Somalia: Showdown In Mogadishu


February 9, 2010:  The Transitional Government now has the upper hand in Mogadishu, and is attempting to drive al Shabaab gunmen from city. The government has been able to do this because of the several thousand soldiers trained in Djibouti, Burundi and Kenya. These men have been arriving back in the city over the past few weeks, and have, along with the AU peacekeepers, changed the balance of power. The Islamic radicals have also been weakened by battles with other Islamic radical groups, and religious and clan militias organized for self-defense. Al Shabaab has tried to protect itself in the city by living in residential areas (and preventing the civilians from fleeing). That hasn't worked, and civilian casualties are higher as a result. Back in the 1990s, the use of human shields worked a few times against peacekeepers (who got killed in large numbers as a result). But since then, the word has got around that you either kill the human shields, or get killed. This stark choice is one thing that has kept Western peacekeepers from returning to Somalia, as Western politicians don't want to deal with this sort of nastiness. But al Shabaab is still pretty strong, particularly because they control the port of Kismayo (south of Mogadishu) which handle sea and air shipments of weapons from Eritrea. Attempts to stop Eritrea (which denies everything) have failed, and the weapons keep coming.

But Somalis are getting more desperate for a respite from the constant violence. There has been no government for 19 years, the chaos has killed over 100,000 people, and driven several million from their homes. The economy in the south is crippled and Islamic radicals are shutting down foreign aid organizations (which bring in the food and medicine.) Over a million people are already malnourished, and in danger of starvation.

Kenya has sent more troops to its 680 kilometer border with Somalia, especially to the areas that are most frequently used for smuggling and other illegal crossings. There are already nearly 300,000 Somali refugees in Kenya, living in camps near the border. Al Shabaab has threatened to send gunmen south and take control of those camps, and use them as bases for further attacks. Kenya has responded with more troops on the border, with orders to shoot to kill if armed Somalis even threaten violence.

February 6, 2010: Several Ethiopian armored vehicles crossed the border and went to the border towns of El Barde and Yeed, to arrest prominent local al Shabaab supporters. Ethiopia is trying to prevent al Shabaab from organizing local Somalis to grab their weapons and cross the border to join the an uprising in Ethiopia (Ogaden province, which borders Somalia, is largely occupied by ethnic Somalis).

The tiny (85,000 population) nation of Seychelles (islands) has agreed to prosecute pirates captured in local waters. The European nations that bring in pirates for prosecution agreed to pick up the expenses, as well as imprison convicted pirates back in Europe. First, the Seychelles has to spend half a million dollars, and several months, to build a jail for (up to 40) pirates who are being tried. Last year, Seychelles has to released 22 pirates because there was no jail to keep them in. Seychelles has an economy dependent on fishing and tourists, and doesn't have much crime.

February 5, 2010: The International Anti-Pirate patrol rescued a ship that had been seized by pirates. The merchant ship Ariella was prepared for the pirates, with barbed wire surrounding the deck and a safe room for the crew. The incident occurred in the heavily patrolled Gulf of Aden, and when the Ariella sent out a distress call, several warships responded. A team of ten Danish commandos boarded the Ariella, but the pirates had already fled. The purpose of a safe room is to prevent the pirates from seizing the crew (who are needed to steer the ship and keep the engines going), until help can arrive. A safe room should be sturdy enough to resist attempts to get in (short of the use of explosives, that might not work because killing crew leaves the pirates stranded), and equipped with a radio, for communication with rescuers. The pirates usually don't get aboard ships that are prepared for them. It happened last year, when pirates boarded an American merchant ship, carrying food aid for starving Somalis, as it approached a Kenyan port. The crew used a safe room, but the captain was grabbed. U.S. Navy SEAL commandos came aboard, killed two of the remaining pirates and captured the third. But in most cases, there are still plenty of unprepared merchant ships out there, willing to take their chances. These are the ones the pirates tend to take.

February 4, 2010: Pirates bought a captured Libyan cargo ship to the village of Lasqorey, which lies in territory contested by Puntland (where most of the pirates are based) and Somaliland. As the captured ship approached the village, a skiff full of Somaliland soldiers approached. The pirates opened fire, killing one soldier and forcing the others to flee.




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