Somalia: The Violent Road to Peace and Prosperity

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May 24, 2023: Security forces recently seized shipments of weapons and explosives found hidden in containers containing largely legal cargo. One such shipment was seized at the port of Mogadishu and the other at the air freight section of the international terminal. Both shipments were meant for the al Shabaab Islamic terrorist group. An investigation led to the arrest of ten men who were operating the smuggling operation. Somalia is still under an international arms embargo. That was partially lifted in 2013 to allow the government to legally buy and import small arms for the police and army but no heavy weapons or military-grade explosives. Arms smugglers have long done business in Somalia, which was one reason these two shipments were detected and the smugglers arrested.

Neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda also suffer from al Shabaab violence and work with Somalia to detect and disrupt arms smuggling. The smugglers still bring goods in via Somalia’s 3,000 kilometer coastline. That has become more difficult to do without being detected. Widespread cell phone use in Somalia initially made it more difficult for al Shabaab to operate because people who opposed them could alert the security forces, or local militia, when al Shabaab or arms smuggling activity was spotted. Shutting down the cell phone systems was a common tactic for Islamic terrorists but al Shabaab saw opportunities. Cell towers and other cell phone assets were only attacked if the cell phone companies would not pay a “tax” to operate in an area where al Shabaab was active and able to make good on threats. With control of the cell phone service providers, al Shabaab was able to communicate, especially with their informants. Al Shabaab paid for useful information and becoming an al Shabaab informant was a good way to make some extra cash, as well as stay off the al Shabaab hit list.

Al Shabaab isn’t the only group in Somalia that uses cell phones like this. Powerful clans maintain armed militias and an informant network among clan members. This is why the media regularly report the government or peacekeepers “consulting clan elders”, negotiating with al Shabaab (or another clan). Often al Shabaab will have to deal with the clan elders because al Shabaab has found that making an enemy of a powerful clan is bad for business. An example occurs in the south, on the Kenyan border, where al Shabaab has found its operations disrupted because of disputes with the powerful Marehan clan. Most situations where al Shabaab have problems doing business is because they have run afoul of a powerful (and usually heavily armed) clan. Al Shabaab tries to intimidate clans into cooperating but failing that al Shabaab must either fight, make a deal or move somewhere else. Somalia is a patchwork of areas which al Shabaab tries to avoid because of these powerful clan organizations. These clans are usually the ones with “clan elders” who can negotiate with al Shabaab. Government security forces have also been more successful in coming to the aid of clans threatened by al Shabaab.

The government feels it has achieved enough political stability and security to enable Persian Gulf nations Qatar and the UAE to establish trading and shipping facilities in Somalia. Qatar and the UAE have often been rivals when it comes to establishing trading operations in Somalia. Turkey has also been involved, but to a lesser extent because Turkey is far away while Qatar and the UAE are regional neighbors. The continuous violence in Somalia since the 1990s has kept trading relationships out of reach.

May 23, 2023: In the north (Las Anod, on the border between Somaliland and Puntland) foreign aid groups continue treating victims of the factional fighting that has been going on since February. About 200,000 civilians have fled their homes to avoid the gun battles between various factions. While many foreign aid groups reduced their operations in the area, few shut down completely. Most of the foreign personnel were withdrawn because kidnapping foreigners for ransom is more common in an area subject to lots of fighting. Some foreign aid groups had enough trained local workers to keep operations going. Medical aid was limited because all hospitals depend on foreign specialists for surgery and other complex treatments. That means those needing surgery or other complex care must be transferred to Mogadishu. That is something the foreign aid personnel in Las Anod can arrange.

Months of fighting in the area between rival clan militias has left over a thousand dead so far and many more wounded. The local hospital has been damaged and some aid has not arrived because of the fighting. In Somalia, aid groups often have to shut down operations and withdraw because local groups refuse to halt their battles that disrupt the aid efforts. This self-destructive behavior is one reason that Somalia continues to be a mess.

May 21, 2023: Kenya is building 14 small military bases along its border with Somalia. This will reduce cross border attacks by al Shabaab and reduce police losses while responding to reports of al Shabaab men crossing the border.

