Sunday, February 14, 2010

Somalia News Bulletin: Al-Shabab Declares All-out War Against US-backed TFG

Al-Shabab declares all-out war in Somalia

Sat, 13 Feb 2010 09:22:56 GMT

Al-Shabab fighters have declared an all-out war against the fragile transition Somali government and African Union peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab's declaration of war on Friday comes amid heightened tensions over a possible government campaign against the militia's fighters.

A senior al-Shabab official, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur, said his group has prepared its fighters for a holy war against the UN-backed government and its supporters.

"Our fighters are prepared to take part in this war that we are declaring against the enemy of Allah. We must take part in this war because it is our responsibility as Muslims to defend the religion and eliminate the enemy from our country," he told a congregation at Nasrul-din Mosque in southern Mogadishu.

You are aware of the recent "indiscriminate shelling of the enemy against our people. This war is a religious obligation for all of us to join and fight them," Robow told the crowd after prayers.

He added that his group was aware of plans by neighboring countries to deploy newly trained recruits to fight them in some regions in the war-torn country.

"We are aware that Kenya and Ethiopia are discussing on how they can send in Somali militia trained for the western puppet (government), but we are telling them that we are ready," Robow stated.

Thousands flee Mogadishu

Published: Feb. 13, 2010 at 9:15 PM

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- More than 8,000 people have left Mogadishu in February, trying to escape fighting in the Somali capital, United Nations officials say.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said there had been at least 24 deaths and 40 people have been injured in the city since Wednesday, the BBC reported Saturday.

Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, said the violence has limited the agency's ability to help refugees. She said UNHCR is increasing efforts in Somalia so help will be available when security improves.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. special representative for Somalia, said the interim government is making some progress.

"Unfortunately, they have had to spend time and resources trying to stop the violent attacks by extremists who oppose all their attempts to bring normality back to the country," he said. "Many people recognize that Somalia is moving from being a failed state in conflict to a fragile state with major development and reconstruction needs."

Violence in Somalia claimed another victim Friday when the sports minister, Saleban Olad Roble, 46, died in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, Arab News reported. He was injured in December in a suicide bombing that killed 23 people, including three cabinet members, at a graduation ceremony for medical students.

Garowe Online (Garowe)

Somalia: 5 Killed in Mogadishu Clashes, Al Shabaab Declares Jihad

12 February 2010

At least five people are killed and 15 others injured on Friday in fresh clashes that rocked parts of Somalia's restive capital Mogadishu, medics and witnesses said.

Witnesses said clashes erupted on the evening in Mogadishu's Shibis, Abdiasis and Bondhere neighbourhoods where several mortar shells fired by warring forces landed at residential areas, killing at least five civilians and injuring more than 35 others.

The shelling comes as newly deployed Al-Shabaab fighters take positions in the northern districts ahead of planned government offensives.

Almost the entire residents of those neighborhoods have vacated their homes for fear of being caught in the middle of the disarray.

The clashes come as top Al-Shabaab official declares jihad agsint the UN-backed Somali government and African Union troops.

Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur told hundreds of supporters gathered after Friday prayers in Nasrul-din mosque, located south of Mogadishu that his group has prepared well for the war and would launch as soon as possible.

"We have prepared our Mujahidiins for this war and we are urging you to join us in this religious undertaking because it's your religious responsibility, are you ready?" he asked the crowd who replied with 'Yes'.

The government, backed by AU troops has already announced its plans to take over the control of the country by force but has not yet stated when the full scaled onslaught will be launched.

Thursday, February 11, 2010
18:37 Mecca time, 15:37 GMT

Deaths in Mogadishu clashes

Al-Shabab fighters have been pushing to oust the Somali government from Mogadishu

Somali sources say at least 17 people have been killed and 61 more injured in fighting between government forces and opposition fighters.

Government forces fired mortars on Thursday at fighters said to have been positioned in the busy market of Bakara in the capital Mogadishu, the sources said.

"We admitted 61 wounded people from yesterday's shelling," a doctor at the Medina (City) Hospital told the German Press Agency DPA.

"Three of them died inside the hospital during treatment."

Al-Shabab group, which recently announced it was joining al-Qaeda's international jihad, is pushing to oust the weak Western-backed government and controls much of Mogadishu and south-central Somalia.

Civilians are often caught in the crossfire, and human rights organisations and aid agencies have called on both the government and armed groups to minimise civilian casualties.

Forces build-up

Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu's ambulance service, told DPA that 11 civilians died, while other witnesses said that another three had been killed.

The shelling came as forces built up in Mogadishu in advance of an expected government assault on al-Shabab's positions.

Witnesses saw hundreds of heavily armed groups pour into Mogadishu on Wednesday, while the government was also building up its forces as it tries to extend its weak influence in Mogadishu.

Thousands of civilians have fled the city over the last few days in anticipation of heavy fighting.

