Somalia: Fighting Blind


October 16, 2015: The security forces (22,000 foreign peacekeepers and 8,000 Somali soldiers) have not been able to find and destroy the last few groups of al Shabaab Islamic terrorists that are carrying out raids on towns and security force bases. There are multiple reasons for this, the main one being lack of coordination on information about where al Shabaab is and a shortage of resources to improve that situation. The security forces are not well coordinated when it comes to intelligence. Some of the troops (like those from neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya) report back to their national military commands, not the head of the Somalia peacekeeping. Ugandan peacekeepers also do this a lot, but not as much as Ethiopia and Kenya who both consider their operations inside Somalia an extension of border security efforts, which is how these two countries get involved in Somali peacekeeping in the first place. But what the peacekeeping forces needs as a whole is more pooling of information and an air force (for recon and attack) the peacekeeper commander has some control over. Currently Ethiopia, Kenya and the United States fly a lot of air reconnaissance over Somalia they don’t pass all the data, or even much of it on to the people running the peacekeepers.

While the UN prefers not to “militarize” peacekeeping operations the AMISOM peacekeeping effort in Somalia is controlled by the AU (African Union) and approved (and authorized) by the UN. AMISOM leaders admit they are fighting a war against an outnumbered force of 5,000 or so remaining al Shabaab gunmen. But without some air support it is proving difficult to finish off the Islamic terrorists. AMISOM needs an air force and so far Ethiopia, Kenya, the United States and Uganda, which all have air forces in the area, are not willing to provide what AMISOM needs.

Another problem is the Somali Army which, despite years of efforts (and several hundred million dollars) only has 8,000 ill disciplined, poorly led and badly treated troops in action. Corruption is the big problem with officers stealing whatever they can and leaving the troops unpaid, hungry and understandably in a bad mood. The corruption is a major problem in Somalia. Because of the corruption and bad government Somalia is often, and accurately, described as a failed state. This is about more than just corruption. The concept of the "nation of Somalia" is a very recent development (the 1960s). It never really caught on. Before the 1960s Somalia never had a local government that controlled all of what is now Somalia.  Some things never seem to change.

Another common problem in failed states is a large number of ethnic groups. This is a common curse throughout Africa, which is why the majority of the worst failed states are there. Europe, and much of Asia, have managed to get past tribalism, although that has not always resulted in a civil society. Tribalism has kept most African nations from making much economic progress. The top failed states tend to be African, Moslem or both. Somalia is also unique in that it is one of those rare African nations that is not ethnically diverse. Instead, Somalia suffers from clan (tribal) animosities and severe warlordism. All the clans are ethnic Somalis but see themselves as members of a specific clan, not “Somalis.” The Somalis also have cultural characteristics that make them good entrepreneurs or bandits. The Somalis are exceptionally opportunistic, and anything goes with people not belonging to your clan. All this continues to make it very difficult to get an effective national government going. Changing the ancient attitudes that are the core problem is something that happens very slowly. All this makes the Somali Army unreliable but the lack of unity among all the foreign nations providing peacekeeping assistance is also a big, but solvable, problem.

Pirates Versus The Fish Bandits

The EU (European Union) has reduced the piracy “high risk” area to exclude the west coast of India. Since 2010 shipping companies have been advised to take additional precautions while moving through the Indian Ocean between India and Africa. Now only the area off Somalia and Kenya are considered at risk. The EU recommendation carries a lot of weight because it influences maritime insurance rates and the legal liability of major shipping companies. Thus is was more expensive to operate in a high risk area and these higher costs were passed on to the customers of the shipping companies (Indian firms and consumers). There has been no known Somali activity off the west coast of India since 2012. There is a lot less piracy off the Somali coast as well, mainly because the international anti-piracy patrol has made it virtually impossible for Somalia based pirates to seize ships of any value. But now the anti-piracy patrol is being asked to go after pirates not based in Somalia who are plundering Somalia’s fishing grounds. These are ocean going fishing trawlers and they are doing a lot of damage because there is no Somali coast guard and these ships are free to plunder (and sometimes destroy) Somali fish stocks. The trawlers actually get some protection from the anti-piracy patrol if attacked as they can claim they were simply moving through the area when the pirates, or simply irate armed Somali fishermen, attacked. In the north Somaliland and Puntland have small coast guard forces but the foreign trawlers, especially those from Iran, are often armed and will fire on anyone who tries to interfere.

