Somalia: Stealthy Pirates And Kiddie Killers

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February 12, 2018: Piracy is still a problem off the Somali coast, just not the kind that creates headlines in the international mass media. The pirates have adapted and in 2017 there were nine pirate attacks off the Somali coast, up from two in 2016. This was notable because word wide pirate activity hit a 22 year low (188 attacks) in 2017 and most of it was far away from Somalia in places like the west coast of Africa and Southeast Asia. Those 188 attacks created damage worth $7 billion, most (80 percent) of it was absorbed by the ships and their owners. Higher insurance rates and operating costs were the major additional costs. That is an issue off Somalia where higher insurance costs are still a problem.

Back in 2011 there were 327 attacks off the Somali coast. The solution was an international anti-piracy effort that continues. But shipping companies still have to pay higher insurance rates for their ships that operate in the “danger zone” (which extends far out into the Indian Ocean). At the end of 2017 the maritime insurance companies had real reason to be worried. In November, 2017, for the first time since 2014 the international anti-piracy patrol arrested six Somali pirates who were caught firing on and trying to board ships off the Somali coast. The accused Somalis were then sent the Seychelles Islands for incarceration and prosecution. In 2010 the EU (European Union) made a deal with the tiny (85,000 population) nation of Seychelles (islands, 1,500 kilometers east of Somalia) to prosecute pirates captured by the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. The European nations that bring in pirates for prosecution agreed to pick up the expenses, as well as imprison convicted pirates back in Europe. First, the Seychelles had to spend half a million dollars, and several months, to build a jail for (up to 40) pirates who were being tried. Seychelles has an economy dependent on fishing and tourists, and doesn't have much crime so never needed many jail cells. The EU contract, and a small American military presence (to maintain UAVs and other American military aircraft operating from the main Seychelles airport) helped the local economy as has the near total absence of Somali pirates that had been common in Seychelles coastal waters until 2012. For a while Somali pirates operated off the Seychelles, sometimes attacking local fishing boats, and that hurt the local economy. The certainty of being prosecuted if caught proved to be a major deterrent but the pirates are still there, just in smaller numbers and most of them eager to avoid any encounters with the anti-piracy patrol. Instead the pirates prey on fishing boats and small coastal freighters. The trick is to pick a target lucrative enough to make it worthwhile yet minor enough to avoid or delay attracting the anti-piracy patrol.

February 11, 2018: In Kenya peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) resumed. This is part of a larger effort to bring peace to Somalis throughout the region (mainly Somalia but also Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti). Somalia is playing a role in trying to make peace between Ethiopia and its Somali minority. For example in August 2017 Somalia arrested Abdikarin Sheikh Muse, an ethnic Somali who was an Ethiopian rebel leader hiding out in Somalia. Muse was taken to the Ethiopian border and turned over to Ethiopia, which had requested this. That, as expected, caused some protest demonstrations by Somalis who believe Ogaden belongs to Somalia. The newly elected Somali president survived this and remains popular. Most Somalis have mixed feelings about Ogaden. Islamic radicals in Somalia have long sought to conquer the Ethiopian province of Ogaden, which comprises most of eastern Ethiopia and contains a largely ethnic Somali population. The Ethiopians have been defeating these efforts for generations. That is not going to change, especially since oil and gas has been discovered in Ogaden, and drilling is underway. Abdikarin Sheikh Muse is a leader in the ONLF and Somalia has long been a convenient refuge. In 2015 Somalia and Ethiopia signed an agreement to not provide rebels from the other nations with sanctuary. Meanwhile Ethiopia is having problems in Oromia, the region east of the Ogaden, which is populated by Moslems who are hostile the Christian Ethiopians who run the country and the Somalis in neighboring Ogaden. That is another issue that Ethiopia has to handle on its own.

February 10, 2018: Al Shabaab attacked the town of Afgooye (30 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) but were repulsed and the attackers fled in the darkness taking their casualties with them. Three civilians were wounded during the gun battle.

February 9, 2018: The United States sanctioned a trading company based in Somalia for providing goods for ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) operations in Somalia. There are still a few ISIL members in Somalia but they are maintaining a low profile.

February 7, 2018: In Mogadishu al Shabaab took credit for the murder of an army lieutenant by gunmen.

