Somalia: Bandits With An Agenda


February 22, 2015: Somali intel officials identified the two al Shabaab suicide bombers that killed 25 people on the 20 th as ethnic Somalis from the Netherlands. Although hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled to the West to escape the violence in their home country they carry religious and cultural beliefs that cause that violence and this results in Somali expatriates having above average incidence of criminal behavior and a growing number of young (often not even born in Somalia) men and women going back to Somalia to join al Shabaab. These expatriates are often used as suicide bombers because they are fanatic, lack military or other useful (to the Islamic terrorists) skills. Many more Somalis have returned to start or revive businesses or just help in rebuilding the country. These expatriates don’t make headlines, except when al Shabaab tries to kill them (for trying to introduce democracy and honest government or simply improving the economy.). 

Suicide bombings are the main weapon used by al Shabaab now. The Islamic terror group has lost the ability to hold territory although there are still parts of the countryside where al Shabaab groups are present and can terrorize the locals into compliance and silence.  There are smaller groups (cells) of al Shabaab in urban areas and these are largely responsible for planning and carrying out the terror attacks (bombings and assassinations) in cities. There are not a lot of these attacks because of the constant pressure of the security forces and the willingness of most Somalis to use their cell phone (which most urban Somalis now have or have access to) and call in suspicious activity. The average Somali knows that “innocent bystanders” are most often the victim of these terror attacks. So a discrete phone call to the cops or peacekeepers is an act of self-preservation. Al Shabaab also engages in assassinations of leaders and clerics who oppose them. It is often not possible to know if Islamic terrorists carried out many of these killings as murder is still a common way to settle business disputes or feuds.

Al Shabaab apparently lost most of its al Qaeda funding because of a business dispute. Details are murky and intel agencies are still trying to sort if all out. Meanwhile al Shabaab has expanded charcoal production and smuggling in areas it controls, along with extortion and anything else it can get away with. In many rural areas al Shabaab is now seen as very dangerous bandits who also have a political agenda and a hit list.

The international effort to halt illegal money transfers to terrorists is under fire because of collateral damage to civilians. In 2014 nearly all international banks implemented an agreement to halt such transfers to Somalia, because a small portion of that money ended up financing al Shabaab. Recently American banks complied, as had British banks earlier. In addition to money raised by al Shabaab supporters among the half million Somalis living in the West, al Shabaab in Somalia also “taxed” remittances sent to families there. Some 40 percent of the Somali population is dependent on these remittances, which make up about a third of the $4 billion Somali GDP. The remittance money is the difference between life and death for many families, especially when there is a drought. There are illegal ways to transfer cash (like halwa) that are more expensive and more subject to fraud but that means many Somalis will get their remittances anyway, only at a higher cost. The counter-terrorism experts make the case that anything that will diminish financial support for al Shabaab helps. That’s because al Shabaab is a major source of terrorist violence in Somalia and Kenya and will continue to exist as long as it is getting cash.

The United States is providing the 21,000 AU (African Union) peacekeepers in Somalia with twenty MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles to provide peacekeepers with additional protection while patrolling areas where mines and roadside bombs are still a problem. These 15 ton MRAPs will replace older (late 1980s vintage) and lighter Casspir vehicles. These are from South Africa which is where the modern MRAP design was invented and for over a decade Casspir vehicles were among the best MRAP type vehicles you could get.

February 20, 2015: In Mogadishu two al Shabaab suicide bombers attacked a well-guarded luxury hotel. One of the Islamic terrorists (a woman) wore an explosive vest which she set off in the hotel prayer room that was crowded with Moslems. The other Islamic terrorist was a man who set off a car bomb outside. The two bombs killed at least 25 people and wounded over 40. There were numerous government officials in the hotel at the time (where business and government meetings are often held) and at least one of these officials (the deputy mayor of Mogadishu) was killed. Both of these Islamic terrorists had part-time jobs in the hotel.

February 16, 2015: In Mogadishu four airport workers were killed in a drive-by shooting. This might have been related to al Shabaab.

In the south (Merca) an air attack killed 20 al Shabaab men and destroyed several vehicles and boats. It was unclear who carried out the air attack. Both the U.S. and Kenya have been launching such attacks.

