March 15, 2010:
The Sufi militia, Ahlu Sunna wal Jamea, has agreed to formally join the Transitional Government. Sufis are believers in a more mystical form of Islam, and are looked down on by many radical Sunni groups. But the Somali Sufis got tired of being harassed by al Shabaab, and have armed and organized themselves for defense over the last year. This helps, but has not helped transform the Transitional Government from a corrupt alliance of clan and warlord militias. This makes the Transitional Government unreliable, and dependent on the AU peacekeepers for its survival.
Most of the fighting in the last week has taken place mostly in the area north of Mogadishu, between Ogaden and the Indian Ocean, where clans battle over land use and water rights. There have been several hundred casualties, with nearly a hundred killed. Land and water are traditional causes of such strife, but the availability of automatic weapons, RPGs and mortars means many more casualties. Two clans of the Hawiye tribe are doing the fighting.
The clans, and warrior leaders, are what control most of military power in the country. Most of the gunmen serve clan leaders. The only "governments" in Somalia are the clans, and the clans are constantly bullying and plundering each other. Ambitious men, either bandits, merchants or religious leaders, can afford to hire men to form their own private armies. Foreign cash has created some of the largest private armies. Al Shabaab receives Iranian cash and weapons, via Eritrea. This doesn't cost a lot, less than a million dollars a month. Al Shabaab also gets donations from Islamic charities and Somali exiles. Al Shabaab has also made a lot of cash from extortion (of merchants and foreign aid organizations). This has made al Shabaab a major player.
Al Shabaab appears to have been taken over by al Qaida, in the form of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. A native of Kenya, Mohammed planned the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. There are several hundred al Qaeda members in Somalia, attracted by the absence of any police, and the presence of Iranian subsidies. All this enabled al Qaeda to establish a presence, especially after their defeat three years ago in Iraq, and the growing pressure on them in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Currently, the major al Shabaab effort is in Mogadishu, where the Islamic radicals have massed in an attempt to take the traditional capital of the country. So far this year, over 100,000 civilians have fled the city, and al Shabaab has been unable to make much progress against the 5,000 African Union (AU) peacekeepers from Burundi and Uganda. In the last week, there have been over 200 casualties in this fighting, which consists of daily skirmishes and heavy use of RPGs and mortars and, only by the AU, artillery. There are several thousand Transitional Government and Sufi militia fighters in Mogadishu, but only the al Shabaab gunmen show any enthusiasm for combat.
While the clan, warlord (bandit), merchant and religious militias represent over 70 percent of the armed Somalis, the Islamic radical groups (like al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam) are the most determined. Their primary obstacle are the African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu. The Somali warriors have never been able to make much progress against professional soldiers. But they will keep at it, which discourages more organized foreigners, who come to feel it's pointless to keep butting heads with these violent Somalis. The U.S. provides training and cash for the Transitional Government, but will not directly support them. The aid is passed via third parties (like the UN or AU). The clans and warlords that comprise the Transitional Government are considered too unpredictable. The Transitional Government would like direct military assistance from the United States, especially Special Forces and missile armed UAVs. But they are not going to get it, because the clans are too prone to labeling traditional enemies as Islamic terrorists, just to get the American missiles to do the dirty work. The Somalis are not trusted by foreigners.
The Somali expatriate community supplies a lot of cash. In addition, 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. Even al Shabaab leaders park their families outside the country.
Meanwhile, at sea, the anti-piracy patrol is on the offensive. In the last week, two mother ships have been sunk and over 40 pirates captured and turned over to local governments for prosecution. The loss of mother ships hurts, the loss of low ranking pirates, not so much. But the anti-piracy patrol believes they are beating the pirates down. The success rate of pirate attacks has gone down from 63 percent in 2007, to 34 percent in 2008 and 22 percent last year. The pirates are making more attempts, but it's getting expensive. Much of the ransom money goes to just keep the minimum wage pirates at sea and seeking vulnerable ships. There are far fewer vulnerable ships. But naval commanders recognize that this sort of thing can go on indefinitely, unless something is done about the chaos ashore. But no major nation wants to go ashore, where the chaos and corruption seems endless.
March 13, 2010: A Russian warship delivered seven accused pirates to the Somaliland government for trial. The French turned over another 24 pirates to Puntland for trial. There, 72 pirates are awaiting trial, and 154 have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms. This has some deterrent effect, but the prisons in Somaliland and Puntland are primitive, and the guards can be bribed. So only the lowest ranking pirates stay in jail. The pirate leaders are untouched, and have plenty of new recruits willing to go to sea and risk getting caught. The UN and Western donors are trying to help the two countries upgrade the prisons, and their justice systems. Kenya and Seychelles are also holding several hundred captured pirates, with most of them yet to be tried. These poor countries won't prosecute or imprison these pirates unless they receive sustained subsidies from the West.
March 10, 2010: A leader of Islamic radical group Hizbul Islam (Bare Ali Bare) was assassinated in Mogadishu. Although his group, and al Shabaab, had recently made peace, al Shabaab is believed behind the killing of Bare.