Tag Archives: AU and Somalia

Somalia – Al Shabab gain ground as Ethiopia withdraws troops

Al Jazeera

Ethiopia unrest and the troop withdrawals have come as a opportune boost for al-Shabab as they seize more territory.

Moqokori, Somalia – As the clock ticked past 11am and birds nestling on the short dry shrub trees chirped away, a large group of young men in camouflage uniforms and black face-wraps appeared from nowhere and marched towards an open clearing in the bush, their feet kicking up dust in the soft, sun-baked brown soil beneath.

Totalling more than 150 men and only their eyes visible, they made no eye contact or small talk among themselves as they lined up.

The men are part of al-Shabab’s Special Forces gathered in this rebel base in southern Somalia to undergo final training before they dispatch to nearby towns in preparation for taking them over from African Union (AU) and Somali government troops.

The training base is about 10km outside the strategic town of Moqokori in the Hiiraan region, a town the al-Qaeda-linked group retook after Ethiopian troops withdrew last month.

It is a pattern that has been repeated many times recently across south and central Somalia.

Ethiopia has more than 4,300 soldiers in Somalia as part of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) – a UN security council-mandated mission to combat the armed group.

The East African country also has thousands of other troops that are not part of AMISOM in Somalia.

Recently, the Ethiopians have been abandoning their bases in towns in southern Somalia; 10 towns in the last four months, four of them in the past four weeks, without notice or explanation.

INTERACTIVE: Al-Shabab attacks in Somalia (2006-2016)

“Jihad,” shouts the group’s commander under the watchful eyes of two of al-Shabab’s most senior and well-known figures.

“Strength, honour,” the fighters shout back, drawing admiring looks from their leaders.

This group of fighters – which includes medics, mechanics, explosives experts and suicide bombers – have been handpicked from al-Shabab’s many battalions as the group seeks to retake territories it lost to Somalia’s internationally recognised government and AMISOM.

Morale among the fighters appears sky-high as news reaches the training base of Ethiopia withdrawing from towns and al-Shabab taking them over without firing a single bullet or losing a fighter.

“The reason they [Ethiopia] invaded our country, the reason they came to Moqokori, was to harm the Muslim population,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Raage, the group’s spokesman, a tall, bulky figure with red eyes and a greying beard, told the gathered fighters who were now sitting on the hot sand.

“They came here to mistreat and degrade our people and to stop them from worshipping Allah. But God chose you to defend His religion and the honour of the Muslim people,” Raage said, as shouts of “God is great” from the fighters filled the midday air.

Changing fortunes

Ever since the rebel group was pushed out of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in 2011 by Somali and AU troops, they have been on the back foot, losing major towns and cities across the Horn of African country. The group has also lost several senior leaders in recent years.

However, the armed group’s fortunes appear to be changing in central Somalia this year. Since January this year, Ethiopia has faced deadly street protests at home.

With no sign of the wave of unprecedented violent protests stopping or slowing down, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency this month in an effort to halt the demonstrations from spreading across Africa’s second most populous country.

INSIDE STORY: What is triggering Ethiopia’s unrest?

Horn of Africa observers believe events back in Ethiopia are the reason why Addis Ababa is cutting down its troop numbers in Somalia.

“Ethiopia said it was in Somalia to preserve and protect its country from external threat,” Abdullahi Boru, a Horn of Africa expert, told Al Jazeera. “But Ethiopia is facing a domestic threat now – the largest threat since the overthrow of the Derg regime.

“For the government, there is a change of priority. Ethiopia is a large country, and every boot is needed in Ethiopia to stem the domestic threat. The Oromo and Amhara protests are a bigger threat to the government than al-Shabab.”

The protests in Ethiopia and the unexplained troop withdrawals have come as a timely boost for al-Shabab, and the group’s leaders are trumping it as a victory.

“They ran away in the middle of the night because they were too scared. They did not tell even the non-believers that used to work with them. Their country is falling apart. Their people are protesting because they do not want their government. But we will hunt them down until they leave all of our country,” Sheikh Hassan Yakub, al-Shabab’s governor of the Galgaduud region, told the assembled fighters outside Moqokori.

