August 13, 2018:
The commander of the 21,000 AU (African Union) peacekeeper force has ordered peacekeepers to permanently attach themselves with army units and operate together as a joint force. This is another effort to deal with the poor discipline, corruption and uneven performance of Somali Army units. All the AU troops are African and, while Somalis have a high opinion of themselves, it will be interesting to see how they react to daily examples of other African soldiers demonstrating superior discipline and capability. This may be a cure or a source of fatal friction between the Somali soldiers and the peacekeepers.
Al Shabaab is also having personnel problems. Although the Islamic terror organization has established a new source of income (via providing immunity from attack in return for regular payments) this protection scheme enables al Shabaab to pay the salaries and benefits for leaders and monthly pay for full-time members. Al Shabaab always takes care of its payroll because it has discovered in the past that unpaid members often just walk away. The current pay levels are enough to keep most members on the job but not enough for expansion or foreign operations. Before 2011, when al Shabaab still controlled much of Mogadishu as well as other ports like Kismayo and a percentage of the pirate ransoms (which dried up after 2011) there was a lot more cash to work with and al Shabaab was a lot more dangerous. Now they are a persistent local problem. They are trying to establish themselves among the Somali minority in Kenya but that is proving difficult. In part, it is because most of the hundreds of Kenyan Somalis who joined al Shabaab in Somalia have died or deserted and returned home disillusioned. In Somalia, this means al Shabaab is concentrating more on recruiting via kidnapped or enticed children (teenaged boys). Until they get older and more experienced these recruits are cheap and expendable. Taking these kids is considered another form of taxation rural Somalis have to deal with.
Noisy Neighbors Next Door
Over the last week, there has been another outbreak of ethnic violence next door in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. The governor of the region was replaced (after he was arrested) and federal forces were sent in to calm things down between ethnic Somalis and other groups (particularly Christians). Unrest among ethnic Somalis next door in Ethiopia was a problem for much of 2017 but by the end of 2017, the government had restored the peace and Ethiopians displaced by the violence began returning home. The Ethiopian government returned its attention to the Somali problem in Somalia.
The Ethiopian problem was not about violence against Somalia but between ethnic Somalis in eastern Ethiopia and the non-Somali Oromo people who live to the west. The Ethiopian province of Ogaden, which comprises most of eastern Ethiopia contains a largely ethnic Somali population. To the west of Ogaden is Oromia, where the largest minority in Ethiopia (the Oromo) predominate. There have long been territorial disputes along the Ogaden-Oromia border and these have flared up again in 2017 and took a while for the government and armed forces (many withdrawn from Somalia) to deal with.
Meanwhile, many Somalis believe Ogaden belongs to Somalia. Islamic radicals in Somalia have long sought to conquer Ogaden but the Ethiopians have been defeating these efforts for generations. That is not going to change, especially since oil and gas have been discovered in Ogaden, and drilling is underway. In 2015 Somalia and Ethiopia signed an agreement to not provide rebels from the other nations with sanctuary.
Earlier in 2018 Kenya hosted another round of peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front). This was 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. The Ethiopians have been defeating Somali efforts to seize Ogaden for generations. That is not going to change, especially since oil and gas have 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 but solutions never seem to last long.
August 8, 2018: In the south (Lamu, across the border in Kenya) al Shabaab raiders used a roadside bomb and gunfire to kill five Kenyan police, wound six and destroying their truck. Kenyan police believe these attackers were among the many hiding out in the nearby Boni Forest, which has long been a refuge for outlaws because the thinly populated woodlands are on both sides of the border. Kenya spends $20 million a year providing security for the 360 kilometers Somalia border. Because of the continuing al Shabaab violence in Somalia, there are plenty of people (refugees, smugglers) crossing illegally besides Islamic terrorists and bandits.
August 5, 2018: In Mogadishu, a bomb hidden in a truck went off near a popular restaurant leaving six dead. Al Shabaab was believed responsible, as it was an earlier incident where two al Shabaab gunmen were killed at a checkpoint. Some 30 kilometers southwest of the city an al Shabaab suicide car bomber attacked the entrance to the Afgoye army base, killing three soldiers. Al Shabaab gunmen then tried to get into the camp but were repulsed. There were more casualties on both sides before the Islamic terrorists fled.
August 2, 2018: Some 120 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu an American UAV used a missile to kill four al Shabaab men. That is the 19th such attack (UAVs and missiles) so far in 2018. There were 31 attacks in 2017 and 15 in 2015. The main purpose of the UAV operations in Somalia (including Puntland and Somaliland) is to deal with international Islamic terrorists like ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) or al Qaeda (which al Shabaab technically belongs to). There were some attacks against ISIL in 2017 but none in 2018. There are still some ISIL in Somalia but the few that remain are hiding out in the Puntland highlands getting by as bandits, too busy with that to pose much of an international threat. There are still some al Shabaab factions that show up (in chatter or whatever that foreign intel agencies can detect) as still trying to support violence outside of Somalia. Often this is other African states like Kenya or Uganda. Since these two countries supply many of the AU peacekeepers, the Americans go after any al Shabaab cells that appear to be planning violence in neighboring states.
July 30, 2018: Another thousand Ugandan soldiers deployed to Somalia. The contingent replaces the current Ugandan battle group serving with the AU peacekeepers.
July 23, 2018: In the south (outside Kismayo) about a hundred al Shabaab attacked an unused (but still guarded) base. Two suicide car bombs hit the main gate followed by gunmen. The initial attack killed four soldiers guarding the gate. About a dozen soldiers died before the guard force was ordered to retreat and let the reinforcements take care of the more numerous al Shabaab. The attackers fled when reinforcements arrived and took more losses in the process. There wasn’t much (that was portable) to steal. At least six of the attackers were killed in the operation. Al Shabaab was apparently the victim of poor intelligence because although this camp sometimes hosted Kenyan and American troops that was not the case when the expensive (in terms of men and resources) al Shabaab attack took place.
July 20, 2018: In the north al Shabaab took control of the town of Urur, again. The government soon regained control. Al Shabaab got in because the garrison left before its replacements arrived and al Shabaab took advantage of that to do some looting. Taking Af Urur can be dangerous because in mid-2017 Puntland executed seven al Shabaab men who had been captured after they attacked both the military base and adjacent village of Af Urur and killed about fifty people. The village and base are near the coast and a main road south so the government fights to keep control.
July 19, 2018: The United States amended its description of al Shabaab (as an international terrorist organization) to include the Kenyan branch (Al Hijra). In the past (since it was formed in 2008) Al Hijra often described itself as a separate Islamic terrorist group but its members are almost all ethnic Somali Kenyans and the group survives because of its connections with al Shabaab.