Somalia: The Return Of The Dubious Distinction


June 16, 2017: Apparently al Shabaab has again become the most deadly Islamic terror group in Africa. For three years (2014-15) Boko Haram in Nigeria and (after 2013) ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) were killing more people in Africa. But in 2016 Boko Haram was much weaker after a massive counterattack by a coalition of Nigerian troops, local volunteers and soldiers from neighboring countries. ISIL was also much reduced everywhere. Meanwhile al Shabaab was still operating. In 2016 al Shabaab related violence led to about 4,200 deaths compared to 3,500 for Boko Haram and even fewer for ISIL.

Things Go South In The North

Since 2015 there has been a lot more violence in the far north (Puntland) because many al Shabaab (and nearly all local ISIL members) fled there for refuge and took advantage of local (Puntland) clan feuds to establish a presence. That violence continues but it all began in October 2015 when an al Shabaab faction declared itself the local branch of ISIL. This was mainly about clan politics, as was the recent ISIL seizure of the port of Quandala. The Puntland government has been distracted by the endemic clan warfare of Somalia and unable to spare the troops to suppress this new ISIL group. Meanwhile Puntland was also feuding with Galmudug, an autonomous region of Somalia just south of Puntland. Galmudug was formed in 2006 and has a population of about 1.8 million. Northern Somalia broke away from Somalia in the 1990s to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The 2015 ISIL appearance there was a side effect of territorial disputes. In 2014 Puntland cut diplomatic relations with Somalia over a Somali plan to reunite the northern province of Mudug at the expense of Puntland. Back in the 1990s clan wars in Mudug caused the province to be divided. The northern part joined Puntland while the southern half did not. Now Somalia wants to reunite Mudug and Puntland sees that as aggression. Somalia says it will work with the UN to do it peacefully but Puntland still sees it as a land grab. Meanwhile some of the Mudug clans in the Puntland want to join with the Mudug clans in Somalia to form a separate state and are willing to fight Puntland over the issue. At the same time Puntland is threatened by Somaliland because of territorial disputes. This gave the new ISIL faction near the coast the opportunity to grab and hold onto Quandala, population 19,000 and 550 kilometers south (across the Gulf of Aden) of Yemen. Those clan feuds in Puntland continue, as does the ISIL presence.

With all this chaos in Puntland ISIL released a video in early 2016 in which a former al Shabaab member urged Somalis to come join ISIL and help destroy al Shabaab. Most al Shabaab members have rejected ISIL and remained loyal to al Qaeda. But several dozen al Shabaab men did leave and join ISIL. There have been some skirmishes between this ISIL group and al Shabaab but with this video ISIL openly declared war on al Shabaab. The ISIL problem began in 2015 when a growing number of dissatisfied al Shabaab members responded to ISIL recruiting efforts and joined with other dissident al Shabaab men to create several small ISIL groups in Somalia. Al Shabaab said those who joined ISIL were traitors and will still kill them. This has made all foreign members suspect because most Somali members want nothing to do with ISIL. That’s because al Shabaab was founded as a Somali nationalist organization and al Qaeda respected that. ISIL did not and wants to conquer the world. In late 2015 ISIL in Somalia clashed with al Shabaab several times and lost most of its new recruits to death (in battle) or desertion. This helped the security forces and peacekeepers but they don’t like to publicize this. With more foreign al Shabaab members deserting and going public about it, the internal problems of al Shabaab became widely known.

June 14, 2017: In Mogadishu five al Shabaab armed with a car bomb and guns men attacked a restaurant next to a heavily guarded hotel compound. This turned into a siege as the gunmen took hostages and held them overnight. Before dawn the next day Somali commandos freed fifty hostages and killed the last of the attackers. Over 30 people died. Al Shabaab made a similar attack on a hotel compound in January that left 28 dead.

June 11, 2017: An American UAV attacked an al Shabaab base in Middle Jubba, 300 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu and killed at least eight of the Islamic terrorists. The airstrike was followed up by a Somali commando raid to capture survivors, identify the dead and gather intel. This was the first such airstrike since March, when American commanders in the region were given much more independence in choosing and attacking Islamic terrorist targets in Somalia. In the past any UAV operations in Somalia required approval by lawyers and senior government officials back in the U.S. first. Sometimes permission was not granted or was but by then the target was no longer available.

Meanwhile back in Mogadishu a UAE (United Arab Emirates) diplomat offered the Somali president an $80 million bribe to turn against Qatar in a current diplomatic dispute. The bribe was turned down but the Somali leader made a case for allowing Somalia to be neutral in this matter. Somali needed all the foreign aid it could get and Qatar and other Gulf States were major donors as was Turkey, which was siding with Qatar. Then there was the United States, which was also trying to maintain good relations with all concerned and would not appreciate it if anyone used large bribes to cause more unrest in Somalia. This crises began on June 5th with an unexpected escalation in an Arabian dispute that could threaten Somali access to foreign aid from wealthy Gulf States as well as the growing Turkish presence in Somalia. It began when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic, economic and military relations with tiny Saudi neighbor Qatar. Ambassadors were expelled, borders were closed and Qatar was made to feel very unwelcome. Yemen and several other Moslem nations followed suit. The expulsion comes after years of criticisms regarding Qatari support for Islamic terrorism and the perception among Arab states that Qatar could not be trusted. Cutting ties with Qatar is partly retaliation against the Qatar based and subsidized al Jazeera satellite news network which often reports on real or imagined (depending on who you ask) bad behavior by Sunni Arab governments and their security forces. Qatar also openly supports Palestinian terror group Hamas, although Qatar recently ordered some senior Hamas leaders to leave Qatar for another sanctuary. Al Jazeera reporters have a hard time avoiding arrest (or worse) in Egypt and other Moslem states but they are often abused by Islamic terror groups as well. Qatar is also seen as siding with Iran in the current struggle between Shia Iran and the Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. This sort of behavior is not uncommon in the region and the small Arab Gulf states like Qatar, Kuwait and the member states of the UAE have survived for centuries using these methods. One could say Qatar has been too successful and the current unpleasantness is the price of that success. As is the local custom secret meetings will be held, demands discussed and agreements made. How long this takes will depend on how long Qatar can last without its usual providers of all the food and just about everything else. The expulsion cut off half of that immediately and a naval blockade would be disastrous. About 40 percent of imports came via Saudi Arabia.