The coast guard boats are often unable to communicate with the anti-piracy patrol and the EU is being asked to fix that. But the nations on the anti-piracy patrol do not want to be used as a coast guard because they justify their presence by protecting international trade. The Somali pirates often justified their crimes by claiming to be protecting local fishermen from illegal foreign trawlers. But this was largely a myth. The pirates only attacked the trawlers when they thought they could get a ransom (usually they could not) or to use the trawler and its crew as a mother ship for long range piracy operations. Many of the Somali pirates have gone back to fishing or smuggling and note with anger that anti-piracy aircraft and warships will pass right by foreign trawlers obviously fishing illegally in Somali waters.

The foreign trawlers are often what is called "freezer trawlers." This ships are up to 100 meters (320 feet) long and have facilities on board to store hundreds of tons of frozen fish. These ships normally stay at sea months at a time and have crews of 14-30. The smaller (coastal) freezer trawlers are often old and worth less than half a million dollars each and almost impossible to get a ransom for. The owner cannot pay whatever ransom the pirates often demand for these ships. These trawlers are all over the Indian Ocean, between Africa and India and the anti-piracy patrol has been warning trawlers and the companies that own them to stay away from the Somali coast. When these trawlers are fishing illegally they are at risk despite the presence of the anti-piracy patrol. When under attack the trawlers can call for help but because trawlers move slowly while working and are close to shore there is rarely time for anti-piracy forces to reach them in time. Many observers (especially Somalis) see the illegal fishing as simply another form of piracy but there is no international outcry over it because the damage done is local and not multinational. 

October 14, 2015: In northern Kenya fifty of the workers building a new security fence on the Somali border threatened to strike because they have not been paid for six months. Some of the police in the camp the workers are living in say they have not been paid either. When asked about this the government said the payroll money had been sent to the organization employing the workers. Corruption is a big problem in Kenya and “disappearing” payroll cash is a common example of it.

October 12, 2015: In northwest Kenya, near the Somali border, al Shabaab gunmen kidnapped a Kenyan school teacher (working for an NGO providing schooling for Somali children in a nearby refugee camp) and used her car to take her into Somalia where she will probably be held for ransom.

October 7, 2015: In Mogadishu al Shabaab gunmen ambushed a vehicle carrying a nephew of the Somali president and another man. Both men in the vehicle were killed and the gunmen got away.

October 4, 2015: A week ago Britain agreed to send 70 soldiers to join the peacekeeper force. Al Shabaab then announced their intention to kill the British troops. The Islamic terrorists definitely do not want Western troops in Somalia because these men are far more lethal than African peacekeepers or local soldiers. Moreover getting some Western peacekeepers means more aircraft and other technical assistance may be on the way.

October 2, 2015: Some 400 kilometers north of Mogadishu (near the port town of Harardhere) al Shabaab moved inland and took control of Amara and Baadwayn. The local militias in these two towns fled and there were no peacekeepers or soldiers to back them up. This is a problem with the peacekeeping forces in that it is not large enough to provide garrisons for all the towns it drives Islamic terrorists out of. Ten days later Somali troops arrived and drove the al Shabaab gunmen out. Meanwhile al Shabaab are still in the area. Long a base for pirates Harardhere came under control of al Shabaab in 2009 and is one of the few port towns they still control. The main pirate bases are in the far north (Puntland) where the local government provided some protection from foreign interference.

September 30, 2015: Off the coast of Oman ships of the Yemeni blockade seized an Iranian fishing boat and found Iranian weapons apparently destined for the Iran backed Shia rebels in Yemen. This sort of smuggling has been going on for years but this time the Yemen government threatened Iran with retaliation. The crew of the smuggling boat said they were headed for Somalia, which has been another regular destination for Iranian weapons and probably was the intended destination because the Somali coast is less well guarded than that of Yemen.

September 28, 2015: In northwest Kenya, near the Somali border, police arrested four men and charged them with being Islamic terrorists. The four were caught with bomb making materials, weapons and al Shabaab literature. The al Shabaab men were operating out of the Dadaab refugee camp. Since 2013 Kenya has been trying to persuade the 500,000 (at least) Somali refugees in the Dadaab to go home as soon as possible. The UN, which runs the camp, says it could take up to ten years to persuade the refugees to go home. Kenya is now resigned to dealing with the camp as best it can and since September 11th there has been a major police operation to find and arrest Islamic terrorists operating in the camp. The Dadaad population is a source of crime and economic disruption in northern Kenya which makes it very unpopular with the locals. Islamic terrorists are known to live there and were often recruited there to begin with. In addition to Dadaab there are also over 500,000 Somalis in Kenya illegally, often using false documents. Since 2011 Somali Islamic terrorists in Kenya have killed over 500 Kenyans. This has led to a great sense of fear and hatred towards Somalis in Kenya.





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