The Horn of African nation has been embroiled in chaos since the 1991 ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre, the president, and the subsequent US invasion in 1992.

Official says top Al Qaeda leader in Somalia killed

The weak transitional government of Somalia claimed Tuesday that its forces killed Amar Ibrahim, a leader of Al Qaeda in Somalia and the Islamist group Al Shabab.

By Scott Baldauf Staff writer
posted February 10, 2010 at 10:23 am EST
Johannesburg, South Africa —

Somali government forces have killed Al Qaeda’s top commander in Somalia, a government spokesman said. The killing comes as the government is receiving newly trained Somali soldiers – fresh from boot camps in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Uganda – who have already begun the first forays of a major offensive to push Islamist rebels out of their strongholds in Mogadishu and southern Somalia.

Somali National Security Minister Abbdullahi Mohamad Ali told the BBC that government forces had killed a top Al Qaeda commander but declined to provide the man's name. Somali state radio had earlier reported that the victim was Amar Ibrahim, a Jordanian national and member both of Al Qaeda and of the Somali Islamist group Al Shabab. The radio station, however, said Mr. Ibrahim was killed by his own bodyguards, not Somali troops.

Whatever the circumstances, this would be the second senior Al Qaeda commander to be killed in six months. US and Somali officials say that Mr. Ibrahim had replaced Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the man blamed for attacks on a Mombasa hotel and an Israeli airliner in 2002, after US Navy Seals killed Mr. Nabhan in a helicopter raid last September.

Most experts agree that foreigners still make up a tiny minority of Al Shabab’s forces – perhaps 200 from Pakistan, India, Yemen, Afghanistan, Lebanon, South Africa, and even a few white Muslims from the US. One regional analyst in Nairobi calls them a “force multiplier.” Some Somali military officials says the skills these foreigners brought with them pushed them quickly to the top of Al Shabab’s command structure – with Afghans teaching Somalis how to assemble and use suicide bombs, for instance.

Now some Somalis say that the foreigners – and particularly members of Al Qaeda -- are in charge of Al Shabab. Shabab’s current leader is Fazul Mohamad, who comes from the Comoros Islands off of the east coast of Africa.

National Security Minister Ali told the BBC that the government would “provide evidence later” about who was killed. Some caution is warranted. Previous attacks by both US commandos and by Somali forces have initially been reported as successful raids on Al Shabab or Al Qaeda fighters, only to be corrected later as having resulted only in the deaths of Somali civilians.

Al Shabab has not made a comment about Ibrahim’s death.

Under Obama, more targeted killings than captures in counterterrorism efforts

By Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010; A01

When a window of opportunity opened to strike the leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa last September, U.S. Special Operations forces prepared several options. They could obliterate his vehicle with an airstrike as he drove through southern Somalia. Or they could fire from helicopters that could land at the scene to confirm the kill. Or they could try to take him alive.

The White House authorized the second option. On the morning of Sept. 14, helicopters flying from a U.S. ship off the Somali coast blew up a car carrying Saleh Ali Nabhan. While several hovered overhead, one set down long enough for troops to scoop up enough of the remains for DNA verification. Moments later, the helicopters were headed back to the ship.

The strike was considered a major success, according to senior administration and military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the classified operation and other sensitive matters. But the opportunity to interrogate one of the most wanted U.S. terrorism targets was gone forever.

The Nabhan decision was one of a number of similar choices the administration has faced over the past year as President Obama has escalated U.S. attacks on the leadership of al-Qaeda and its allies around the globe. The result has been dozens of targeted killings and no reports of high-value detentions.

Although senior administration officials say that no policy determination has been made to emphasize kills over captures, several factors appear to have tipped the balance in that direction.

The Obama administration has authorized such attacks more frequently than the George W. Bush administration did in its final years, including in countries where U.S. ground operations are officially unwelcome or especially dangerous. Improvements in electronic surveillance and precision targeting have made killing from a distance much more of a sure thing. At the same time, options for where to keep U.S. captives have dwindled.

Republican critics, already scornful of limits placed on interrogation of the suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt, charge that the administration has been too reluctant to risk an international incident or a domestic lawsuit to capture senior terrorism figures alive and imprison them.

"Over a year after taking office, the administration has still failed to answer the hard questions about what to do if we have the opportunity to capture and detain a terrorist overseas, which has made our terror-fighters reluctant to capture and left our allies confused," Sen. Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Friday. "If given a choice between killing or capturing, we would probably kill."

Some military and intelligence officials, citing what they see as a new bias toward kills, questioned whether valuable intelligence is being lost in the process. "We wanted to take a prisoner," a senior military officer said of the Nabhan operation. "It was not a decision that we made."

Even during the Bush administration, "there was an inclination to 'just shoot the bastard,' " said a former intelligence official briefed on current operations. "But now there's an even greater proclivity for doing it that way. . . . We need to have the capability to snatch when the situation calls for it."

