Somalia: Failure Is Not An Option


September 1, 2010: Thousands of trigger-happy al Shabaab gunmen wandering around Mogadishu have shut down much commerce. Merchants fear moving new goods into the city. This resulted in growing food shortages. Many people fear leaving their homes, and risk getting shot by some teenage al Shabaab gunslinger. Nearly two weeks of al Shabaab attacks on government held neighborhoods have driven over 30,000 people from their homes, with most of them leaving the city. A similar al Shabaab offensive last year caused about 100,000 civilians to flee Mogadishu. The two hospitals functioning in the city, which still has a population of over a million, have received over 200 wounded in the last ten days. Many lightly wounded people don't risk a trip to a hospital. The armed militias (both pro and anti-government) have their own medical personnel (usually little more than medics, although the peacekeepers have some doctors).

The UN deplored the fighting and the recent deaths of AU peacekeepers. The Transitional Government(TG) called for international assistance against al Shabaab and other Islamic radical groups that are trying to take over the country. Most of the world is sympathetic, but would rather not get involved.

The al Shabaab tactics depend on a lot of fanaticism and enthusiasm from their gunmen, but recognize that these guys (many are teenagers) have little, or no, military training, and little discipline. So the Islamic radicals keep moving, on foot or in light trucks and stolen automobiles. If the gunmen encounter determined resistance, like from peacekeepers, they retreat. But with dozens of these armed groups wandering around town at any given time, it's dangerous for anyone to be out on the streets. The fighting in the last week has left about a hundred civilians dead. Many civilians are reluctant to flee their homes, and end up in an improvised  refugee camp, and at the mercy of bandits and anyone with a gun. The al Shabaab tactics deliberately try to terrorize local civilians, hoping that a sense of panic will spread to opposing forces. This works against the pro-government militias, but not so much with the peacekeepers. The al Shabaab attitude seems to be that if they can't have the city, they will trash as much of it as they can. The al Shabaab leaders have announced their plans to keep it up in Mogadishu until they prevail.  

Off the coast, especially in the Gulf of Aden, pirates continue to be stymied by the activities of the international anti-piracy patrol. The warships have added a lot of land based patrol aircraft (manned and UAVs), which has made it difficult for the pirates to sneak up on their prey, and take them before a warship, or an armed helicopter from a warship, shows up. But the warships are still practicing "catch and release" because few nations are willing to prosecute pirates.

August 31, 2010: Uganda has offered to call up its reserves and send up to 10,000 more peacekeepers to Somalia, but is waiting for more money from the United States to pay for it. The Ugandans are still enraged over al Shabaab suicide bomb attacks in the Ugandan capital last July. The U.S. is willing to fund this operation, but has to organize a military team (including auditors) to supervise the training and ensure that a lot of the cash is not stolen. Uganda is ranked as the second most corrupt (after Burundi) country in East Africa (one of the most corrupt regions in the world.)

August 30, 2010:  A roadside bomb, planted in a road north of the capital, went off when a minibus passed over it, killing eight civilians and wounding 25. The bomb was apparently meant for pro-government forces, but someone screwed up.  Elsewhere in the city, mortar shells hit the presidential palace, killing four Ugandan peacekeepers.

August 29, 2010: Al Shabaab has again lost control of the border town of Beledweyn (330 kilometers north of Mogadishu). They claimed that Ethiopian troops took part in the operation. The TG denied Ethiopian involvement and insisted that local militias aided TG troops to do the deed. The Ethiopians do want to force al Shabaab away from the border, to lessen the risk of another invasion by Islamic radical Somalis, and have threatened to march into Beledweyn if need be.

August 27, 2010:  Al Shabaab gunmen briefly blocked the road between the government ministry compounds and the airport. AU peacekeepers guard these key areas, and are able to drive off the untrained, but heavily armed and very enthusiastic Islamic radical gunmen.





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