Addis Ababa denies the latest troops’ withdrawal has anything to do with events back home.

“We are pulling out because for a long time our country has shouldered a heavy financial burden having troops in Somalia and it is time the international community took over,” Getachew Reda, Ethiopia’s communications affairs minister, told Al Jazeera.

“We do not need our army to deal with any domestic issue. Our troops leaving towns in Somalia is not related to anything happening domestically in our country. It is purely an economic decision. We have done a lot to help our Somali brothers stabilise our country, but we cannot continue taking the financial burden. And I expect our troops to pull out of other towns,” Reda said.

The minister also denied the troops that had been withdrawn were part of the African Union mission.

“The troops are not part of AMISOM. We have a significant number of troops in Somalia as part of an agreement signed with the Somali government,” Reda added.

The African Union mission said Ethiopia’s move would not make its operation in Somalia any easier.

“The withdrawal of troops will, of course, bear more responsibilities on our troops and how we carry out our mandate. It is not an ideal situation, but we can manage with our current troop numbers,” Joe Kibet, the spokesman for AMISOM, told Al Jazeera.

As the sun set behind the arid plains, the al-Shabab fighters and their military vehicles rolled into Miqokori attracting the locals, young and old, to come out of their homes.

As the troops made their way through the town and Ethiopia continued to threaten to pull its troops out of more towns, the locals were left to wonder whether their own, which changed hands more than twice in the past month, will experience a lasting peace.

Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa

Somalia – African Union troops kill civilians

BBC

Amisom troops, fileReuters Amisom has more than 22,000 soldiers and police in Somalia

African Union (AU) troops have killed four civilians travelling in a car in southern Somalia, sparking protests.

The incident took place near Bulla Marer, 60km (37 miles) south-west of the capital, Mogadishu.

The dead include an 80-year-old woman and her nine-year-old granddaughter who were sick and were travelling to the capital, Mogadishu, for treatment.

The AU Mission said scared soldiers had opened fire when the car failed to stop at a roadblock.

Abdiwahid Ibrahim Maalim, the son of the elderly woman killed, said she and the granddaughter were in the car with two of his friends, one of them the driver, when the troops killed them.

Residents of Lower Shabelle have protested, denouncing the killings.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) confirmed the deaths but said it did not believe the four were deliberately killed.

Amisom spokesman Col Joe Kibet told BBC Somali that the driver had defied an order to stop.

Amisom has more than 22,000 soldiers and police, the majority from six African countries, deployed in Somalia to protect the government there.

Map of Somalia

Somalia – AU’s peace and security council likely to adopt military approach to Al Shabaab attacks

Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane)

Despite a general improvement in the political situation, the security context in Somalia is characterised by a proliferation of attacks by al-Shabaab.

On 31 March 2016, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to discuss the situation in Somalia and the many issues facing its most important peacekeeping operation, the African Mission for Somalia (AMISOM).

Al-Shabaab relies more on asymmetric attacks

Having lost ground in most urban centres, the terrorist group al-Shabaab now mainly operates in the southern and central parts of Somalia. Since the beginning of the year, the group has launched a string of attacks and offensives. On 15 January al-Shabaab briefly overran AMISOM and the Somali National Army (SNA) in the port town of El Adde. Seven days later it killed 17 people in an attack on a popular beach hotel in Mogadishu; in early February, the group briefly reoccupied the centre of Marka before AMISOM and the SNA retook it. Al-Shabaab’s increasing reliance on asymmetric tactics paradoxically results from the loss of its strongholds and its refusal to engage the AMISOM forces.

