Somalia: A Nasty Ramadan Surprise
The unexpected strength, scope and success of the 2015 al Shabaab “Ramadan Offensive” has caused the peacekeepers to withdraw from some recently captured towns. This is so peacekeepers can be made available to go find and destroy the al Shabaab groups that have made the recent attacks. To assist in this Ethiopia has sent in a brigade of 3,000 troops. Ethiopia is the only neighboring nation with troops available to immediately come in and help out. Kenya is occupied with the half million Somali refugees its hosts and the pro-terrorist Kenyans (largely ethnic Somalis). The Ethiopian reinforcements temporarily boost the peacekeeper force to 25,000 troops. This is more than the Somali Army has and the peacekeepers are more effective. But Somalia is a large and hostile place and there are still a lot of Somalis who support al Shabaab and Islamic terrorism in general.
The success of the recent al Shabaab offensive revealed a long tolerated weakness of the peacekeeping operation. The main problem is that the peacekeepers come from many different countries (Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia) and each contingent has gotten into the habit of double checking with their own governments before agreeing to participate in an operation run by the leadership of the entire Somali peacekeeper force. For a long time no one made an issue of this because most peacekeeper operations did not require quick and unexpected changes in plans. Moreover two international organizations (the UN and the African Union/AU) are also involved. But it was obvious that the response to the recent al Shabaab offensive was slowed down by the need of peacekeeper commanders to check with their own governments before carrying out new orders from the Somali peacekeeper force commander. That has to change and it won’t be easy.
Ramadan began on June 17th and so did the al Shabaab attacks. This has become an annual event because Islamic terror groups believe it is more righteous to kill non-Moslems during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Peacekeeper and American intelligence expected the al Shabaab effort to be weaker this year but instead it was stronger and it will be a while before details of how the intel people screwed that up emerge. Part of the intel problem has been the al Shabaab success in driving cell phone providers out of parts of the south where al Shabaab is most active. This has been al Shabaab policy since 2011, when they realized that the growing number of cell phone users in the country were making it easier for the security forces to locate and capture or kill al Shabaab members. Al Shabaab is also desperate this year, having suffered heavy losses among their membership, leaders and sources of income.
This intel problem occurred despite the United States moving more military and intelligence (CIA) personnel into Somalia over the last three years. In addition to the base in Mogadishu (which has been there for nearly a decade) there is now one in the southern port of Kismayo and another at an old Cold War era air base inland. There are fewer than 200 Americans in Somalia, plus several hundred contractors (many of them Somali). The air bases support UAV and manned recon aircraft operations. The intel provided to the peacekeepers has played a large role in the success of operations against al Shabaab. These U.S. personnel are controlled by AFRICOM and supported by a large Franco-American special operations base in neighboring Djibouti.
Al Shabaab is apparently planning on becoming an ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate, meaning that more extreme measures are required in order to meet ISIL “standards.” Earlier in the year it became known that al Shabaab leaders were dismayed that other Islamic terror groups like ISIL in Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria were crowding al Shabaab out of the media. Al Shabaab needed that media attention for fund raising and recruiting, both of which were in decline for other reasons as well. Al Shabaab was seen as less attractive to Somali expatriates seeking to become Islamic terrorists. In part that’s because al Shabaab made itself very unpopular inside Somalia because of how they mistreated civilians, many of whom had kin in the West. This unpopularity made it easier for the UN and AU to get a peacekeeping force in and build a new Somali Army and government. The few Somali expats still seeking Islamic adventure were heading for Syria. Somalis were less likely to go to Nigeria because Somalis are less popular in the rest of Africa, but that’s another issue entirely. The current Ramadan Offensive is supposed to convince ISIL leadership that al Shabaab is worthy. That is important because most major Islamic terror organizations are dominated by Arabs who, in general, look down on dark-skinned Africans. While Somalis consider themselves “Arab” (and speak a Semitic language) most Arabs do not agree. It’s an old problem that Islam was supposed to have by solved but didn’t.
The continued al Shabaab violence and endemic corruption has made it difficult for foreign aid groups to operate. The UN, which supplies most of the food aid for refugees and the segments of the population suffering from drought, has been unable to raise as much money as it needs and recently reduced the food rations for needy Somalis by 30 percent. Because of continued attacks on aid convoys by al Shabaab and bandits the cost of moving the food and other supplies to where it is needed has increased. This also played a role in reducing aid. Many long-time donors are sending their money elsewhere, to places they feel it will do more good.
