Somalia: Pirate Paradise Persists


May 4, 2010:  Although Puntland is the home of the largest pirate bases, the elected government of Puntland continues to deny that it is in any way condoning piracy.  But it is known that all of the 40 or so pirate gangs on the Somali coast, pay protection money to local militias, be they Puntland security forces or al Shabaab Islamic terrorists. Meanwhile, the two statelets that comprise northern Somalia have been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1990s to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south, has been in perpetual chaos since 1990. But now, the tribal (clan) agreements that brought peace, and created the two governments, are unraveling. Somaliland is sliding towards civil war, while Puntland has been split between those who back (and profit from) the pirates, and those that don't. The result is no power that can stop the pirates.

The anti-piracy patrol has destroyed one mother ship a day so far this month, but naval commanders are increasingly frustrated by the "catch and release" policy they have been ordered to follow. Attempts to have captured pirates tried by local governments (Puntland, Kenya, Seychelles) have not worked out. The local court systems are too corrupt, and inefficient, to handle the number of pirates caught. The new policy of aggressively seeking out and destroying mother ships has made it more difficult for the pirates to go deep into the Indian ocean (more than a thousand kilometers from the coast) to seek unsuspecting tankers or cargo ships to capture. Somali pirates have been detected operating more than 2,000 kilometers from Somalia, between the Persian Gulf and the west coast of India. Tankers coming out of the Persian Gulf are now swinging more to the east if they are going south and around Africa.

Skirmishing continues in Mogadishu, with pro-government militias, newly formed police units and AU peacekeepers fighting al Shabaab gunmen. A dozen or so casualties a day, most of them civilians, are the main result. There is similar fighting to the north and west of Mogadishu as al Shabaab tries to conquer towns controlled by local clans and Sufi militias.

Getting food aid to Somalia is increasingly difficult. Pirates attack ships carrying the food. This has been dealt with by providing a warship as an escort or putting a detachment of armed sailors on board. Al Shabaab continues to block food aid deliveries in the south. In the north (Puntland and Somaliland) pirates and bandits make food deliveries difficult.

U.S. efforts to provide the Transitional Government with trained troops and police is failing because of corruption. The U.S. paid to have 2,100 Somalis trained in Djibouti and Uganda. But a quarter of these troops have deserted because they were not paid. Instead, in a common practice worldwide, someone up the food chain (commanders or government officials) stole the pay. The Transitional Government has been warned, many times, about the need to reduce the corruption. Otherwise, the foreign aid will stop coming. But apparently the Transitional Government feels the foreigners need them too much to stop sending the cash, so they keep on stealing as much of it as they can.

May 2, 2010:  Islamic terror group Hizbul Islam sent several hundred gunmen into the port town of Harardhere (400 kilometers north of Mogadishu). Hizbul Islam announced that this was the first step in eliminating piracy in Somalia. Al Shabaab had been in Harardhere before, but left because the local clan militias made it too difficult to hold the town. Meanwhile, several days earlier, Hizbul Islam had tried to work out a profit sharing deal with the pirates and clans in Harardhere. Hizbul Islam was also known to be looking for a port, after losing control of Kismayo (near the Kenyan border) to rival al Shabaab last year. Since the partnership deal with the pirates didn't work, Hizbul Islam has simply decided to take control of the port, so that they can more easily bring goods and weapons in by ship. Harardhere was a minor pirate port, with only three of the 23 ships currently held by pirates. These three ships were moved 230 kilometers north to the port of Hobyo as Hizbul Islam convoys approached. The pirates themselves fled in convoys of vehicles (many of them new SUVs bought with ransom money). The main pirate bases are in the far north (Puntland), where the local government provides some protection from foreign interference.

In Kismayu, a grenade went off in a mosque, killing one worshipper and wounding several others. This is the third bombing of a mosque in the last week, and is believed related to the feud between Islamic radical groups al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam.

May 1, 2010: In Mogadishu, a mosque used by al Shabaab was hit by two bombs, which killed about 40 people, and wounded many more. Meanwhile, al Shabaab gunmen, fighting against Sufi militias to the north, briefly entered the port of Harardhere.

April 28, 2010: Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for a recent car bomb attack at the entrance to the main AU peacekeeper base in Mogadishu. The attack actually failed, as soldiers spotted the car bombers and opened fire while the vehicle was far from the base entrance. But al Shabaab tried to recover what it could by issuing a press release claiming greater success, and the death of twenty peacekeepers.





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