February 1, 2018: A landmine wrecked a vehicle 13 kilometers outside Mogadishu, killing two cell phone company technicians. No one took credit but al Shabaab and criminal gangs will use such attacks to extort cash or services from companies.

January 31, 2018: In the southeast along the Kenyan border eight kilometers of the new security fence has been completed in Mandera (near the coast) on the Kenyan side of the border. Work on the next 28 kilometer segment is about to begin. The fence was originally to be a combination of a two meter (6.2 foot) high wall with security cameras in addition to a deep trench and a wire fence. To keep costs low most of the border barrier is now just a fence and ditch plus a road for regular patrols and to quickly reach an area that has been breached. Work did not really get under way until 2017.

The Kenyans began working on a border fence project in 2015 and that led to Israeli involvement. In mid-2016 Kenya and Israel signed several security and economic cooperation agreements including some that included Israeli assistance in planning and building the security fence along most of the 869 kilometer Somali border. Construction was supposed to start in October 2015 but was delayed because of corruption (money to get the fence going had “disappeared”) and opposition from some of the pro-government militias on the Somali side of the border. Work sort of resumed in early 2016. Many still believed the fence is unlikely to be finished because of high cost and the government corruption that cripples so many major efforts. But Kenya persisted. The Somali militias were persuaded to accept the fence and the Kenyan government made it clear that the fence was necessary to reduce Somali Islamic terrorism inside Kenya. This has killed over 500 Kenyans since 2012 and voters most definitely back anything that can reduce the terrorist threat. By 2017 Kenya said it had the needed funds and had organized the workforce. There were still concern that the fence (wall, watch towers and fencing) would cost more than Kenya can afford as the most effective security wall was built by the Israelis at a cost of $2 million per kilometer. A less effective wall would slow down illegal border crossers but that would not keep determined Islamic terrorists out. Somalia accuses Kenya of planning to build some of the wall in Somali territory. The border was never precisely defined and that is a dispute that has largely been avoided because the frontier area is rural and it normally makes little difference where the border actually is. Kenya and Somalia appear to have settled that dispute. Israel has long been a pioneer in developing effective border security fence technology and many Arab countries use it (without mentioning where the tech came from). Kenya also agreed to increase information sharing with Israel on terrorism matters. The border fence does restrict operations by al Shabaab and Somali bandits in Kenya. These raiders cannot just reach the border and cross to safety. They now have to take the fence into account and that is discouraging cross border mischief.

January 30, 2018: In the far north (Puntland) al Shabaab used a roadside bomb in the Bari area to attack a truck carrying soldiers. The explosion caused three casualties.

January 29, 2018: About 240 kilometers west of Mogadishu army forces clashed with al Shabaab near Baidoa and killed seven of the Islamic terrorists while losing four soldiers dead. Al Shabaab survives in this area via theft and extortion.

January 25, 2018: In Mogadishu someone used a roadside bomb to attack police. One policeman was killed and two wounded. Al Shabaab usually carries out attacks like this but no one immediately took credit.

January 18, 2018: In the south (Lower Shabelle) a Somali-American commando raid on an al Shabaab training camp rescued 30 children (boys age 9-17) who had been taken from their families by al Shabaab to be indoctrinated and trained to be Islamic terrorists. Five al Shabaab gunmen were killed and six wounded during the raid. The Americans supplied aircraft, backup and advice. It is rare during these raids for the American special operations troops to use their weapons and that was the case this time. The U.S. troops are there mainly to observe their students and note possible changes to the training program the U.S. provides to turn a small number of Somali soldiers into commandos. While the Somali Army in general is crippled by corruption the small Somali special operations force is not. Apparently most of the missions Somali commandos carry out are reconnaissance and surveillance. These “direct action” raids are the exception. The Somali military has been under a lot of pressure from parents to shut down or at least slow down the al Shabaab efforts to take children and turn them into Islamic terrorists. The success of this raid was a big deal in Somalia.

This use of children has been going on for years and “recruiting” (kidnapping) of children has increased. Al Shabaab has long been maintaining its strength in rural areas 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 recruiting strategy 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. Since early 2017 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 use of children 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 convinced (or coerced) some clan elders to allow kids (large enough to handle an AK-47) to join the fight. Like most Somali children the boys 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. That made the "child soldier" 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 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 effective 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.

Elsewhere in the south (50 kilometers northwest of the port city Kismayo) an American airstrike killed four al Shabaab men.

 

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