Then there is the Yemeni civil war which, since it intensified in March, has become a problem for Somalia. Since March nearly 50,000 Yemenis have fled the country while the rest are either trapped somewhere or lack the cash to get out. At the same time the people smuggling from Somalia (Somaliland) and Djibouti continues with over 10,000 foreigners arriving each month and then being moved north. The smuggling gangs have arrangements, especially with tribal leaders, throughout Yemen to allow the movement of the smuggled foreigners, for a fee. Any income is welcome these days and apparently the smugglers (of people and anything else) are among the few economic activities tolerated by both sides. Meanwhile about 5,000 Yemeni refugees made it Somaliland (often on smuggler boats that had carried African refugees to Yemen). Somaliland is very poor itself but it is the cheapest foreign destination to get to. Few of these Yemeni refugees move south into Somalia but these refugees are a burden for Somaliland.
The piracy problem continues to decline off the coast. For the first six months of 2015 there were no pirate attacks. No large ships have been taken in over two years. As a result the international anti-piracy patrol has been reduced to less than ten warships and a few maritime patrol aircraft. At the moment the reduced patrol is working but that might change.
July 10, 2015: In Mogadishu al Shabaab attacked three hotels using suicide car bombs and gunmen. Six civilians were killed along with at least four of the attackers. One of the attacks was halted before the al Shabaab men could get close to the hotel.
July 8, 2015: In the southwest (Gedo, 320 kilometers from Mogadishu) a brigade of Ethiopian troops crossed the border and advanced a hundred kilometers to Luq and then to Bardere, the last al Shabaab controlled town in the Gedo region.
July 7, 2015: In northern Kenya (Mandera) al Shabaab attacked a quarry where most of the workers were Christian and killed 14 people. This is the latest of many attacks in Kenya where over 80 percent of the population is Christian and only twelve percent are Moslem (most of them ethnic Somalis). The area around Mandera has long been the scene between the Kenyan Murule tribesmen and the Marhan from Somalia. Recently about a hundred armed Marhan crossed the border and raided Murule territory. The Marhan have long been accused of supporting al Shabaab.
July 3, 2015: In the southeast (lower Shabelle region) peacekeepers retreated from two towns they had recently taken. This was done because al Shabaab had assembled a large (over five hundred gunmen) force and have made several attacks since late June.
June 26, 2015: In the northwest (Lego, 100 kilometers from Mogadishu) a large al Shabaab force attacked a peacekeeper camp and killed most of the hundred Burundi soldiers stationed there, looted and burned the camp and then left. The attack began before dawn with a suicide car bomb exploding at the base entrance followed by a hundred or more al Shabaab gunmen rushing in to attack the peacekeepers, most of them asleep. Thirty of the Burundi soldiers escaped the carnage. Burundi later announced that it was keeping its troops in Somalia.
June 25, 2015: Two Kenyan policemen, kidnapped in 2013 by al Shabaab, were freed by security forces in southern Somalia where the captives had been held most of the time. No details of the rescue were released.
June 24, 2015: In Mogadishu al Shabaab attacked an aid convoy containing donations from the UAE.
June 23, 2015: In Kenya the government shut down four bus companies after convincing a court that the four companies had been cooperating with al Shabaab.
June 22, 2015: In the south (Kismayo) an al Shabaab attack on peacekeepers left fifteen dead.
June 21, 2015: In Mogadishu four al Shabaab men were killed during a failed attack on an intelligence facility. A suicide car bomb and gunmen were used.
In northern Kenya three soldiers were wounded by an al Shabaab roadside bomb.
June 19, 2015: Some 30 kilometers outside Mogadishu al Shabaab attacked an army base leaving 15 soldiers and police dead as well as 30 attackers.
June 17, 2015: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide car bomber went after the UAE ambassador. This attack killed twelve people but the ambassador survived and denounced the Islamic terrorists.
In Galguduud (385 kilometers north of Mogadishu) al Shabaab used a suicide car bomber and three gunmen to attack a government compound. The attack failed and all four attackers died. Other attacks over the next few days were more successful with more than a dozen soldiers killed.
June 14, 2015: In northern Kenya two soldiers and eleven al Shabaab men died when the Islamic terrorists attacked an army base.