May 20, 2023: In the southwest (385 kilometers from Mogadishu) an American missile-armed UAV carried out an airstrike against al Shabaab forces occupying the town of Jilib. The town was under attack by Somali soldiers. The Islamic terrorists were defeated and al Shabaab lost control of a town they had occupied for years. American UAV attacks are usually reserved for Islamic terrorist leaders or key technical personnel. These was one such individual in Jilib; Osman Mohamed Abdi. He was wounded. Abdi is responsible for making arrangements so foreign Islamic terrorists can get into Somalia and join al Shabaab.

May 18, 2023: The annual Monsoon rains were heavier than usual and caused extensive and damaging floods in many parts of the country. Over 200,000 Somalis were driven from their homes. While the monsoon rains occur annually, drought conditions are a more persistent problem in many parts of the country.

May 17, 2023: The government expelled two EU (European Union) aid officials for taking photos of a Somali prison. This is a problem because Somalia treats its prison inmates more harshly than is the case back in Europe. None of the 36 prisoners involved were Somali and most were Iranian. All had been caught fishing illegally in Somali waters and were imprisoned until the nations they were from could agree on suitable restitution.

May 2, 2023: Somali troops carried out an operation north of Mogadishu that left 67 al Shabaab gunmen dead and the destruction of large quantities of explosives just landed from a boat and being loaded into a truck. The Somali troops fired RPG rockets at the explosives, which killed all but two of the al Shabaab men present. The army was alerted to the al Shabaab presence by a local militia that often fought al Shabaab. Operations like this are becoming more common and the heavy al Shabaab losses are leading many to believe the Islamic terrorist group will be largely wiped out within a year. Al Shabaab is not getting any reinforcements and is losing a lot of its income sources from smuggling and extortion. This trend is having positive results with the Kenyan government where three border crossings in Garissa, Mandera and Lamu counties are being reopened. These crossings were closed in 2011 because of the increased al Shabaab activity along the border.

May 1, 2023: Northeast of the capital soldiers ambushed two trucks carrying al Shabaab gunmen and killed sixty of the Islamic terrorists.

April 25, 2023: The army and peacekeepers launched an offensive against al Shabaab presence in areas south of Mogadishu. This is a continuation of an earlier five month operation that ended in January 2023 that cleared al Shabaab from over 70 towns and villages north of the capital.

April 23, 2023: The AU (African Union) has agreed to again delay the withdrawal of the AU peacekeeper force for another year. The peacekeepers have played a crucial role in defeating al Shabaab and reducing areas where the Islamic terrorists could freely operate. This enabled Somalia to create its own army and police forces. Peacekeeper duty in Somalia was much more dangerous than anywhere else. During the 16 years the peacekeepers have been active, at least 3,500 have been killed. The EU (European Union) and United States pays for the peacekeeping force and has paid out nearly $200 million for death benefits and payments for medical care of those with disabling injuries.

That’s in addition to the $200 million a year cost of operating the peacekeeper force. That 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 since 2007 at a cost of over three billion dollars. So far about 3,500 peacekeepers have been killed and at least as many permanently disabled from their wounds. The AU pays for medical care, including long term care for some of the wounded. For years the AU played down the high casualty rates in Somalia, reporting less than a third of the actual deaths. The growing number of corruption scandals involving missing death benefits and other compensation led to the actual loss statistics being revealed. There are sometimes problems with soldiers not being paid during peacetime in their home countries. Too much of this sometimes sparks a rebellion or insurrection over missing pay and other grievances. Despite this there was never a problem obtaining peacekeepers for duty in Somalia, paid for by the AU and a long list of African and Western donors.

Somalia is the most dangerous peacekeeping duty in the world. About 300,000 men served as peacekeepers in Somalia, receiving an average annual compensation of $9,100 each. Officers, NCOs and privates all receive different amounts and peacekeeping duty pays better than their regular pay when back home. In most countries, peacekeeping duty is relatively safe. This was not the case in Somalia, where about three percent of peacekeepers were killed or badly (disabled) wounded.

The first AU peacekeepers (from Uganda) 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. Uganda and Burundi supplied most of them with most of the rest coming from Kenya and Ethiopia. The peacekeeper force made a 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 this the UN extends the Somali peacekeeping force on a yearly basis. Currently there are about 20,000 peacekeepers in Somalia and they remain there because the UN believes Somalia would quickly regress back to a disaster zone without them. That one reason by most of the current peacekeeper force are troops from Uganda, Ethiopia and Burundi.

 

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