The AU (African Union) is pressuring the UN to extend the financial support for the Somali peacekeeping operation. A month ago, the AU agreed with the UN plan to reduce the Somalia peacekeeping forces. What changed the minds of the AU was the sudden Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August. This fearful proposal may not succeed because UN peacekeeping specialists understand that the Taliban are a special case. The Taliban were created and supported by Pakistan, a more powerful neighbor since 1995. The Taliban lost the civil war in 2001 because their anti-Pakistan rivals (the Northern Alliance) got active support from the United States after September 11, 2001. Pakistan gave their surviving Taliban sanctuary and continued support, all the while getting away with denying they were doing that for over a decade. Another factor is that the Taliban also had a partnership with the Afghan drug cartels, who were earning several billion dollars a year and considered their payments to the Taliban and Pakistan as a necessary cost of doing business. What Somalia and Afghanistan do have in common is that both are failed states.
The UN and AU (African Union) had agreed to greatly reduce or eliminate the current 19,400 strong peacekeeper force. This process is supposed to start by the end of 2021. In January the United States completed moving most of its 700 troops out of Somalia to other parts of East Africa. Two months later the AU announced plans to do the same or at least greatly reduce the number of peacekeepers in Somalia. Soldiers from five AU countries (Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti) comprise the current force that costs about $200 million a year. That money is provided by the UN via contributions by the U.S. and EU (European Union). The UN approves the size and duration of the peacekeeper force annually.
The peacekeepers have been in Somalia for fifteen years at a cost of over three billion dollars. So far nearly a thousand peacekeepers have been killed and at least 4,000 wounded or injured. About a quarter of those were so badly wounded that they received disability payments while families of the dead received a lump sum in death benefits. Somalia is the most dangerous peacekeeping duty in the world.
The first AU peacekeepers arrived in March 2007 and these 8,000 troops were supposed to be gone within six months. That force did not disappear by the end of 2007 but kept growing and quickly reached 22,000, most of them soldiers plus a few thousand police, trainers and administrators. The peacekeeper force made some difference, but in the face of massive corruption in the Somali government and various Somali communities that demanded help, the operation proved far more expensive and time-consuming than expected. Peacekeepers are due to leave because the best they can do is reduce the violence and disunity, while UN donors are not willing to waste money on that when there are other disaster zones that can make better use of the limited foreign aid.
Because of the threat of peacekeeper reductions or elimination, the Somali army, which is about the same size as the peacekeeper force, has been particularly active and effective this year. If the peacekeepers go the army will have to face all the fighting alone and current assessments conclude that the army might not survive that for long, and instead fall apart because of casualties, desertions and a lack of new recruits. The Somalis have been saying this for nearly a decade but the AU and UN are fed up and the major donors needed to support the peacekeeper force have warned that they will reduce or eliminate contributions because of the continued corruption and ineffectiveness of the Somali government. The Afghan government faced the same corruption and ineffectiveness problems but always had problems with getting NATO and the UN to do anything about the Pakistani and drug cartel support for the Taliban. NATO and the UN always recognized the threat from the heroin coming out of Afghanistan but only during the last few years took the Pakistani threat seriously, but not seriously enough or quickly enough.
Meanwhile Yemen, another failed state in the region, is sending a growing number of refugees to Somalia. The two nations are separated by the Gulf of Aden, which means a 750-kilometer voyage. This is short enough for small cargo and fishing boats to easily travel back and forth. For thousands of years there has been sea traffic on this route and over the last few decades that has involved more smuggling, usually of drugs and illegal refugees from Somalia to Yemen. That changed after 2014 as Iran supported, and continues to support one of the factions in yet another Yemeni civil war. That led to another refugee situation developing in Somalia as Somalis who fled to Yemen were now fleeing Yemen because of the civil war. While most foreigners had already fled Yemen, the Somali refugees in Yemen were trying, without much success, to flee back to Somalia. In 2015 there were over 300,000 Somalis in Yemen, most of them there illegally. Foreigners, particularly illegal migrants, became a target in Yemen during the civil war because that conflict prevented Yemeni people smugglers from moving their clients north to the oil-rich Arab states and beyond. The most hospitable and accessible refuge for Somalis in Yemen was Somalia. So far most of the Somalis stuck in Yemen have returned to Somalia. Over the last few years more Yemeni refugees have been coming to Somaliland and Puntland, which is a rare occurrence that continues. The reason is simple, the Iran-sponsored civil war in Yemen has been a lot deadlier than the al Shabaab violence in Somalia, killing a lot more people and creating a lot more refugees.
September 4, 2021: Once more a new date of parliamentary elections has been agreed on. National elections for the 54 members of the senate will be held from July 10 to August 10 while the elections for the 275 members of parliament will take place between October 1 and November 20. Starting on November 25 the newly elected members of the senate and parliament will select senate and parliament leaders. Once that is done, in a process that could take months, the combined senate and parliament will elect a new president. Like previous agreements, this one might not actually work. But after a year of bickering and threats of civil war and the withdrawal of foreign aid, there has been one delay after another as election agreements fell apart after agreeing to.
