Somalia: Missing In Action

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December 17, 2021: In the north (Puntland) counterterrorism efforts against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) diminished shortly after the previous American government ordered all U.S. troops out of Somalia. This was completed by January 15 th 2021. The 700 U.S. troops who left Somalia, including 500 from Puntland, were sent to other parts of East Africa. The impact of this departure was most obvious in Puntland because the U.S. had found cooperative local clans that were willing to supply recruits for special operations and coast guard units that were armed and financed by the United States, with the CIA in charge and American special operations troops providing the training for 600 men of the counterterror PSF (Puntland Security Force).

When the Americans departed, they took a lot of the special weapons (sniper rifles) and equipment (night vision gear) with them. Also departing was American financial support and monitoring of how that money was used. The clan leadership took over covering expenses as best they could. The PSF was very effective at controlling ISIL activity in Puntland and were basically working for the United States. This was fine with the PSA members because they were keeping ISIL out of areas where their families lived as well as preventing ISIL from expanding. After the Americans left the clan supported PSF continued defending its territory from ISIL but no longer kept ISIL from expanding. In late November the Puntland president tried to replace the commander of the PSF, who was a prominent member of the clan most of the PSF troops belonged to, with a man loyal to the government. The PSF refused to accept the new commander and ceased their operations against ISIL and concentrated around their headquarters in the coastal town of Bosaso to protect themselves from government-controlled forces. So far there has been no fighting but there has been no agreement on how to end the dispute.

The American CIA has been active in Puntland since 2002 and initially the PSF was just some local guys armed and paid by the CIA to report on Islamic terrorist activity in the area. Gradually the number of American military trainers, advisors and intelligence specialists increased and by 2017 numbered several hundred. The PSF was effective in part because of the presence of American specialists and air support. This was largely surveillance and occasional missile attacks by American UAVs against ISIL or al Shabaab leaders.

The north has enjoyed a degree of peace and prosperity since the 1990s because Somaliland and Puntland declared themselves independent. However, all is not perfect up there. Puntland and Somaliland have been having internal problems but much less so than in Somalia. 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 and the establishment of a lasting central government is still a work-in-progress.

The departing American troops missed the most are Special Forces and SEAL operators training and advising their Somali counterparts. The American troops in Somalia also handled intelligence collection and monitoring things in general. This was supposed to continue from a major American special operation base in neighboring Djibouti, as will the use of American UAVs, based in Djibouti, to search for Islamic terrorists and carry out airstrikes when the opportunity presents itself. That did not happen because the new (since January 20, 2021) American government soon ordered a halt to the use of UAVs over Somalia. Al Shabaab and ISIL gunmen began moving around confident that they were not making themselves vulnerable.

This ended an American UAV operation that resumed in 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 members. In 2020 there were fifty of these UAV airstrikes and 275 in Somalia in the last decade. For 2021 there have been seven UAV airstrikes, the last one on January 29th, just before the U.S. ban on UAV operations in Somalia began. Most of the UAV attacks were against al Shabaab targets with a few directed at ISIL forces in the north. In 2019 there were 63 UAV attacks in Somalia for the entire year. The 2020 attacks have killed several senior leaders although most of the UAV attack missions are in support of Somali Army operations, especially in southern Somalia where the remaining al Shabaab strongholds are. The loss of American trainers and advisors for special operations for the Somali army in the south and the PSF in the north has led to more Islamic terrorist activity. The Americans are reconsidering their withdrawal of all forces and the ban on UAV operations in Somalia.

Money Matters

The American advisors also monitor the use of American equipment and monetary aid (payroll and living expenses for the troops) to make sure it is not stolen. This problem is most acute in Somalia, which explains why the latest annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index showed that Somalia is the most corrupt nation in the world, now sharing that status with South Sudan. Somalia continued to be as corrupt as it has been during the last decade, with a corruption score of 12, which is why Somalia and South Sudan are stuck at the bottom of the list. Transparency International measures corruption on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The nations with the lowest score are currently Syria (score of 14), South Sudan (12) and Somalia (12). The least corrupt nations are currently Denmark and New Zealand, each with a score of 88.