Lack of detention policy

One problem identified by those within and outside the government is the question of where to take captives apprehended outside established war zones and cooperating countries. "We've been trying to decide this for over a year," the senior military officer said. "When you don't have a detention policy or a set of facilities," he said, operational decisions become more difficult.

The administration has pledged to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Congress has resisted moving any of the about 190 detainees remaining there, let alone terrorism suspects who have been recently captured, to this country. All of the CIA's former "black site" prisons have been shut down, and a U.S. official involved in operations planning confirmed that the agency has no terrorism suspects in its custody. Although the CIA retains the right to briefly retain terrorism suspects, any detainees would be quickly transferred to a military prison or an allied government with jurisdiction over the case, the official said.

Military officials emphasized that terrorism suspects continue to be captured in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in Iraq, where counterterrorism operations must be approved in advance by its government and conducted with Iraqi forces in the lead, all prisoners must be turned over to Baghdad.

In Afghanistan, the massive U.S.-run prison at the Bagram air base is scheduled to be relinquished to the Afghan government by the end of the year. Its 750 prisoners include about 30 foreigners, some of them captured in other countries and brought there. But recent legal decisions, and Afghan government restrictions, have largely eliminated that option.

"In some cases," the senior military official said, captives in Afghanistan have been taken to "other facilities" maintained by Special Operations forces. Such detentions, even on a temporary basis, have become more difficult because of legal and human rights concerns, he said.

Cooperation overseas

Outside the established war zones, senior administration and military officials said, how an operation is conducted and whether its goal is killing or capturing depend on where it is taking place and which U.S. agency is involved. American personnel have worked closely on counterterrorism missions with local forces in Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere, with those countries in the lead.

Al-Qaeda and Taliban havens in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the border are considered part of the Afghanistan war theater. The Pakistani government tacitly permits CIA-operated unmanned aircraft to target terrorist sites and militants up to 50 miles inside the country. Under an executive order first signed by Bush and continued in force under Obama, the CIA does not have to seek higher administration authority before striking.

But while U.S. Special Forces work closely with the CIA on the Afghan side of the border, any ground operation in Pakistan would require specific White House approval, which so far has not been granted. In addition to the difficulty such a mission would pose amid a hostile population in rugged terrain, the Pakistani government has drawn a red line against allowing U.S. boots on the ground, and the risk of sparking an anti-American backlash is seen as too great.

Beyond Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, potentially lethal operations must be approved by Obama or his designee, which can include the CIA director and the defense secretary. In Yemen, stepped-up military and intelligence cooperation with the country's government, including the use of U.S. aircraft and munitions for raids against a list of targets suspected of involvement with terrorist groups, was approved by Obama late last year, and at least two lethal attacks have taken place in coordination with Yemeni ground forces. Any captives belong to Yemen.

The Somalia calculus

Somalia poses unique problems. In the vast majority of the country, there is no functioning government to approve or coordinate operations, or to take custody of captives. Under the Bush administration, the military conducted several White House-approved air operations against alleged senior terrorist figures fleeing south after the 2006 U.S.-backed ouster of the Islamic government there. But while military teams made quick forays over the border to the targeted sites, finding and identifying bodies proved difficult.

Nabhan, a 30-year-old Kenyan, had long been a prime U.S. target. A senior official in the al-Shabab militia fighting to overthrow the U.S.-supported transition government in Somalia and impose strict Islamic law, he was said to be the chief link between the main al-Qaeda organization and its East African allies. Wanted by the FBI in connection with the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, he was also accused in the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Kenya and an attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner that year.

After tracking him for a while, the Special Operations Command thought it had established a sufficient pattern of activity to target him and had the time to plan for it. Several alternatives, including capture, were developed and assessed under military procedures for missions outside recognized war theaters.

Planners were asked for more details on the proposed force to be used, intelligence proving the target's location and the level of verification, and operational details -- including, in the case of capture, where Nabhan would be taken. Planned under U.S. Central Command, the operation was turned over to the U.S. Africa Command for implementation.

On the political side, the National Security Council received detailed versions of each proposed course of action. At that level, the senior administration official said, "there is an evaluation making sure you are able to prosecute the mission successfully . . . and minimize the dangers and risks."

The Somalia calculus, several officials said, included weighing the likelihood that U.S. troops on the ground for any amount of time in the militia-controlled south would be particularly vulnerable to attack. Looming large, they said, was the memory of the last time a U.S. combat helicopter was on the ground in lawless Somalia, the 1993 Black Hawk debacle that resulted in the deaths of 18 soldiers.

"There are certain upsides and certain downsides to certain paths," the administration official said. "The safety and security of U.S. military personnel is always something the president keeps at the highest level of his calculus."

1 comment:

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