These elections were supposed to be held in December 2020 but were delayed over a year because of difficulty in agreeing on how and when. The previous June 29 agreement had been completed by September 10. By September 20 the newly elected members of the senate and parliament were to begin selection of senate and parliament leaders and that would be followed by the combined senate and parliament electing a new president.
September 3, 2021: In the north (Puntland) the local government sent forces into its southern neighbor Galmudug to reinforce efforts to expel al Shabaab forces from the area. Puntland and Galmudug are two of the five federal states that were established to settle the trend towards separatism. The other three are Hirshabelle, Southwest State and Jubaland. Puntland was the only one that was autonomous. Since the 1990s the two regions that comprise northern Somalia (Puntland and Somaliland) have been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1998 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 and the establishment of a lasting central government is still a work-in-progress. Puntland agreed to rejoin Somalia as a federal state once national elections were successfully held. Puntland and Somaliland have been holding successful elections to select their leaders since the 1990s. Somaliland has not agreed to rejoin Somalia and may end up as an independent state as more nations recognize that status officially or unofficially.
September 1, 2021: The coalition of international ship owners’ associations has agreed to reduce the HRA (High Risk Area) off Somalia from most of the East African coast and deep into the Indian Ocean to a smaller area encompassing the EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones) off Somalia and Yemen and the approaches to the Persian Gulf. EEZs extend 380 kilometers off the coast and the new HRA found that this is where the piracy risk remains. This was demonstrated on August 13 when a British bulk cargo carrier, 180 kilometers northeast of the Somali capital, spotted a speedboat containing armed men approaching at dawn. The pirates were coming at the cargo vessel at high speed. The ship increased speed and alerted the International Piracy Patrol. Once the pirates realized they had been spotted they turned away, aware of the fact that a piracy patrol warship might be close enough to send an armed helicopter to their location quickly. This incident occurred within the new HRA, which went into effect on September 1st.
Piracy still exists off Somalia, but it has been largely suppressed. No large ships linger off the Somali coast. The Somali pirates have not captured any large ships since 2012, when 14 were taken. That was in sharp contrast to 46 ships hijacked in 2009 and 28 in 2011. Each of these ships yielded, on average, several million dollars in ransoms. That kind of money attracted a lot more people to the business and the pirates prospered by sharing the ransoms with powerful people in Somalia and the Persian Gulf that made it possible to arrange and carry out the exchange of large amounts of cash for captives.
The piracy threat off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden still exists and shipping companies were recently warned that while no large ships have been captured since 2013, the threat, and the higher shipping costs, still exist. Some of the criminal gangs and militias in northern Somalia that carried out most of the successful hijackings between 2009 and 2012 are still operational and monitoring this situation. These groups either abandoned the piracy business or cut way back on such activities. The gangs switched to smuggling drugs, guns or people between Somalia and Yemen.
August 31, 2021: In the north (Galmudug) al Shabaab assembled a large enough force to take back control of Amara, a town sitting on a vital north-south road. Local and government forces had taken control of Amara in July and al Shabaab was reluctant to let go. Puntland said they would send forces to help Galmudug get al Shabaab out of Amara and hurt them bad enough to persuade the Islamic terrorists to move somewhere else. There are fewer places al Shabaab can go in Somalia as the government troops, peacekeepers and local militias become more effective at cooperating to push al Shabaab out of areas the Islamic terrorists long considered safe. .
August 25, 2021: In the north (Galmudug) another American UAV airstrike was carried out against al Shabaab forces near Amara. This airstrike involved hitting several different targets and the local militias reported that over twenty al Shabaab gunmen were killed. After a brief halt the U.S. resumed its airstrikes against al Shabaab targets in Somalia in July. The first one took place on July 20th, followed by others on the 23rd, 30th and at least one in August. Before July the last such attack was at the end of January. Since early 2017, when Africom (U.S. Africa Command) increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia, there have been about 170 UAV airstrikes that have killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members. In 2020 there were fifty of these airstrikes, the most in one year in the previous decade. For 2021 there have been at least a dozen UAV airstrikes so far, with seven of them occurring in January before the pause.
August 23, 2021: In the south (Jubbland) al Shabaab was assembling forces for a major attack on two military bases but were caught by surprise when they were attacked by government and local forces who detected the al Shabaab preparations and organized a counterattack before al Shabaab could strike. Several days of fighting left over sixty al Shabaab dead, among them two known al Shabaab leaders. This has become common with al Shabaab losing over a hundred dead a month this year.
August 20, 2021: Turkey delivered eight more Turkish made Kipri MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) and sixteen five-ton trucks the Somali commando forces. In 2020 Turkey donated a dozen Kipris and a dozen pickup trucks. Since 2015 the U.S. has been providing the AU peacekeepers in Somalia with MRAPs to replace the older models they had been using while patrolling areas where mines and roadside bombs were still a problem.
August 19, 2021: The AU and Somalia agreed to work together to keep some AU peacekeepers in Somalia after the UN withdraws most financial support after 2022.