Somalia: The Curse Of Good Intentions

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September 30, 2010: The fighting in Mogadishu continues, although more and more of the casualties are from the use of mortar fire against civilian targets. There are hundreds of casualties a week, with a hundred or so dead. The 7,000 AU (African Union) peacekeepers are on the offensive against the Islamic radical groups, which has increased the violence. The AU is sending reinforcements, so the level of violence will probably increase.

Al Shabaab has been negotiating, without success so far, with rival terror group Hizbul Islam, to form a coalition. Some al Shabaab factions favor the use of foreign Islamic radicals, while Hizbul Islam and many in al Shabaab (and nearly all Somalis) oppose this. The pro-al Qaeda faction in al Shabaab is dominant, in part because of the money and manpower (several hundred foreigners) they have received from al Qaeda. The Transitional National Government (TNG) is also very hostile to foreign terrorists, but cannot cooperate with the anti-al Qaeda al Shabaab factions and Hizbul Islam, because of disagreements over using Islamic law to rule Somalia.

Pirates are increasingly active off the coast of the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts. In the last few days, an Indian freighter and Iranian dhow (wooden cargo ship) were taken. But anti-piracy patrol warships freed the Iranian ship. The coast guards of these two countries are aggressively going after pirates, opening fire quickly if a boat of armed men is encountered. Currently, about 20 ships and over 300 sailors are held by the pirates. Western nations have donated nearly $10 million to Kenya and Seychelles to set up piracy courts. Nearly a hundred pirates have been prosecuted, usually getting sentences of five years in prison.

The United States is seeking to use cash, weapons and economic aid to Somaliland and Puntland in an attempt to make the governments of these two statelets stronger and better able to resist the pirates and Islamic radical groups (al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam). But the problem is that these two mini-states exist only because they have managed to work out cooperative deals among the clans in the territory now known as Somaliland and Puntland. The clan dominating the government in each mini-state will control the aid from the United States, try and keep most of the loot for themselves, and oppose any effort to channel aid directly to the clans. Thus the aid strategy could tear these two states apart. This is a common problem in undeveloped nations where the national government is a shaky compromise between independent-minded tribal groups. American diplomats and aid officials are trying to negotiate a deal that will avoid a disaster.

September 26, 2010: An unidentified helicopter fired on al Shabaab gunmen in the coastal village of Marka (just south of Mogadishu). The helicopter could not be identified and no foreign nation claimed responsibility.  

September 25, 2010: The Sufi militia group ASWJ (Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca) has withdrawn from the TNG, angered at the corruption and failure to keep promises (ASWJ was supposed to get five ministerial posts.)

 

 

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