A week of fighting in the town of Dusamareb, north of Mogadishu, has left several hundred people dead or wounded. The Sufi militia defending the place has been successful in keeping al Shabaab out, although much of the town has been damaged in the process. Meanwhile, the commanders of the 4,000 man AU peacekeeping force in Mogadishu are asking for more troops (the Mogadishu force is authorized 8,000 troops) and the freedom to go after al Shabaab. The AU troops have been fighting al Shabaab for over a year now, and consistently beating them. With more men, and the freedom to attack long distances (not just in Mogadishu), the AU commanders believe they can crush the Islamic radicals. Meanwhile, the Transitional Government is gathering troops and equipment for a major offensive against al Shabaab in Mogadishu. Al Shabaab has been running into more resistance. Their lifestyle police are particularly unpopular (banning shaving, video, music and revealing clothing on women). Al Shabaab also bans other religions, or Moslem sects (like Sufis or Shia). As a result, al Shabaab has been unable to attract enough volunteers, and is now taking young men off the street and forcing them to join armed units (where the new guys are told they will be killed, as will their families, if they don't get with the program.) Thus the al Shabaab terror campaign, like the al Qaeda one in Iraq, the Salafist one in Algeria, the Moslem Brotherhood one in Egypt and the Taliban one in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is doomed. Eventually, the population turns against the extremists, and exterminates them.
The pirates are using some of their hijacked merchant ships as mother ships for their operations far from the Somali coast (where the oil tankers head south from the Persian Gulf, some 1,500 kilometers east of Africa.) Foreign warships cannot retake these ships, because the pirates threaten to kill the crew, who are being forced to operate the ship at sea.
Kenyan media has seized on the idea (undocumented) that Somali pirates and their ransom money are responsible for rising property prices in the capital (which can be documented). What has been going on for years is that wealthy Somalis have been buying homes in Kenya and parking their families there. There is a lot of economic activity in Somalia, and the GDP is believed to be at least $3 billion, with nearly a third of that in the form of money sent by expatriates. Pirate ransoms are, at most, about three percent of GDP. The ransom money would be an equally small portion of money spent to buy residential property in Nairobi. It's dangerous to be wealthy in Somalia, so businessmen, and even warlords, park some of their assets in Kenya.
January 1, 2010: Al Shabaab gave a press conference in Mogadishu to announce it was sending gunmen to Yemen to assist the Shia tribal rebels and al Qaeda. These Yemen allies are being hammered by Yemeni, Saudi and American forces. This pledge is mainly theater, as getting any significant number of al Shabaab gunmen north, and across the Gulf of Aden on one of the people smuggling boats, is remote. The Transitional Government responded by accusing the Shia rebels in Yemen of sending two boatloads of weapons to al Shabaab recently. This is also probably a fiction, given the number of Yemeni and Saudi warships patrolling the Yemen coast, looking for weapons smuggling ships. If al Shabaab is getting boatloads of weapons, they are coming from Eritrea, which has been serving as a distribution center for Iranian weapons being supplied to Islamic radicals (especially in Yemen and Somalia) in the area.
Pirates seized two more merchant ships, making that four in a week. Last year, the pirates averaged not quite one ship seized a week. It's becoming increasingly obvious that as long as seagoing nations refuse to attack the pirate bases, or even prosecute pirates caught in the act, the piracy will continue and grow.
December 30, 2009: In light of the Christmas day attempt to blow up an airliner over the United States (Detroit), AU peacekeepers revealed that, on November 13th, they had arrested a man trying to board a commercial flight in Mogadishu. The arrested man was headed for Dubai, and had a packet of suspicious powder, a syringe, and a small container of acid. The man tried to bribe the security personnel, but that failed. After the man was arrested, government officials determined that his chemicals could not be used as an explosive (600g/1.5 pounds or ammonium nitrate and some acid), and let the guy go.
Far off the coast, a speed boat of pirates fired on an oil tanker, but were unable to catch up to it and board.
December 29, 2009: For the last two days, al Shabaab gunmen have been attacking the town of Dusamareb, some 550 kilometers north of the capital (Mogadishu). The area is inhabited by Sufi Moslems (which al Shebaab does not approve of), who have formed the Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca militia. This Sufi group has been joined by Islamic radical groups opposed to al Shebaab.
December 28, 2009: Pirates seized two more ships; a chemical tanker and a bulk carrier.