During the PSC summit in Addis Ababa on 29 January, on the eve of the 27th AU summit, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta proposed a five-point plan to enable AMISOM to tackle the new challenges posed by al-Shabaab through:

  • Reviewing AMISOM’s mandate to match al-Shabaab’s mode of warfare
  • Ensuring that AMISOM fully deploys troops in their respective areas of jurisdiction, especially in the Gedo region, and reviewing sector allocation
  • Soliciting support from the United Nations (UN) and international partners in providing necessary force multipliers to AMISOM for better operational capabilities
  • Providing predictable, adequate and sustainable funding for AMISOM through the UN assessed contributions, as the European Union (EU) is reducing its funding of the mission
  • Providing resources to ensure sustainable living conditions in the liberated areas in order to accelerate the return of refugees to Somalia

Adapting AMISOM to the evolution of the security context

Smaïl Chergui, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, reiterated this new approach during his speech at the high-level meeting of the international partners of Somalia in Istanbul on 23 February 2016. He called for the reorganisation of the mission in order to make it more robust and mobile, and for operations to be driven by adequate intelligence; improved delivery across operational sectors through the reorganisation of the force headquarters; and the enhancement of operational coordination with SNA partners.

A few days later, on 28 February, the recommendations were adopted at the gathering of the heads of state of AMISOM’s troop-contributing countries (TCCs) in Djibouti. The main resolutions of this summit were:

  • A call for the effective and accountable command of all military units and equipment of the mission under the leadership of the special representative of the AU Commission chairperson and the head of AMISOM
  • The need for better coordination of operations and logistics between AMISOM, the SNA and the UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS)
  • A call for enhanced support to AMISOM, especially in order to improve its mobility through the deployment of helicopters
  • The need for effective stabilisation efforts in liberated areas through the improvement of local governance by the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) with the support of the international community

On 29 February the PSC specifically endorsed the call for an effective AMISOM command. This measure addresses what many observers consider to be the main flaw of AMISOM. The largest AU-led operation appears to be a collection of national contingents reporting to their capitals instead of to the force commander or the AU special representative. The implementation of this provision is thus very challenging. Past experiences show the unwillingness of Kenyan or Ethiopian forces on the ground to submit to AU command. This situation makes it difficult for the mission leadership to ensure the effective management and utilisation of the troops. The Djibouti Declaration is therefore a landmark decision because it is the first time that such a commitment is made at the level of heads of state. The expected outcome of this new direction is to guarantee greater coordination between contingents under the authority of the force commander, at least during future operations against al-Shabaab.

However, there is a contradiction between the call for an effective AU command over national contingents and the method chosen to request it. The process leading to the PSC decision of 29 February was dominated by the TCCs. Clearly, the fear is that domestic concerns will still take precedence over the ultimate goal of the Somali mission.

Troop contributors favour military approach over increased police presence

Another crucial provision of the Djibouti Declaration was ‘the imminent draw-down of AMISOM military strength to allow for an increase in AMISOM policing activities, based on the current security assessment in Somalia’. This provision was not explicitly endorsed by the PSC communiqué.

This gradual drawdown was also one of the requirements identified by a joint AU–UN assessment mission for a hypothetical rehatting.

Currently, the AMISOM police component has approximately 400 personnel, less than 2% of the total strength of the mission. Its mandate consists of training and mentoring the burgeoning Somali Police Force (SPF). The added value of an increased police presence would consist of the consolidation of the rule of law in recovered territories and better engagement with communities through proximity. Moreover, this shift would be the starting point for setting up a proper judiciary system. In the current situation, the SPF is barely present outside Mogadishu. The focus on expanding the police’s presence in the new regional administrations is challenged by the recent escalation of attacks by al-Shabaab.

The AMISOM police component has approximately 400 personnel
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The Djibouti Declaration confirms many assessments by the AU and UN on the need to stabilise the areas recovered from al-Shabaab. The most recent report by the UN secretary general also stressed ‘the need to maintain the pressure on al-Shabaab under a comprehensive approach [which includes]: creating space for inclusive politics; and pursuing economic recovery, reducing youth unemployment and enhancing education’.

The AU’s ability to reach these goals seems limited, especially as it would mostly be based on the use of military force. The lack of trust between the Somali population and AMISOM forces is a recurrent issue, and a purely military approach will not address this.

