February 24, 2012: Yemeni and Somali counter-terrorism officials compared notes and noted that several hundred al Qaeda men had, in recent weeks, gone from Somalia to Yemen. There were two motivators here. One was the months of defeats in Somalia. This led to many desertions from al Shabaab and caused the disbanding of several al Shabaab units. This left many foreign al Qaeda members essentially "unemployed." Their easiest option was to use the very active people smugglers in the north (who got people to Yemen) and go join the al Qaeda groups fighting in southern Yemen. Most of the al Qaeda in Yemen are from Arabia (Saudi Arabia and all other nations in the peninsula) and were fighting a desperate battle because there were no other places for al Qaeda men to flee to. The Somali al Qaeda men, however, saw Yemen as a less desperate situation than Somalia. This movement from Somalia to Yemen also explains the recent (Feb 10) merger of al Shabaab with al Qaeda. The al Shabaab leadership does not want to lose their al Qaeda members, who possess foreign connections and technical skills as well as a fanaticism in combat that is often useful. But the foreigners sense defeat and are fleeing while they still can.
February 23, 2012: A conference in London by most Somali factions has created a new federal form of government. This recognizes that Somalia has been partitioned and would likely stay that way. Al Shabaab and the pirates were not at the conference, but the reality of the territory they controlled (most of south and central Somalia for al Qaeda and the northern coast from Haradheere to Eyl for the pirates) was acknowledged (as a reality, not as legitimate entities). The legitimate factions are (from north to south) Somaliland (in the northwest), Puntland (the north), Galmudog (a breakaway portion of southern Puntland). Central Somalia is contested by al Shabaab, local militias (especially the Sufi ones), the transitional government troops, African Union peacekeepers (mainly in Mogadishu), and Ethiopian troops (and some local militias) all along the Ethiopian border and the major city of Baidoa. In the south, several thousand Kenyan troops crossed the border and helped some local militias form the far south into a new mini-state: Jubaland (also known as Azania).
The conference included representatives from 55 nations and major international organizations (like the UN, Arab League, and aid groups) that can supply resources to rebuild the country. These donors demanded that any new Somali government use and not steal the aid. That is not likely to happen. The conference was mainly for the foreign aid providers and the Somali representatives were as divided as ever. There is another powerful constituency in Somalia that was not at the conference (Somali businessmen) but plays a major role in rebuilding the country. The merchants, entrepreneurs, and traders have managed to survive, and adapt, despite years of chaos and fighting. As soon as peace comes to a part of Somalia the merchants and entrepreneurs move in to provide goods and services. The Somali GDP is over three billion dollars a year, and over a third of that is cash sent in from overseas Somalis. There is demand and Somali businesses feed it. The more peace there is the more economic activity is possible. This has sunk in to the extent that many warlords are willing to halt their feuds and rapacious behavior and give peace, and economic growth, a chance. The growing presence of Moslem aid groups, especially those from Turkey and the Persian Gulf, has provided Somali businessmen with new contacts and greater access to the outside world.
The current transitional Somali government has agreed to new elections in August, which will attempt to create the new federal government. One of the problems with this new arrangement is that several of the Somali "states" are still contested by opposing militias. In the far south Jubaland is a chaotic battlefield where Kenyan troops, small groups of al Shabaab gunmen, and local militias stalk and shoot at each other. All over the country there are armed groups with grudges and disputes with neighbors. While there is a growing sense of war weariness throughout Somalia there is no desire to disarm or surrender power. Cooperate, maybe, but not take orders.
Ethiopian and Somali troops took the major central Somali city of Baidoa (the third largest in Somalia and 256 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu). Al Shabaab seized Baidoa three years ago. Before that, Baidoa had been a temporary capital of the transitional government, which had moved to Mogadishu as AU peacekeepers took control of parts of the city. The peacekeepers came to Mogadishu five years ago. The advance into Baidoa was led by over fifty Ethiopian armored vehicles. Al Shabaab announced their loss of the city as a tactical retreat and that they would be back. But desertions, combat losses, and difficulty recruiting has left al Shabaab unable to defend all the territory it claims. With the loss of experienced foreign al Qaeda men and battle losses in Mogadishu and against Sufi militias outside the city and Kenyan troops along the border, al Shabaab simply does not have enough gunmen to cover the large areas of central and southern Somalia that it claims. Increasingly, al Shabaab is kidnapping teenagers, including some kids as young as ten. These young men are coerced or encouraged to join al Shabaab. Those that refuse are killed, as an example to the others. These recruits are more likely to surrender or desert and require more older, and more loyal, al Shabaab fighters to supervise them. This infusion of young fighters has made al Shabaab units more brittle (liable to break apart and flee in combat). Al Shabaab is trying to gather enough forces to retake Baidoa and Mogadishu. Air reconnaissance has spotted al Shabaab fighters gathering on the outskirts of both cities. Retaking either city is unlikely and in Mogadishu al Shabaab seems more intent on carrying out more terror attacks.
The growing hostility towards al Shabaab, which was welcomed six years ago when they first appeared to restore order and suppress the banditry and chaos, is due to the blocking of food and other foreign aid. Al Shabaab does this for religious (the foreign aid is un-Islamic) and practical (the foreign aid groups refuse to pay the high "taxes" demanded) reasons. But the hungry population is caught in the middle.
Six Kenyan Somalis were arrested at the Kenyan border as they sought to sneak into Kenya. The men had been members of al Shabaab but had become demoralized by defeat and were deserting. Kenya has been watching its Somali border more intensely since its troops went into Somalia four months ago. Al Shabaab threatened a terror campaign inside Kenya because of the invasion, and some 30 Kenyans have been killed inside Somalia and Kenya as a result of the invasion. There have been no major al Shabaab terror attacks inside Kenya but there have been several attempts. Many Somali Kenyans support this terrorism (Somalis and Moslems are a minority in Kenya).
In the south, an air raid (by unidentified aircraft) killed four al Shabaab men, including a notorious leader.
February 22, 2012: The UN Security Council voted to increase the African Union force in Somalia from 12,000 to 17,731. This has been discussed for months and donor nations lined up to supply the additional troops.
February 18, 2012: Locals reported seeing a missile land near Kismayo at night. There were no reports of casualties.
February 16, 2012: In the south, a gun battle between al Shabaab and Kenyan troops left four terrorists and one soldier dead. This raised the total Kenyan military deaths in Somalia to 16. There are nearly 3,000 Kenyan troops and support personnel in Somalia.
A suicide car bomb attack in Mogadishu, against a police station, wounded two policemen.