Somalia: A Major Topic Of Conversation And Frustration


August 26, 2019: The UN and AU (African Union) are losing patience with Somalia and the cost of peacekeeping operations there. Initially, there were supposed to be 8,000 peacekeepers who would only be needed for six months in 2007. That force did not disappear by the end of 2007 but kept growing and quickly reached 22,000. It made some difference, but in the face of massive corruption in the Somali government and various Somali communities that demanded help from the peacekeepers, the operation proved far more expensive and time-consuming than expected. Efforts to create Somali security forces (military and police) were and still are, crippled by corruption and unwillingness to get anything done that did not serve clan or personal needs.

Efforts to work around these obstacles have led to a policy of recognizing the primacy of clan loyalties in Somali culture. Thus the new federal system recognizes the four major clans and a coalition of smaller clans. This has made it easier to create a somewhat functional government but it has not made a major dent in the popularity of warlords. Al Shabaab is basically a traditional Somali warlord organization, dedicated to obtaining wealth and power for this temporary organization and its key members.

Religious and non-religious warlords have come and gone for centuries and the tolerance for this sort of thing remains strong in Somalia and among Somalis everywhere. Foreigners discover that this is fairly typical behavior for armed groups in Somalia and that it is a historical fact. Force is the only thing that has worked in Somalia to control, or simply eliminate, the warlords. British 19th-century colonial administrators learned that the best way to deal with violent Somalis was to "shoot on sight, shoot first, shoot to kill and keep shooting." Not unexpectedly, post-colonial Somalia proved unable to govern itself because when the Somalis had no foreigners to fight and plunder, they went after each other.

Britain administered Somalia from 1884 to 1960 and after much effort imposed more peace, prosperity and unity than the region had known for some time. That lasted about two decades after independence and then the usual bad habits began tearing Somalia apart again. The tribal/clan rivalries kept the pot boiling and even the rise of a "clean government" party (the Islamic Courts) after 2001, based on installing a religious dictatorship, backfired and turned into another warlord group called al Shabaab. That caused even more Somalis to flee their homeland and led to even more problems as Somali refugees throughout Africa and worldwide. While doing that Somalis acquired a reputation for organized violence and criminal behavior as well as entrepreneurial success.

Meanwhile, al Shabaab still has a lot of popular support. The majority of Somalis oppose Islamic terrorism but a significant minority (up to 20 percent) support or tolerate groups like al Shabaab. The main reason for the support is desperation for a solution to the poverty, corruption, factionalism and chaos that makes Somalia such a dangerous place to live in. Overcoming those ancient traditions is the main obstacle to peace and there is no quick solution.

American Airstrikes

The Americans have found that their most valuable contribution to Somali peacekeeping are intelligence on al Shabaab activity and airstrikes (usually via missile armed UAVs) that kill key Islamic terrorist leaders or destroy key assets (training camps, bomb-building workshops). So far in 2019, there have been about fifty airstrikes against al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) targets in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. That’s more than the 47 for all of 2018.

The SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and CIA intelligence gathering operation have local facilities in Djibouti (where the aircraft and some SOCOM personnel are stationed), and Mogadishu where a heavily guarded compound houses CIA and SOCOM operators who organize and run local intelligence operations and distribute information to peacekeepers, Somali military and trusted local allies. Details of how the intel collection operation works are kept out of the news but it does explain why al Shabaab targets Somali and foreign intel officials whenever possible. The intel and airstrike operations have been very effective and are one reason why there are now so few al Shabaab attacks in general and a growing list of al Shabaab defeats and retreats. This is a pattern that is by design not chance. Al Shabaab does not mention this sort of thing in their online propaganda but among themselves, it is a major topic of conversation and frustration.

Somaliland and Puntland are where most of the ISIL activity is but that ISIL group is barely surviving because of a combination of local enemies (clan militias) and the airstrikes. Since 2015 ISIL has been trying to take advantage of local (Puntland and Galmudug) clan feuds to establish a presence in Puntland. This began in October 2015 when an al Shabaab faction declared that it was now the local branch of ISIL. The ISIL members up there were largely former al Shabaab men who wanted more violence or whatever. ISIL was more daring and dangerous than mainstream Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda (which al Shabaab associates with as well as seeks to destroy) but is also self-destructive. ISIL considers any other Islamic terror group a potential enemy if the other group does not recognize ISIL as the leader. Between local militias, the UAV attacks and internal disputes ISIL has moved to the bottom of the threat list for Somalia. More and more of the airstrikes are taking place further south against al Shabaab targets.

August 22, 2019: President Farmaajo appointed new commanders for national intelligence, the national police and the military. This comes in the wake of a growing number of al Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu that target, often successfully, senior officials. Also appointed was a new mayor for Mogadishu, to replace the one killed by a suicide bomber recently. The investigation of that attack revealed that the suicide bomber was a local government employee, who was a blind woman. She had been recruited for the attack by another female government worker who was an al Shabaab supporter. The dead mayor was an expatriate living in Britain where he had gained government experience. Like many other expatriate Somalis, he returned to help rebuild the country but was killed by the violence that caused his family to flee in the first place. Somalis have a problem in that the expatriates carry the Somali bad habits with them to their new homelands. A large percentage of the Somali expatriates turn into what the Somali refugees were fleeing in the first place.

August 14, 2019: In the south (Lower Shebelle), Al Shabaab attacked the army base at Awdheegle, which is 70 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu. The attackers used two suicide car bombers and gunmen. The attack was repulsed but six soldiers and a photojournalist assigned to the base were killed and 13 soldiers were wounded. The Islamic terrorists lost about ten dead and the survivors fled, with some wounded, and are still being pursued by troops. Al Shabaab claimed they killed fifty soldiers but that was not the case and al Shabaab did not describe the operation as a defeat for them. But the aftermath was there for locals to see and thanks to cellphones and the Internet more accurate accounts of the battle spread. The troops expected the attack and were ready. Awdheegle had, for years, been a base for Islamic terrorist operations. But now the army knew it had to defend the town against the expected al Shabaab counterattack. The Islamic terrorists have retaken the town before but failed in this time. Unless the troops can hunt down and destroy the rest of the local al Shabaab force, the Islamic terrorists will reorganize and keep going after Awdheegle.

August 7, 2019: In the south (Lower Shebelle), soldiers and peacekeepers drove al Shabaab out of the town of Awdheegle.

August 5, 2019: In Mogadishu, two al Shabaab men were executed by firing squad after being convicted of involvement in the December 2018 attack that left 13 dead in the city.

August 1, 2019: The mayor of Mogadishu died from injuries inflicted by a July 24 suicide bomber attack.




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