In 2017 the UN cut food aid to Somali refugees in Kenya because there was not enough money available to keep feeding the Somali refugees who had been in Somalia for years as well as the many new refugees in Africa (South Sudan, Congo, and elsewhere). Some two million Somalis are refugees. Most (55 percent) have found refuge inside Somalia but the other 900,000 have fled the country. Most (nearly 70 percent) are in Kenya and Kenya wants them gone. But in the last three years only 75,000 have been persuaded to return. In December 2017 about 1,500 returned. The second most common source of returned Somali refugees is Yemen which has seen 35,000 return in the last three years, most of them in the last year because of the civil war in Yemen.
Food aid isn’t the only form of foreign aid that is being cut. At the end of 2017 the United States cut military aid to Somalia in another effort to curb the rampant corruption in the military. Audits showed that at half the people on the security forces (police and army) payroll did not exist and the pay for these “phantom soldiers” went to a corrupt government official. No one is sure exactly how many troops the army has been some estimates believe there are no more than 10,000, which is less than half what the army is supposed to have. That was but one of many defect the Somali militaries suffers from.
Several recent defeats (usually when al Shabaab attacked an army base) were found to be partly the result of nearly a third of the troops not having any weapons and many others not properly trained to use the ones they had. It was the same with other forms of aid for the security forces, including weapons, ammunition, vehicles, uniforms and whatever could be stolen and resold on the black market. Officers and NCOs were often not present or not competent.
This is becoming a fatal problem because the relatively corruption-free peacekeeper force of 22,000 AU (African Union) soldiers are no longer willing to rush to the aid of areas where the understrength, unpaid and unsupplied soldiers have fled from al Shabaab or hostile clan militias and left the area no longer under government control. The peacekeepers can usually reestablish control but take casualties doing so and the Somali government, despite having, on paper, as many soldiers as the AU force, cannot rely on their own troops because most of them either don’t exist or are even less willing to act than the peacekeepers. So African nations supplying the peacekeepers are planning to withdraw their troops and there are few, if any, nations willing to replace them. Somalia has developed a reputation for being impossibly difficult to work in.
That al Shabaab controls any territory is mainly because of another problem; corruption. The government forces suffer from it while al Shabaab does not (or at least has much less of it). The inability of the government to ensure that their new security forces are supplied and paid regularly (even though foreign aid provides the needed cash) means the Somali army remains unreliable and unable to control areas that al Shabaab has been driven out of (usually by peacekeepers, but sometimes by pro-government militias). It’s another case of greed overwhelming common sense and common interests. This is not unusual for Somalia, which has been rated the most corrupt nation in the world for a decade. One of the side effects of that degree of corruption is the inability to maintain reliable security forces.
Yet al Shabaab also lacks access to foreign aid and provides far fewer amenities for recruits than Somali soldiers or foreign peacekeepers enjoy. Yet al Shabaab continues to operate despite heavy attrition (from combat, disease and desertion). For over a year now Al Shabaab has been maintaining its strength in rural areas west of Mogadishu (Galgudud and Middle Shabelle) by stealing children in addition to food and other “supplies”. Families that can afford to are sending children (mainly boys age 8-16) away to areas with less al Shabaab presence to protect the kids from a popular form of recruiting in Africa. This began with al Shabaab demanding that rural schools stop teaching anything that might be interpreted as hostile to al Shabaab. Then al Shabaab imposed a “tax” on some schools that had to be paid in the form of students. In the last year several hundred children have been taken and several thousand have been sent away by their parents to keep the kids safe from al Shabaab. This recruiting tactic has been used elsewhere in Somalia for years.
This tactic was not unexpected because the Islamic terrorist group has suffered heavy losses in the last few years but have maintained its strength by improvising. This is mainly about using children and apparently at least half the current al Shabaab gunmen are armed boys under age 18 and a growing number under 14 years old. This is why, despite losing control of 90 percent of the area it controlled at its peak in 2012, al Shabaab still exists with about half the personnel it had in 2012.
