Horn of Africa: Peace Comes At A Price
With al Shabaab no longer a threat to the new government there are more calls from Somalis for less corruption and more law and order. While the government says it will address these problems, there is not a lot of enthusiasm among government officials to do so. A senior government job still tends to be seen as a license to steal. Somali soldiers and police still consider widows and teenage orphan girls as sexual toys. Widows and orphans are traditionally protected by clan militias. But over half a million refugees inside Somalia contain a large number of widows and orphans who have been separated from their clan and are very vulnerable. The government refuses to acknowledge that its soldiers and police are exploiting this situation, much less do anything about it. Until something is done about the corruption and lawlessness, another radical group like al Shabaab will arise and cause more chaos.
The few groups of al Shabaab that are still trying to carry out terror attacks are having a difficult time of it. UN Peacekeepers and government troops are patrolling the few main roads and pro-government militias are all over the place. Al Shabaab is unable to muster larger forces (a hundred or so gunmen in vehicles) to intimidate villages and towns into submission. That means the Islamic radicals, who made themselves unpopular with their lifestyle rules (no music or videos, women had to stay at home, men had to grow beards, and so on) were now finding themselves with no popular support and few safe places to live safely or hide out in. Peacekeepers are increasingly encountering armed al Shabaab men who want to surrender and accept amnesty (which has some economic benefits).
Al Shabaab leaders recently released an audio message on the Internet in an attempt to boost morale. The audio rant claimed that al Qaeda were still everywhere and fighting the “Christian invaders” (Ethiopians and Kenyans and many other peacekeeper who are mostly Christian). While this sort of religious angle usually garners some enthusiasm from Somalis it is not working now. That’s because al Shabaab had its chance to make things better but failed because of a cure that was worse than the disease. The web audio apparently came from a group of al Shabaab hiding out in southern Puntland. There, with the backing of a local warlord, al Shabaab hopes to take over Puntland. That is unlikely as the warlord, even with his al Shabaab allies, is outnumbered and safe, only because the hills (Galgala Mountains) are difficult for invaders (government forces or hostile clan militias) to operate in.
January 6, 2013: Ugandan peacekeepers pursued a group of al Shabaab gunmen back to their base near Ballidoogle (120 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu) and captured the terrorist hideout. The peacekeepers captured four assault rifles and several hundred rounds of ammo plus other equipment.
January 5, 2013: In the southwest peacekeepers clashed with al Shabaab in a gun battle that lasted several hours and left nine dead. The al Shabaab men fled after ambushing a large peacekeeper convoy and were pursued. For more than a year now al Shabaab fleeing the Kenyan advance from the south and peacekeepers pushing out from Mogadishu ended up in the southwestern Gedo region (along the Ethiopian and Kenyan border). With the loss of Kismayo, the number of al Shabaab in Gedo is believed to have reached several thousand. Gedo is thinly populated forests. There is good cover from air observation but not much else. Supplies and new recruits are in short supply and these al Shabaab have to turn to banditry just to survive. The al Shabaab forces in this area are losing more men to desertion but put up a fight as the peacekeepers move in and increasingly patrol the area.
January 4, 2013: In northeastern Kenya someone threw a grenade at a group of Somali men, killing two of them. This happened at the main Somali refugee camp in Kenya, where over half a million Somalis live. It’s unclear if this was terrorism related or part of a gang feud. There are more gangsters than Islamic terrorists in the sprawling camp.
January 2, 2013: In the south (near the coastal town of Merka) a roadside bomb went off near a peacekeeper convoy. None of the troops were hurt but three civilians were wounded.
In Ethiopia police arrested fifteen men who were attempting to set up Islamic terrorist cells in eastern and northeastern Ethiopia. The police had earlier detected this operation and monitored it for several weeks as they found more and more people involved. When it was clear that all the terrorists were identified, all were arrested. Many of these men had been trained last year by al Shabaab in Somalia.
December 27, 2012: In northeastern Kenya two policemen on patrol were ambushed and one was killed. The four attackers were believed to be Somalis, possibly al Shabaab men as ordinary Somali criminals usually avoid police.