Somalia: The Lord Will Provide

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March 8, 2010:  Britain and Canada are joining the United States in banning al Shabaab recruiting, propaganda and fund raising operations in their countries. This will take a month or so to implement in Britain and Canada, thus the Somali radicals there have time to shift their operations underground. But the al Shabaab activists will then be liable to arrest for illegal activities. In places like Britain and Canada, al Shabaab plays down its terrorist activities and al Qaeda ties, and instead seeks cash to help hungry and injured people in Somalia. There is also recruiting, seeking young men for "jihad". These volunteers are usually up for being suicide bombers.

Al Shabaab has become more radical, as it kills or drives away more moderate members. The more radical fighting force is an advantage, because the gunmen tend to be more fearless, although still just as inept as their Somali opponents. Al Shabaab is recruiting more suicide bombers, which are an intimidating weapon. Such fanatic, if unfocused, efforts are an ancient Somali tradition, and Somalis can relate to it. But an equally true item from Somali history is that trained troops eventually defeat the wild men. Al Shabaab plays that down, preferring to believe that, since they are on a Mission From God, the Lord Will Provide some kind of miracle. This only happens in the fairy tales, not the history books.

Government officials speak openly of the offensive they are preparing, to force al Shabaab fighters from Mogadishu. Not everything the officials say can be believed. There is talk of over 10,000 trained government fighters ready for action. While thousands of volunteers have been trained outside the country, this has not translated into anything like 10,000 organized troops. Maybe half that, and their reliability depends a lot on how reliable their leaders are. Not a lot to be optimistic about on that issue. Normally, government officials try to steal the payroll, which has a negative effect on the troops. Foreign aid donors have tried to impress on transitional government officials how important it is to spend the aid money wisely, and not just steal it. It's unclear if this message is understood, and as a result, much promised aid money (over $200 million worth) has not been spent yet. But the Somalis believe the Americans will be their secret weapon, providing air reconnaissance and smart bombs. The U.S. is also considering providing trainers for Somali police and troops. Intelligence information is apparently being given to the government, but smart bombs are another matter. These require American air controllers on the ground, in order to avoid a lot of civilian casualties. Helping out in Somalia is always a tricky business, which often backfires on the donors. Meanwhile, the U.S. has provided a lot of logistical and intel support for the AU peacekeepers, who are a lot more reliable and professional than any Somali forces. The AU often pass American intel onto the Somali government forces. Thousands of Somalis have been trained, during the last few months, in Djibouti and Kenya.

The anti-pirate patrol is apparently going after pirate mother ships that are trying to move far out to sea. These vessels (usually stolen sea-going fishing ships) are spotted leaving known pirate bases, and, when they leave coastal waters, are intercepted by a warship. If weapons and boarding equipment is found, the pirates are arrested, and the mother ships and speedboats destroyed. The anti-piracy forces have a considerable maritime reconnaissance force of aircraft and UAVs, plus the occasional use of photo satellites. Thus it is difficult for the pirates to head out for the high seas without being spotted. The pirates are no doubt trying to come up with some new tactic to get around this.

More merchant ships are carrying armed guards, and there have been at least four incidents this year where these guards fired their weapons to drive off pirates.

March 7, 2010: Pirates released a Thai fishing ship, for a ransom of three million dollars. The tuna fishing ship was held four months. Meanwhile, a French warship arrested eleven pirates and sank a mother ship. The French have arrested 35 pirates in the last three days.

March 5, 2010: Pirates freed a chemical tanker, after a ransom of over $5 million was paid. Out in the Gulf of Aden, a Turkish warship captured seven pirates. North of Madagascar, a tanker heading for Tanzania, was seized by pirates. The tanker stayed well east of the Somali coast, as it travelled from the Persian Gulf. It's believed that the pirates have spies in the shipping industry, passing on location of ships. Traffic is much thinner off the east coast, than it is in the Gulf of Aden, and without knowledge of where the potential victims are, mother ship could search for weeks without spotting any vulnerable targets.

March 4, 2010:  Off the east coast, a French warship destroyed a pirate mother ship.

March 3, 2010: In Mogadishu, government forces pushed into an al Shabaab controlled neighborhoods, increasing the daily casualties to over fifty. Most of the dead and wounded are civilians, even though many people have fled the city, most have remained. The main government offensive is not expected to start until next month. But there is shooting every day, and several times a week there is a shoot out in the streets between government and al Shabaab gunmen.

March 2, 2010: In Somaliland, a group of Puntland pirates seized three trucks used to transport food aid south to starving Somalis. The pirates are holding the trucks and drivers until the Somaliland government frees some pirates they had arrested for crimes on land.

March 1, 2010: Al Shabaab has banned the major supplier of food aid, the WFP (the UN World Food Program). Al Shabaab wanted more cooperation, and payments (of food and cash) from the UN. However, the Islamic radicals said they banned the WFP because some of the food was past its expiry date (technically true, as some of the donated food is stuff that was still good, but about to be destroyed because of expiration dates, which are set with a large safety margin). Al Shabaab also claimed the food aid depressed the price of food in markets, and hurt local farmers. That is also true, but it also means millions of Somalis in refugee camps will go hungry because farmers are not producing enough food to feed everyone. But without food aid, prices in the markets will skyrocket, and al Shabaab will collect a bigger tax from the  grateful farmers. The UN is trying to negotiate their way back in, which will have to involve paying al Shabaab a larger bribe, and not admitting it publicly.

Off the east coast, a Danish warship sank a pirate mother ship that was headed towards the Seychelles islands.

 

 

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