The growing use of child soldiers was noted as early as 2010 when the fighting in Mogadishu was not going well for al Shabaab and many of their fighters had been killed or discouraged enough to desert. Unable to entice enough men to join they have convinced (or coerced) some clan elders to allow kids (large enough to handle an AK-47) to join the fight. Like most Somali children they were eager for the opportunity to have an AK-47 of their very own and people to shoot at. This is a big deal for Somali teenagers. By 2012 it was noted that 10-20 percent of most al Shabaab fighters appeared to be kids. The teenagers are not the best fighters. Most are impulsive and inexperienced so they do not last long if there is a lot of combat and even then they require more supervision than adult fighters. But given the choice between disappearing because of heavy casualties and recruiting more and more kids, many African irregular groups (bandits, rebels, Islamic terrorists) will resort to the use of children. This is not a new phenomenon but it did not become as affordable and widespread until the 1990s. That’s because after several million cheap Cold War surplus AK-47s began showing up in Africa in the 1990s the "child soldier" became a more practical solution to heavy personnel losses. The world market for AK-47s was glutted by the late 1990s. The only market left was Africa, but only if you were willing to sell cheap. The gunrunners were, and still are, very active in lawless places like Somalia, Sudan and eastern Congo. The cheap AK-47 made it possible to use kids as young as 10-14 years old as soldiers. This was a new development, because the old weapons (spears, swords, bows) required muscle. Kids had to be older, and stronger to be warriors. But now, if you could lift a 4.5 kg (ten pound) AK-47 and pull the trigger, you were a killer. Child soldiers changed everything, because warlords could just kidnap or entice kids and quickly brainwash them. These armies of child killers made insurrection and anarchy more common. Tens of millions of Africans fled their homes to avoid these tiny terrors, and many of those refugees died of starvation or disease. These victims were just as dead, even if the bullets didn't get them. In fact, few AK-47 victims died from bullets. It was the massive fear, and breakdown of society, and the economy, that killed most people confronted by all these cheap AK-47s. The kids weren't very good shots, but if they got close enough to you, they were capable of unimaginable horrors. Al Shabaab is continuing this vile tradition, although in the name of God.
Another pragmatic tactic al Shabaab has adopted is to negotiate and keep economic agreements in rural areas where they live. This includes all traffic passing through the area has to pay a “tax” to pass al Shabaab road checkpoints. This includes trucks carrying foreign aid supplies like food and medicine. This is not much different than in government controlled areas except that al Shabaab will fight any other groups (clan militia, security forces or bandits) seeking additional and unexpected “taxes” to pass. Al Shabaab will hand out written receipts so drivers will not be taxed more than once while in al Shabaab territory.
Al Shabaab has officially declared one of their former senior leaders,
Mukhtar Robow, an apostate and called on all good Moslems to try and kill him. In mid-2017 Robow effectively aligned himself and his faction with the government. These negotiations were kept somewhat quiet but by late June 2017 it became difficult to hide. That was when several hundred additional troops passed through Hudur, the capital of the Bakool region in central Somalia. The soldiers were there in case fighting broke out between Robow and other al Shabaab factions that wanted to kill him for negotiating with the government. Robow has been feuding with other al Shabaab leaders since 2010 over strategy and since 2013 has essentially declared that his al Shabaab faction (from his Rahanweyn clan, which dominates the region) was going to defend clan territory and do little else for al Shabaab. That meant al Shabaab men could move through Bakool but government forces would be resisted.
Back in 2012 the U.S. had offered a $5 million reward for anyone who would make it possible to capture or kill Robow. But in mid- June 2017 that reward was quietly withdrawn and by August the U.S. made peace with Robow. This soon led to several al Shabaab leaders demanding that al Shabaab mass its depleted forces and punish Robow for this suspected betrayal. Many al Shabaab still blame Robow for the loss of Mogadishu in 2011. That mess began in 2010 when Mukhtar Robow (then al Shabaab deputy commander-in-chief) split with the group and withdrew his forces from Mogadishu. That also meant he was no longer the spokesman for the group or the deputy commander. The weakened and disorganized al Shabaab forces were then much less able to resist the pro-government clans/peacekeeper offensive to take control of the city.