While the Middle East has a lot of corruption, there are exceptions. In the Persian Gulf the UAE (United Arab Emirates) is the last corrupt nation in the region, followed by Israel. Both Somalia and UAE’s corruption score have not changed much since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution when it was 8 for Somalia and 68 for the UAE. The UAE achieved the most favorable corruption score in the region because it has long depended on foreign trade to survive and to make money in that business you must be known as an honest trading partner. The UAE is also different in that it is a federation of formerly independent “emirates” that realized the wisdom of joining forces. Laws and customs vary somewhat among the emirates and some are more gangster than others. Overall, the UAE is a place where foreigners feel comfortable doing business. The UAE has also partnered with Turkey to provide foreign aid to Somalia. This has proved very difficult to carry out and Somalia is not a place most foreigners want to do business in. Somalia is also a federation of seven (including separatist Somaliland and Puntland in the far north) clan-dominated regions that have never achieved the degree of unity and prosperity of the UAE.

The ongoing corruption in southern Somalia continues to threaten foreign aid in general and support for the peacekeeper force. UN and AU (African Union) officials are unable to agree on whether the peacekeeping effort has been a success. Discussions continue to determine if it has been worth the effort and how it should continue. The local (Somali neighbors) AU officials point out that the fourteen-year peacekeeping effort has made a difference as al Shabaab and ISIL personnel and areas they controlled have been steadily reduced. Both groups have started taking refuge in neighboring countries, where local security forces can deal with the Islamic terrorists even more effectively than the peacekeepers in Somalia. Once all, or over 90 percent, of Somalia is pacified it will be practical to revive foreign aid efforts that were crippled, and plundered, in the past. The AU points out that the UN keeps sending in the foreign aid before it is safe, or even possible, to distribute the aid to the intended recipients. One reason for this continued disagreement is that AU members have grown up with and continue to live with the Somali threat. Many UN officials are new to peacekeeping and aid delivery, and out of ignorance and optimism underestimate the unique problems found in Somalia.

In Mogadishu, the various government factions are still unable to agree on how and when the next elections will be held. Foreign donors are withholding aid until specific goals are met in holding elections for parliament and the presidency.

December 14, 2021: In the north (Galmudug) police in the town Eldheere left after al Shabaab planted a bomb next to the police station and said there would be more attacks. Al Shabaab moved in after the police left and began demanding “taxes” from local merchants and grabbed what they could before the army organized an operation to push the Islamic terrorists out. Wealthy men who do not pay what is demanded are kidnapped and this happened in Eldheere.

December 13, 2021: In the north (Hiran, a region 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) al Shabaab forces briefly regained control of Mataban, a town that has changed hands frequently over the last few years. Al Shabaab comes in whenever there are no soldiers or police present. The recent takeover occurred because the regional (Galmadug) police assigned to the town left unexpectedly. Soldiers from the army or the peacekeeper force returned as soon as they found out al Shabaab was back in Mataban.

December 12, 2021: In central Somalia (Beledweyne) al Shabaab fired several mortar shells at a peacekeeper base and followed up with gunfire. Some of the mortar shells landed in a nearby village, killing three civilians. The fighting between peacekeepers and al Shabaab left several al Shabaab gunmen dead before the Islamic terrorists withdrew.

December 10, 2021: In the north (Galmudug) the army and al Shabaab continue trying to force each other out of the region. Recently there has been an increase in clan disputes escalating. The fighting today apparently involved rival clan militias and left six dead and even more wounded.

December 9, 2021: Turkey has delivered several TB2 UAVs to the Somali army, or possibly just the special operations unit trained by the Turks and controlled by the Somali president as something of a private army. The TB2s in Somalia are not equipped to use weapons and are just being used for surveillance. The TB2 is similar to the American Predator or Israeli Heron. The Turks are probably supplying the TB2 operators and maintainers, at least until Somalis can be trained for those tasks.

December 7, 2021: In neighboring Kenya a Kenyan al Shabaab suicide bomber attacked his hometown, leaning three dead and another wounded. It is unclear if this was personal or something ordered by al Shabaab.

November 23, 2021: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab car bomb detonated, killing eight civilians and wounding 17. It is unclear what the target was and al Shabaab only said they were attacking military trainers. The bomb may have detonated prematurely because there was a peacekeeper convoy in the vicinity but not close enough to be hurt by the bomb.

November 20, 2021: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide bomber killed Abdiaziz Guled, a prominent anti-terrorist journalist, as he left a restaurant. Guled ran Radio Mogadishu, a government owned station the reported al Shabaab activity throughout the country, including matters the Islamic terrorists would prefer not to be publicized.

November 19, 2021: In central Somalia (Bay Region) an al Shabaab bomb went off in the town market of Bardale, leaving seven dead and eleven wounded. It was a Friday, when these markets are crowded.

 

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