February 13, 2015: In the north (Puntland) al Shabaab suffered another ten dead when they clashed with soldiers (and killed two of them) in the Galgala Hills. A month ago soldiers spent two weeks killing and chasing al Shabaab men in the same areas. That operation left over 70 Islamic terrorists dead and caused most al Shabaab survivors to flee the area. Now some are coming back, because Puntland is generally a very inhospitable place for Islamic terrorists and the Galgala Hills are a pretty good hideout when the soldiers are not around. The soldiers returned this time because local herders complained of being attacked by al Shabaab men.

In central Somalia the army recaptured the town of Guriel (400 kilometers north of Mogadishu), which had been taken by a local Sufi militia on the 10th. The army and the Sufi militia have been at odds with each other since late 2014. So far there have been over a hundred casualties from these skirmishes and fire fights. Since late 2011 Sufi militiamen have been defeating al Shabaab in central Somalia. The Sufi Ahlu Suna Waljama militia spent eight months to clear the Islamic terrorists from most key towns they held in central Somalia. Sufis are believers in a more mystical and peaceful form of Islam, and are looked down on by many radical Sunni groups. But the Somali Sufis got tired of being harassed by al Shabaab and in 2008 began to arm and organize themselves for defense. In 2010 the Sufi militias became allies with the TNG (Transitional National Government) and Ethiopia, which keeps lots of troops on their Somali border, occasionally crossing into Somalia in order to discourage al Shabaab from raiding into Ethiopia.  Since 2013 there has been growing friction between local Sufi leaders and the officials the national government sent to set up local government. The Sufi complain that they are being ignored and taken advantage of. The corruption of the government officials doesn’t help either.

Neighboring Djibouti announced it was sending another thousand troops to join the peacekeeping force. This will double the number of Djibouti troops in Somalia, where they help keep large areas of central and northern Somalia free of al Shabaab. For Djibouti this is also self-defense as al Shabaab keeps trying to launch terror attacks inside Djibouti. There was one such attack in 2014 (the first ever) and that led to a crackdown the cleared the small al Shabaab presence out of the country. So far al Shabaab has not been able to return and Djibouti attributes this in part to the use of their troops as peacekeepers inside Somalia. Djibouti also contains the one official U.S. military base (Camp Lemonnier) in Africa. France and the United States SOCOM (Special Operations Command) have had special operations forces (commandos and special aircraft) outside the Djibouti capital since 2002. In 2014 the U.S. signed another ten year lease for that base. U.S. forces in Djibouti were increased after resistance collapsed in Iraq in 2008 and the base is now the command post for a network of American operations through the region. Most of the effort is directed at monitoring what is going on in the region (mainly Somalia and Yemen but also Eritrea, Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Kenya, and Ethiopia) not at interfering with the local terrorists. Not much, anyway. The Djibouti base also supports operations throughout the Sahel (the semi-desert strip between the North African desert and the Central African jungles, which stretches from the Atlantic to Somalia).

February 11, 2015: In the south (Barawe) soldiers clashed with a large group of al Shabaab men and killed ten of them. Over twenty were wounded and some of these were captured. Barawe was the last major al Shabaab controlled town and the Islamic terrorists lost control of it in late 2014. But several gangs of al Shabaab continue to operate in the countryside and some, like this one, try to raid Barawe. In this case the troops caught the al Shabaab attackers on the outskirts of town and spent hours fighting with them. One local police officer was killed.

February 9, 2015: Parliament approved (191 of 220 legislators present voted yes to the new cabinet) a new government consisting of 26 ministers plus 40 deputy ministers. Elsewhere in Mogadishu al Shabaab murdered another member of parliament. There were five such murders in 2014.

February 7, 2015: In the north (Puntland) al Shabaab attacked a police checkpoint and the home of a police commander. Two police were killed and five wounded. The attack failed and the Islamic terrorists dragged their casualties away with them.

February 3, 2015: Kenya has another problem with al Shabaab; some 700 school teachers assigned to schools near the Somali border are demanding transfers to schools far away from that border. This is the aftereffect of a November 2014 al Shabaab massacre in northern Kenya in which they murdered 28 non-Moslems (22 of them were school teachers). Ten days later al Shabaab murdered 36 Christian quarry workers in the same area. The population in the area the teachers work is largely ethnic Somali and Moslem while the teachers, recruited from the Christian and better educated south are neither.

January 31, 2015: Some 270 kilometers west of Mogadishu an American UAV launched a missile that killed the al Shabaab head of intelligence (Yusuf Dheeq).



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