Somalia: The National Pastimes


July 29, 2019: Despite efforts to sabotage the new corruption-resistant payment system for soldiers, the new system is working. Since March troops have been receiving their full pay, and on time. There was resistance from some commanders and the reason was that once all the troops have been biometrically (electronic fingerprints and iris scans) registered so that only actual soldiers are paid, many corrupt officers were making a lot less money . In the process of registering all current troops it was found that a third of reported army strength was composed of troops who did not exist. Their commanders took their pay and the biggest offenders in this area were very unhappy with the new direct (to the soldier’s bank account) system, Commanders who prospered from the “ghost soldiers” pay were not prosecuted although some lost their jobs. The next phase of the biometric system will cover militias that are receiving payroll money from the government. Militia leaders are already making threats and excuses.

Corruption among military commanders has long been a major problem in Somalia and it is still thriving. The corrupt commanders will find ways around the biometric system because such deceit is a national pastime and is one of the main reasons Somalia is such a dangerous place. For Somalia, Islamic terrorism is one of several violent responses to the country's massive corruption and inability to cooperate and form an effective national government. A continuing problem in Somalia is that even when there is a national government no one is really in charge. This is largely the result of being the most corrupt nation in the world. Somalia has been rated the most corrupt nation in the world for over a decade. Despite positive press releases from the government, outside observers cannot see any real progress. In 2018 Somalia ranked 180th out of 180 nations in a worldwide survey of corruption. That has been unchanged year after year. Somali leaders prefer to make excuses for their failures than actually do anything about it. Its culture encourages not taking responsibility for bad decisions and instead trying to shift the blame. The neighbors see through this and recognize Somalis as perpetrators of crimes more than victims of them. That assessment is shared throughout Africa.

The Discreet Americans

American forces are getting more involved with fighting al Shabaab. While there aren’t many military or CIA personnel stationed in Somalia, there is a major AFRICOM/SOCOM (Special Operations Command) base in Djibouti, which is the northern neighbor of Somalia. That base is where intel and air operations personnel and equipment are found. So far this year there have been about fifty airstrikes against al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) targets in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. Somaliland and Puntland are where most of the ISIL activity is but that ISIL group is barely surviving because of a combination of local enemies (clan militias) and airstrikes. In mid-April this resulted in American UAV missiles killing Abdulhakim Dhuqub, the ISIL second-in-command for Somalia. Dhuqub was in charge of planning attacks and general day-to-day operations. Somali ISIL is getting by as bandits, but is too busy with that to pose much of an international Islamic terrorist threat. Then there is the local politics angle. The ISIL operations in Puntland are run by a local fellow with ties to the powerful local Ali Salebaan clan. In return for clan patronage (protection), the local ISIL faction played by clan rules. Banditry is permitted but large scale attacks are not. Since 2015 ISIL has been trying to take advantage of local (Puntland and Galmudug) clan feuds to establish a presence in Puntland. This began in October 2015 when an al Shabaab faction declared that it was now the local branch of ISIL. The ISIL members up there were largely former al Shabaab men who wanted more violence or whatever. ISIL was more daring and dangerous than mainstream Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda (which al Shabaab associates with as well as seeks to destroy) but is also self-destructive. ISIL considers any other Islamic terror group a potential enemy if the other group does not recognize ISIL as the leader. Between local militias, the UAV attacks and internal disputes ISIL has moved to the bottom of the threat list for Somalia. More and more of the airstrikes are taking place further south against al Shabaab targets.

July 27, 2019: In the north (Somaliland), an American UAV attack killed a militia leader in the Golis Mountains who supported the local ISIL faction.

July 24, 2019: In Mogadishu, an al Shabaab suicide bomber got into the mayors compound and the explosion wounded the mayor and eight others while also killing eleven. Al Shabaab later took credit for the attack and said the real target was the American diplomat serving as a senior UN representative in Somalia, who had just left the mayor’s compound minutes before the attack. The mayoral compound is supposed to be the most secure in the country and the question is how the bomber got past all the security. In this case, it was the use of a female suicide bomber. This is only the fourth time al Shabaab has used women as suicide bombers. Without that the only alternative is much more expensive in the form of bribes and blackmail (kidnapping kin of a key security official). With a big enough bribe budget just about anything is possible in Somalia.

July 22, 2019: In Mogadishu, an al Shabaab suicide car bomber, unable to get into the airport to attack, turned back and detonated his explosives near a hotel and a heavily used road junction. The explosion killed 17 and wounded 28.

July 18, 2019: In the south (Lower Shabelle region), an American airstrike killed Mohamed Nur Ikhlaas, a senior al Shabaab official and the head of domestic intelligence. This is a major loss for al Shabaab because Ikhlaas built and managed a nationwide informant network that will be less effective now. Ikhlaas used personal relationships to develop and manage sources and with him gone much of the network will have to be rebuilt.

July 15, 2019: In the south (Lamu, across the border in Kenya), two Kenyan policemen were wounded when their patrol force was attacked by an al Shabaab roadside bomb. The police fought back and killed the three al Shabaab gunmen who had planted and set off the bomb and expected to wipe out the patrol with the explosion and gunfire. It didn’t work this time. Al Shabaab has been operating from camps in the nearby Boni Forest, which has long been a refuge for outlaws because the thinly populated woodlands are on both sides of the border.

July 12, 2019: In the south (Kismayo), al Shabaab used a suicide car bomb and gunmen to attack a heavily protected hotel in the port city. The attack left 33 dead and over fifty wounded. The hotel was popular with foreigners because of the level of service and security.

July 10, 2019: In Mogadishu, the government executed (by gunfire) three al Shabaab members convicted of participating in a 2017 attack that left 18 dead.

July 8, 2019: In Mogadishu, two al Shabaab gunmen attacked a police checkpoint. The two attacked were killed along with two policemen and three civilians. Earlier police had captured an al Shabaab suicide car bomb and disabled it.




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