Somalia: Al Shabaab Merges With Al Qaeda

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February 16, 2012: After four months the Kenyan invasion of southern Somalia has shut down al Shabaab raids into Kenya and disrupted al Shabaab fund raising along the border. But only two towns (Hosingo and Badade) have been taken, and the Kenyans have been reluctant to go after Kismayo, the major southern port that provides most al Shabaab revenue and access to the outside world. Kismayo is so valuable to al Shabaab that they would mount a stout defense and taking on that would cost Kenya a lot of casualties. That would not be popular back home, so Kismayo continues to serve al Shabaab. Another problem encountered was less support from local Somali clans. Before the Kenyans came in these clans had offered to take over administration of the border area but the clans backed off on that. Apparently al Shabaab told clan leaders that there would be retaliation once the Kenyans left. Since al Shabaab are Somalis, and the Kenyans are not, the clans provided lukewarm support for the Kenyans.

In Mogadishu, fighting continues as peacekeepers and TNG (Transitional National Government) troops search for and destroy the last few groups of al Shabaab fighters in the city outskirts. Those remaining al Shabaab gunmen tend to stand and fight, even when they are not surrounded.

Turkey announced that regular air service between Turkey and Mogadishu would begin next month. The Turks are also leading efforts to help internal refugees. Since the Turks are Moslem, and have a tough reputation, al Shabaab tends to stay out of the way. Meanwhile, al Shabaab has forced most Western aid groups out of territory the Islamic terror group controls. Even in areas that al Shabaab is not in, foreign aid groups are leaving. That's because of the bandits, who kidnap aid workers and steal what they want despite the security guards hired from the local clans.

In Puntland (northeast Somalia), the local government has been fighting tribal rebels in the interior mountains. In the last week dozens have been killed and the rebels remain in place. Puntland is also skirmishing with Somaliland over a disputed border. Somaliland is also fighting a group of rebels.

The Somali pirates continue to suffer from the growing security measures of the shipping companies. Pirate attacks are increasingly detected and driven off by gunfire from armed guards on ships. The shipping companies are spending a lot more (over $100 million a month) on security than they are on ransoms. But as long as the pirates have their sanctuaries in Puntland the piracy will continue.

February 15, 2012: In Mogadishu, a suicide bomber killed fifteen civilians. The attack was in a government controlled neighborhood, and the bomber apparently felt he could not get close enough to troops or police. Al Shabaab has ordered its members to avoid attacks on civilians but that order is often ignored.

February 12, 2012: Al Shabaab held rallies in areas they controlled to celebrate the recent (a week ago via an Internet video) announcement that al Shabaab was merging into al Qaeda. Three years ago al Qaeda openly announced close cooperation with al Shabaab. This proved unpopular within al Shabaab. The recent merger announcement is seen as a desperation move. That's because, back in 2010, the two main Islamic terror groups (al Shabaab and the smaller Hizbul Islam) agreed to merge. The immediate cause of this decision was the growing success of the TNG/peacekeeper forces in clearing the Islamic terrorist fighters out of Mogadishu. The two Islamic terror groups have also been fighting each other, off and on, for over a year, so there was a growing urge to merge. Hizbul had taken more of a beating in the previous year and both terrorist groups were beset by factionalism and desertion. These divisions continued to persist, especially between those who support foreign terror groups like al Qaeda, and others who want to keep all foreigners out. There are also factions who are not as enthusiastic about imposing strict lifestyle rules (no music, video, sports, or women walking around in Western clothes). Most of the more moderate al Shabaab members have now deserted, leaving the hard core (pro-al Qaeda) members dominant. The official union with al Qaeda will drive many potential recruits away and the nationalist Islamic radicals will grow stronger and more of a threat to the Somali branch of al Qaeda.

February 8, 2012: In Mogadishu, a suicide truck bomber killed eleven civilians in an effort to make an attack on the Presidential Palace.

February 7, 2012: Near the Kenyan border, Kenyan troops ambushed a group of al Shabaab fighters, killing 14 of them. One of the dead turned out to be a local al Shabaab leader.

 

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