Robow's complaint was that foreign terrorists were increasingly taking over al Shabaab, sometimes killing those who objected. At the time six al Qaeda foreigners were members of the ten man Sura Council (the al Shabaab supreme command) versus four Somalis. The defection of Robow meant al Shabaab lost about a quarter of its gunmen. That was when al Shabaab began recruiting more teenagers (who are easier to recruit, but aren't as effective in combat) to replace the older, more experienced men they were losing to combat injuries, desertion and defection. Al Shabaab also has to contend with the fact that most Somalis now hated the Islamic radicals and were increasing demonstrating that attitude by fleeing areas ruled by al Shabaab.
The feuding among senior al Shabaab leaders has never really ended but that sort of thing rarely makes the news. One exception occurred in early 2013 when al Shabaab ordered one of their more visible leaders, American born (but with a Syrian father) Abu Mansoor al Amriki (Omar Hammami) to turn himself in or be hunted down and killed. Hammami did not surrender and was caught by al Shabaab and killed in September 2013. Because Hammami was an American citizen that was considered news in most of the world. It all began at the end of 2012 when Hammami was expelled from al Shabaab and accused of spreading discord and disunity inside al Shabaab by going public about a dispute within al Shabaab over enforcing Islamic lifestyle rules. Hammami also accused al Shabaab leaders of corruption and incompetence. Al Shabaab quickly announced that Hammami was no longer their spokesman. Hammami has been with al Shabaab for seven years and had become a public face of the terrorists via his video releases on the Internet. Hammami grew up in Alabama, but came to Somalia and joined al Shabaab in 2006. Once he began appearing in al Shabaab videos he became a target for those fighting Islamic terrorists. The FBI named Hammami one of their most-wanted felons in late 2012 but that did not help get him out of Somalia safely.
In mid-2017 the Somali government did not want Mukhtar Robow to get killed by al Shabaab because that would cause more fighting in central Somalia and enable al Shabaab to continue moving through an area that is the safest route for al Shabaab from northern to southern Somalia. Robow made a peace deal with the government and al Shabaab suddenly has a much more difficult time moving from north to south and, in effect, al Shabaab forces in the south (mostly near the Kenyan border) and north (mostly in Puntland) weree isolated from each other and easier to defeat. Robow took advantage of the situation and made the best deal (for himself and his clan) he could with the government.
January 16, 2018: West of Mogadishu the army managed to defeat al Shabaab attacks on several army bases near Baidoa, although in one case a base was partially captured and looted before reinforcements showed up and drove the al Shabaab attackers away. Some army commanders are able to maintain a reliable force of troops by seeing that payroll and supplies get through on a regular basis. This is not considered normal behavior in Somalia but is slowly becoming more common. The change is too slow for a lot of foreign aid donors who face far larger demand for aid than they can fulfill. So the most troublesome recipients are cut off so that areas where the aid reaches more people it is intended for can get more attention.
In downtown Mogadishu a roadside bomb went off near a police station but there were no injuries.
January 14, 2018: In the southeast (across the border in Kenya) al Shabaab ambushed a convoy near the coastal town of Lamu. One civilian was killed and five policemen were wounded. Traffic in this area requires protection from the frequent al Shabaab robberies on country roads. Several hour after this attack a group of al Shabaab gunmen approached a village near the border and all the Kenyan residents fled. Al Shabaab had told to villagers to stop cooperating with police or else. The al Shabaab men took down the Kenyan flag and looted the place, including an unused army outpost near the village. Since early 2017 an al Shabaab force of up to a hundred gunmen has been attempting to establish a permanent presence near the coast and the Somali border. Some of the al Shabaab men are Kenyans (ethnic Somalis) who were trained in al Shabaab camps across the border in the Boni forest (which has been under heavy attack).
January 9, 2018: In Mogadishu several policeman were wounded by an al Shabaab landmine.
