Somalia: The Bad Old Days Return


October 17, 2012: The government is trying to play down reports of their soldiers looting and killing civilians in Kismayu. While most of the army soldiers have undergone months of training, their NCOs and officers are not experienced. The Kenyan troops, by comparison, are very professional and disciplined. One cause of the problems with civilians is an effort to find and arrest al Shabaab members who have stayed behind pretending to be civilians. Normally al Shabaab gunmen do not wear uniforms but do tend to adopt an identifiable style of civilian dress that can be easily changed. For over two weeks now military age men in Kismayu have been questioned and residents asked to report any suspected al Shabaab members. Over 300 suspects have been arrested so far.  A similar operation has been underway in Mogadishu, with similar results.

Meanwhile, there is another source of violence in Kismayu and that is disagreements between pro-Kenyan and pro-government militias about who would control what once Kismayu was captured. Kenyan military commanders thought they had worked out a power sharing deal, but apparently some of the clan militia leaders changed their plans and now want more. This is a problem throughout areas cleared of al Shabaab control. The local clans were always there but backed off when confronted with the threat (of massive retaliation) from al Shabaab (who are pretty fanatic and scary even by Somali standards). Now that al Shabaab is gone, the clan leader are back to their fractious and warlike ways.

Peacekeepers and soldiers continue clearing al Shabaab from towns along the road from Mogadishu to Baidoa. The current target is Buurhakaba (180 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu). Al Shabaab is fighting to maintain control of portions of this road, which makes it easier to sustain its forces in central Somalia. Al Shabaab still controls dozens of towns and large villages in central and southern Somalia. These places provide food, water and other supplies for the al Shabaab men (who in turn keep local bandits from operating in or around the town). But to the locals al Shabaab is just another armed gang living off them. While less likely to rob and rape at random, the al Shabaab do try to impose their severe form of Islamic lifestyle on everyone. That is very unpopular. Most Somalis are not unhappy to see al Shabaab go but they would like some help in dealing with the resulting crime wave. There are always young men attracted to the life of a bandit. It’s something of a Somali tradition.

Kenya reported that so far its year of operations has killed over 3,000 al Shabaab members and driven the Islamic terror group out of 200,000 square kilometers (77,200 square miles) of Somali territory. Doing that cost the lives of 22 Kenyan troops and greatly reduced the violence along the border.

Up north the pirates are hurting. Last year they seized 47 ships for ransom, so far this year only five have been taken. Shipping companies are not willing to pay higher ransoms and several large pirate gangs have gone out of business because there’s not enough money to maintain a lot of pirates who are unable to seize ships. The remaining pirates are more active now, with the end of the Monsoon Season (and all the stormy weather). But the anti-piracy patrol is quick to seize any pirate boats it spots leaving Somalia. Increased air patrols are helping a lot with that.

October 16, 2012: On the road to Beledweyne (near the Ethiopian border) al Shabaab gunmen ambushed an army convoy, killing at least twelve soldiers and civilians. The army admitted there was a clash, the first major one since al Shabaab was driven out of the area last year, and insists that the attackers were repulsed. There’s obviously a large group of al Shabaab in the area and they will have to be hunted down.

October 14, 2012: An army base in Mogadishu was attacked (with gunfire and RPGs) by al Shabaab. There were casualties and the attackers were driven away. There was a smaller clash outside a government compound in another part of the city.

October 12, 2012: In the Kenyan capital a bomb went off in a Somali neighborhood, wounding three policemen.

October 11, 2012: In the north pirates released a Greek owned ship and its 21 man crew after being paid a $2.3 million ransom. The pirates had originally demanded $9 million and the ship was held for eight months until negotiations succeeded.

October 10, 2012: In Kismayu a roadside bomb went off killing one person and wounding two others.

October 8, 2012: A night curfew was imposed in Kismayu, to make it easier to spot and deal with illegal activity (especially al Shabaab men trying to carry out attacks).

In the north pirates are threatening to kill seven Bangladeshi sailors if someone (like the Bangladeshi government) does not pay $700,000 in ransom. The sailors were on a ship captured two years ago. The Malaysian shipping company pled poverty and would not pay ransom. The countries representing the 23 crew, except for Bangladesh, eventually paid ransom for their citizens. Another group of pirates are holding seven Indian sailors, from a ship that was ransomed, and demanding that over a hundred captured Somali pirates be released from Indian captivity.





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