater United Nations, United States or European Union military involvement in the Horn of Africa will prove disastrous for these entities. The Somali people have a proven history of successful resistance against imperialist intervention.

The peoples of the United States and the European Union countries, along with their allies, have no desire to see their governments drawn into a protracted struggle in this region. The anti-war forces in these countries must oppose military intervention and uphold the right of self-determination and sovereignty for the Somali people and other nations throughout the Horn of Africa.
Abayomi Azikiwe, the editor of the Pan-African News Wire, has been following for many years the political, humanitarian and military situation in the Horn of Africa.

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