Qatar does have local allies. Iran offered to ship food and other emergency supplies to Qatar and Turkey has offered to send 3,000 more troops to the small base Turkey already has in Qatar, along with a few hundred troops. Turkey is a major customer (over $700 million a year) of Qatari natural gas and Qatar has invested some $20 billion in Turkey. Qatar has assured the United States that the American bases and about 10,000 military personnel in Qatar were safe. Turning to Iran was obvious but Turkey is a more interesting case. Turkey is establishing a military base in Qatar to support Turkish peacekeeping and efforts in Africa (especially Somalia) and relations with the Arabian states. Turkey is less eager to get too close to Iran. Meanwhile Somali leaders and businessmen want to protect their fragile diplomatic and commercial relationships in the Persian Gulf as much as possible.

June 9, 2017: In Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) fourteen people were killed (most of them civilians) when soldiers guarding a food distribution site were attacked by another group of soldiers seeking to steal some of the food aid. The thieves fled and distribution of food soon resumed. The new government promised aid donors that more would be done to reduce the theft of badly needed food and medical supplies. Apparently the security forces were ordered to open fire on thieves even if the culprits were soldiers or police.

Further south in Kenya local police arrested two Kenyans and four Somalis that were wanted for participation in violence and theft committed on both sides of the border. Some of it was al Shabaab related but much of it was just the usual gangster stuff. The six were apparently involved in some planned terror attacks on the Kenya side of the border.

June 8, 2017: In the north (Puntland) a large force al Shabaab gunmen attacked an army base in the Galaga hills and killed about 70 people, most of them soldiers. The government reported that over a hundred Islamic terrorists died in the battle and subsequent pursuit by army reinforcements. Apparently the attackers included local men from a clan fights to maintain a certain autonomy in the nearby Armo district. Some members of this clan went south to join al Shabaab and returned. Other al Shabaab members and Somali ISIL members will make such deals with local clans in Puntland to obtain some sanctuary.

In Mogadishu an al Shabaab roadside bomb went off but apparently missed its intended target and there were no casualties.

June 6, 2017: In the south, across the border in Kenya, a vehicle hit a landmine and four passengers, including two foreign aid workers, died.

Off the north coast, Yemeni Shia rebels again threatened commercial shipping entering or leaving the Red Sea and that brought more foreign warships to the Gulf of Aden and the Somali coast as well as the Red Sea coast of Yemen. The latest threat appears to involve putting several heavily armed rebel fighters on one of the many local cargo or fishing boats that operate along the coast and then have the Shia fighters fire RPGs at seagoing tankers or cargo ships. In late 2015 government forces regained control the Bab Al Mandab strait, in the Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Djibouti and astride the shipping lanes leading to the Red Sea. This included the peninsula that extends into the Bab Al Mandab strait. This made it easier to monitor ships coming through, especially those that might be carrying Iran arms shipments. More important to the Arabs (and Egypt) was the fact that rebel control of the Bab Al Mandab strait was a potential threat to Suez Canal traffic. The canal fees are a major source of income for the Egyptian government. Saudi Arabia also exports oil and imports many other goods via that narrow (40 kilometers max) strait. Government forces also seized control of Perim Island, which is in middle of the straits and normally contains a coast guard base. The small Shia garrison fought to the death in a battle that lasted a few hours.

May 30, 2017: In Hiran (200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) Bishar Mumin Afrah, a senior al Shabaab leader, accepted the government amnesty and surrendered to an army unit in the area.

May 29, 2017: Many communities in northeast Uganda are objecting to the army’s decision to withdraw 2,700 soldiers from the Karamoja region for peacekeeping duty in Somalia. The Ugandan civilians are worried that Karimojong tribal cattle raiders will return when the troops leave. In 2001 the government deployed 10,000 soldiers to the region to provide local security and disarm Karimojong raiders. The raiders were stealing cattle, committing other thefts and occasionally ambushing vehicles. The army collected over 43,000 weapons, many of them AK-47 rifles.

May 26, 2017: Off the north coast Somali pirates attempted to seize a Mongolian trawler but the crew called for help and a South Korean warship showed up and the pirates fled. The trawler had a crew of three South Korean 18 Indonesians.

May 24, 2017: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab bomb went off killing five civilians and wounding six more. Further south, just across the border in Kenya, al Shabaab set off two roadside bombs that killed seven Kenyan policemen patrolling their side of the border. The explosion also killed a civilian bystander.

May 23, 2017: Off the north (Puntland) coast Somali pirates seized an Iranian fishing boat. This was a seagoing boat that pirates use to go farther from shore to capture much larger ships. So far this year there have been about twenty incidents of Somali pirates threatening smaller vessels in coastal waters. Most of these attacks fail but in at least five cases so far the pirates have taken small coastal transports and held them for ransom (or been forced to let the ships go because the ship was making local deliveries and had already arranged protection from some local group.)

Elsewhere in Puntland a renegade al Shabaab faction (that now considers itself part of ISIL) set off a bomb in the coastal town of Bosasso, killing five people.




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