February 22, 2009:
For the moment, the Somali pirates have been shut down. Since the EU (European Union) patrol effort began six weeks ago, no ships have been taken. Over thirty warships and patrol aircraft are involved, along with over a dozen Yemeni patrol boats that monitor the Yemen coast, and share information with the international anti-piracy patrol. The pirates have not stopped trying, but the merchant ship captains have become more aware of the danger, and what they can do to avoid capture. In actuality, the chances of attack (based on activity in the last 12 months) is only about one in 140. The risk of actually being taken by pirates is only about one in 500. But most merchant ship crews no longer just play the odds and ignore the pirate menace. Everyone pays attention, thus depriving the pirates of the element of surprise. Ships watch out for pirates, and know who to call (the international flotilla of warships in the Gulf of Aden) and what to do (speed up and prepare fire hoses and whatever other weapons are available, to repel boarders.)
The Transitional National Government (TNG) militias has, in effect, merged with the more moderate Islamic Courts militias to form a new government operating as the TNG. Both groups are now confronting the radical Islamic militias operating at al Shabaab. The TNG and Islamic Courts militias still have their differences (personal, religious or family feuds), but they see al Shabaab as a national disaster waiting to happen. There is also a growing sense of despair at the inability of Somalia to government itself. Some Somalis (like al Shabaab) blame foreigners for interfering with Somalis internal affairs and manipulating Somalis into a state of chaos. But the majority of Somalis know that the problem is closer to home. Somalis have been battling each other, and their neighbors, for centuries. Disunity is nothing new.
Meanwhile, al Shabaab has taken control of Baidoa, the long time capital of the TNG (which is now headquartered in Djibouti) and declared the two interior provinces of Bay and Bakool as subject to their rule and Islamic law. Al Shabaab control is tenuous, as they only have a few hundred gunmen who are mobile. Most of Somalia is under the control of local militias. Al Shabaab is powerful because they have put together a mobile force that can overwhelm, temporarily, many of the local militias. This is one of the things that made the Ethiopian forces so powerful. Not only were the Ethiopians good fighters, but they were mobile.
Most recent Somali immigrants are in Britain (250,000) and the United States (120,000). Somali Islamic radicals often send their families into exile, to protect them, and some Islamic radicals have themselves gone into exile. There, Somali men, usually young (teenager to early 20s), are recruited and sent back to Somali for more indoctrination and training. Some are killed there, and some return to the U.S. and Britain to help with recruiting and, it is feared, to carry out terrorist attacks. The Somali Islamic radicals are also recruiting from among Kenya's Moslem population. About ten percent (4 million) of Kenyans, mostly along the coast, are Moslems. There has always been some Islamic radical activity among Kenyan Moslems, but the police have been particularly attentive to it since Kenyan Moslems were found to be involved in terrorist operations in the 1990s. What the police have not done, however, is make much of a dent in the criminal infrastructure that supports smuggling, money laundering, a black market for guns, IDs and drugs and much else. The cops are bought off, and the criminal gangs provide support for terrorist operations, mainly in Somalia. For example, a lot of the pirate ransom money ends up in Kenya, either for purchases of goods shipped to Somalia, or to be laundered and invested. Wealthy Somalis often find it prudent to go into exile, and Kenya is a popular place to retire to.
In the south, where al Shabaab Islamic terrorists are strongest, relief groups have been told to either take orders from al Shabaab, or get out of the country. The NGO (non-governmental organization) relief group (including the UN) bring in the food aid (mostly paid for by the U.S.) that keeps several million Somalis from starving to death. The aid groups also provide some medical care and public health services. Al Shabaab wants to control all of this, and is not content with the informal arrangements armed groups usually have with aid agencies in nasty neighborhoods (where the NGOs basically bribe the gunmen to leave the aid work alone.) The NGOs are asking clans and warlords that don't support al Shabaab if they will protect the relief operations. If not, then the NGOs will probably leave. The countries that provide money and goods to the NGOs will not support control of relief operations by Islamic radicals. Foreign countries are reluctant to send peacekeepers, because the Somalis have resisted making peace among themselves, and will only unite to oppose foreigners. In short, foreign nations see no reason to send peacekeepers if there is no peace to keep, and no one wants to conquer and run Somalia.
Although Ethiopia has withdrawn its peacekeeping brigade from Somalia, there are still several brigades of Ethiopian troops operating along the border. The Ethiopian troops sometimes cross the border, and no one opposes them. The Ethiopians are concerned that Somali Islamic radicals will once more, like they did two years, invade Ethiopia. Somalis have been doing this for centuries, and the Ethiopians know that the only way to stop the incursions is to go into Somalia and attack the invaders in their homes. This discourages attacks for a while. Meanwhile, Ethiopia has been allowing Somalis to seek refuge in Ethiopia. The refugees have been coming across the border at the rate of 4-5,000 a month.
February 18, 2009: Two Italian nuns were released in the south and flown to Kenya. The nuns had been kidnapped last November by a Somali raiding party in Kenya. The Somali raiders were looking for two Americans thought to be spies for the CIA. Those two got away, so the raiders kidnapped the two nuns, did a little looting, and went back to Somalia. It's not known how much of a ransom was paid for the nuns.