Somalia: Turning The Tide


October 21, 2010:  Puntland troops have been searching the hills along the border of Somaliland, seeking the groups of  men loyal to warlord Mohamed Said Atom and al Shabaab. Atom has made a lot of money smuggling weapons to al Shabaab, and anyone else who could pay. Earlier this year, Atom decided to join al Shabaab and try to take control of Puntland. Atom found that he had fewer local allies than he believed. Now the coalition of clans that controls Puntland have sent their gunmen to chase Atom and his men out of Puntland, and seize his assets (buildings, trucks, weapons and other goods). Atom has hidden lots of stuff in the border hills, and is hoping that the Puntland search parties don't find it. Atom refuses to surrender, and will remain a problem until he is killed.

Fighting continues in the central Somalia town of Beledweyne, which is less than fifty kilometers from the Ethiopian border. Al Shabaab has been trying to take control of this area for years, but in the last week has suffered dozens of casualties as pro-government gunmen defend the town. The Ethiopians have been more aggressively patrolling this part of the border, because Islamic radical groups, including al Shabaab, have threatened to invade Ethiopia. Beledweyne is one of the more popular routes into Ethiopia.

The TNG (Transitional National Government) has sent troops to attack al Shabaab forces in towns near the Kenyan border. These troops have been successful, and the terrorist forces are fleeing. Al Shabaab is having more internal problems, with extremist and less-extremist factions fighting each other for control of the organization.

.Since al Shabaab chased foreign food aid groups  out of its territory, hungry refugees have fled as well. Those refugees that are still in al Shabaab controlled territory are hungry, and scrounge around as best they can to get some food. The lack of free foreign aid food makes it easier for al Shabaab to recruit gunmen (who get paid, and fed), and means fewer refugee camps that might harbor anti-al Shabaab groups. There are 1.4 million refugees in the country, and several hundred thousand are still in areas controlled by al Shabaab, which has nothing to say about how many have died from starvation and disease. Recent photos from al Shabaab held areas show lots of thin refugees.

The UN is returning to Somalia for the first time in 17 years. The UN presence will be small, with a few personnel sent to Mogadishu, Puntland and Somaliland. While the latter two places have functioning (after a fashion) government, Mogadishu only has the TNG, a very loose and unstable coalition of clans and warlords noted more for corruption than cooperation. But the TNG has managed to hang together, despite the corruption and internal dissent, for several years now. So the UN is going to risk sending several personnel, and spending lots on security, to see what can be done. The UN wants to send several dozen of its aid workers back to Somalia. These aid experts are now operating from Kenya, but can be much more effective (especially in seeing that aid is distributed and not stolen) if they are on the scene. The UN is taking Uganda at its word that 12,000 more Ugandan peacekeepers will arrive in Somalia in the next 15 months. Uganda is, in turn, depending on the West (mainly the United States) to supply cash, training and equipment to help get the peacekeepers ready and in place on time. Meanwhile, the U.S. is working more closely with Puntland and Somaliland. Not to the extent that America recognizes the two statelets as independent nations (which the two want), but in terms of providing economic and military aid programs.

The Somali pirates have been forced to operate farther from Somalia in order to find ships they can catch unawares and capture. Pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden are half what they were last year, while attacks in the Red Sea and far out in the Indian Ocean (as far east as the Seychelles Islands, as far south as Madagascar and as far north as the Straits of Hormuz.

October 20, 2010: After being held captive for six days, a British aid worker was freed. The man had been taken, with his Somali interpreter, near the Ethiopian border. His captors demanded a $100,000 ransom, but the captive's employer denied a ransom had been paid.

October 17, 2010:  Al Shabaab has ordered cell phone companies operating in their territory to shut down their cell phone money transfer service within three months. The service was introduced earlier this year, and about half the cell phone users in Somalia have since subscribed. Carrying your money electronically in your cell phone account is much safer than handling cash, and it is particularly convenient for getting cash transfers from overseas. But Western sanctions against al Shabaab prevented the terrorist group from using the money transfer service, and so, in retaliation, they are forcing the cell phone companies to shut it down. Otherwise, al Shabaab will retaliate by killing or kidnapping cell phone company personnel. Al Shabaab doesn't want the cell phone service shut down, as they find it essential for their own operations.





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