April 5, 2013:
AU (African Union) peacekeepers and government troops continue to chase down the remaining groups of al Shabaab gunmen. There are several thousand al Shabaab left, most of them armed and still dangerous. And even when you break up a group of al Shabaab, many of the surviving gunmen switch to more mundane criminal activities (theft and extortion).
These criminals and al Shabaab have one thing in common, they both hate journalists and anyone else who expose their crimes and names names. So do corrupt politicians, who are arguably the biggest crooks in Somalia. As a result it’s very dangerous to be a journalist or known critic of the bad guys in Somalia. It can be lucrative if you just take bribes to avoid news about certain bad behaviors. But those who report on the criminals are targeted for threats and often murder.
For more than a year now al Shabaab, fleeing the Kenyan advance from the south and peacekeepers pushing out from Mogadishu, ended up in the Gedo region (the southwestern area along the Ethiopian and Kenyan border). With the loss of Kismayo, the number of al Shabaab in Gedo is believed to have been as high as several thousand. That number has been shrinking over the last few months as AU peacekeepers and government troops move through the area seeking out al Shabaab camps and shutting them down. Gedo is thinly populated forests. There is good cover from air observation but not much else. Supplies and new recruits are in short supply and these al Shabaab have to turn to banditry just to survive. The al Shabaab forces in this area are losing many men to desertion but will sometimes put up a fight as the peacekeepers get close.
April 4, 2013: Japan will now allow its merchant ships to carry armed guards. Noting that nearly 40 percent of ships passing through Somali waters now carry armed guards and that this has helped halt pirates from seizing ships, Japan amended its laws to allow the armed security personnel on Japanese flagged ships (which are about nine percent of those off Somalia).
April 3, 2013: AU peacekeepers and government troops have completed clearing al Shabaab and bandits from the 241 kilometer road connecting Baidoa and Mogadishu. This makes is easier to move foreign aid and commercial traffic between the two cities.
April 2, 2013: Al Shabaab detonated a bomb outside the headquarters of the largest bank in Somalia, after the bank refused to obey al Shabaab orders to cease operations. Two security guards were wounded. Al Shabaab believes that Western style banks are un-Islamic, promote anti-Islamic materialism and business practices, and should not be allowed to operate. But the banks also handle the $2 billion a year (over a third of GDP) that flows in from Somalis outside country and are a key element in the economic growth of the last few years.
March 31, 2013: AU peacekeepers killed a senior al Shabaab commander (Mohamed Abu) 70 kilometers west of Mogadishu (near the town of Hurdur). Abu was leading one of the few al Shabaab groups still active in central Somalia. Most of the Islamic terrorists have been killed, captured, deserted, or fled to Puntland and remote areas of the southeast in the last year.
March 24, 2013: Government troops returned to the town of Hudur (capital of the Bakool region) and chased out the al Shabbab men who had moved back in after government and Ethiopian troops left on the 17th. A local militia was supposed to provide security but these fellows were intimidated by over a hundred heavily armed al Shabaab who rolled in. The government is now working with the militia to improve their effectiveness.