January 7, 2018: In the far north (Puntland) an old border dispute has gotten violent again. No casualties were reported but there was a lot of shooting and massing of troops. Since the 1990s the two statelets that comprise northern Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland, have been squabbling, and sometimes shooting, over possession of the Sool region that lies astride their border. Both sides claim it and both are willing to fight for it. The dispute has been going on since Puntland was formed in 1998 and last flared up in 2014. Back in 1998 Puntland declared they controlled the Sool because the inhabitants belonged to a Puntland tribe. Somaliland based their claim on borders drawn by the colonial governments of Italy and Britain a century ago. Years of negotiations have not settled anything. In 2013 both statelets sent additional troops to the border in anticipation of a fight for Sool. Meanwhile, both statelets have been distracted because of internal problems. Despite that, northern Somalia has been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1990 to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south, has been in perpetual chaos since 1990.
January 5, 2018: The United States declared Abukar Ali Adan, the deputy leader of al Shabaab, a global terrorist. This makes it more difficult for Adan to travel or do business outside of Somalia.
January 3, 2018: In the southeast (across the border in Mandera country Kenya) al Shabaab ambushed a police vehicle near the coast and killed five policemen.
January 2, 2018: Some 50 kilometers west of Mogadishu an American UAV used a missile to destroy a suicide car bomb two al Shabaab men were delivering to Mogadishu. This is the third time a UAV attack was used to destroy a vehicle equipped for a suicide bomb attack as it was being driven to the city. This is also the first American UAV attack of 2018 (and by the 16th the only one). There were 31 such attacks in 2017, most of them directed at al Shabaab but two hit ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) targets. There were 15 UAV attacks in 2016 and three in 2015.
December 31, 2017: In the southeast (across the border in Kenya) soldiers caught and killed five al Shabaab men who had attacked a police station two days earlier and got away with Land Cruiser and five assault rifles, nearly 400 rounds of ammo, two grenades, bomb making components and a motorcycle. All of this was recaptured after the five Islamic terrorists were killed in a brief gun battle. The vehicle was speeding towards the Somali border, apparently in an effort to get the loot safely to Somalia.
December 30, 2017: In Mogadishu hundreds of soldiers and police guarded, and often participated in, the destruction of 43 refugee settlements that housed over 4,000 people who had fled violence in areas west of the city. This took two days with anyone in the settlements driven out and no one allowed in to gather personnel belongings. Aid groups complained that the destruction of the settlements included $200,000 worth of toilets, water supply points, clinics and schools the aid groups had paid for and helped maintain. This was all about corruption. The land for these settlements was provided by the government but has now been illegally sold to developers needing land to build homes and businesses on because peace has brought prosperity to the city and with that comes growth. Bribe the right official and the land under a refugee settlement is declared illegal and subject to unannounced eviction of the refugees and destruction of whatever was on the land. The courts are no help because they are corrupt as well.
December 27, 2017: Some 25 kilometers west of Mogadishu an American UAV used a missile to destroy a suicide car bomb four al Shabaab men were delivering to Mogadishu.
December 24, 2017: In the south (near the Kenyan border) an American UAV used missiles to attack an al Shabaab camp and kill at least 13 of the Islamic terrorists.
December 23, 2017: The Turkish built and operated military base outside Mogadishu graduated its first class of 400 soldiers. The camp began operations at the end of September. The students were already in the army and selected because they were believed to be most likely to absorb the training and stay in the army. Turkey was given an exemption to the arms embargo on Somalia and allowed to equip the graduates with Turkish made assault rifles. The Turkish MPT-76 weapons are distinctive and use the more powerful 7.62mm NATO round. Turkey has agreed to train 10,000 Somali soldiers. The Somalis recognize the Turks as superior soldiers and see the training as valuable.
December 16, 2017: December 15, 2017: In the south (50 kilometers northwest of Kismayo) an American UAV used a missile to destroy an al Shabaab vehicle and eight of the Islamic terrorists.
December 14, 2017: The U.S. has suspended most of its financial and other aid to the Somali military until the government has implemented an acceptable system for auditing their military budget and ensuring that aid theft is kept to a minimum.