The emphasis on military action led by neighbouring countries could fuel the nationalist narrative of al-Shabaab about the supposed illegitimacy of the FGS, protected by foreign forces. The intensification of action without the consolidation of the rule of law and the effective establishment of local government units in recovered territories could paradoxically result in less legitimacy for the government.

Financial support for AMISOM on the PSC’s agenda

The next PSC meeting on Somalia is likely to focus on the funding challenges of the new approach. It will be preceded by consultations between the Peace and Security Department and UN regarding the gap created by the reduction of EU assistance and the deployment of helicopters. At the Djibouti meeting, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda pledged to send helicopters to improve the mobility of the mission. The AU and the UN are yet to reach an agreement on the financial compensation and the modalities of use in the framework of AMISOM.

Both of these issues are linked to the specific nature of AMISOM, which is not a traditional peacekeeping force. Therefore, the challenge of the PSC in Somalia is two-fold: adopt a comprehensive effective approach to defeat al-Shabaab while consolidating state and peacebuilding in recovered areas; and get adequate financial support not only from non-African partners but also from African member states.

Somalia – Al Shabab takes another town from AU forces

Reuters

The Islamist militant group Al Shabaab took control of a sizeable town in central Somalia on Sunday after African Union forces left the area, the third town the insurgents have seized since Friday, militants and local officials said.

The group, which seeks to overthrow the Western-backed government and impose its strict version of Islamic law, has remained a potent threat in the Horn of Africa country even after being forced out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011.

The African Union peacekeeping force, AMISOM, left Buqda on Saturday night, less than a month after taking control of the town, an economic centre of the Hiran region, from al Shabaab.

“We have taken Buqda town peacefully today. The town is now under our control,” said Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military spokesman.

Ahmed Nur, a senior Somali military officer, acknowledged that military forces had left the town, but said this was to engage al Shabaab elsewhere, and that it would return.

“AMISOM and our troops have gone to launch operations against al Shabaab strongholds in the region,” he said.

Residents said they had been treated brutally by both sides, but some said they welcomed the return of al Shabaab.

“The problem is that the government cannot keep control of the town and it does not want al Shabaab to rule it,” said local elder Nur Ibrahim. “Government troops rape, rob and kill us. Al Shabaab also punishes anyone who sells items to the government.

Over the last two days, al Shabaab has taken two small towns in the lower Shabelle region, El Saliindi, 65 km (40 miles) south of Mogadishu on the road to the port of Marka, and Kuntuwarey, on the road from the capital to the port of Barawe.

The al Qaeda-affiliated group regularly attacks the AU-led peacekeeping force and Somali authorities.

On Sept. 1, al Shabaab stormed an AMISOM base in Janale, about 90 km (55 miles) south of Mogadishu, killing at least 12 Ugandan soldiers. Al Shabaab said it had killed 70 people in the assault, which came roughly a year after its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a U.S. air strike.

Somalia – Al Shabab kills suspected CIA and Ethiopian spies

BBC

Armed members of the militant group al-Shabab attend a rally on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia in this February 2012 file photo. Several top officials of the al-Qaeda-linked group have either defected or have been killed in recent months

Somalia’s militant Islamist group al-Shabab has killed by firing squad four men accused of spying for the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

The men, who included two government soldiers, were shot in front of a large crowd in the southern town of Bardhere, witnesses said.

A court run by al-Shabab had earlier convicted them of spying for the CIA, Ethiopia and the Somali government.

US air strikes have killed two senior al-Shabab commanders in recent months.

‘Blindfolded’

“One of the spies worked with the CIA and facilitated the killing of an al-Shabab commander,” a judge in the al-Shabab-run court said.

He did not name the commander, but al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a US air strike in September and last month its intelligence chief, Tahlil Abdishakur, was assassinated in a similar strike in southern Somalia.

Somalia's army, file picSomalia’s army has been fighting the militants with help from African Union troops

Abdishakur’s killing came just days after his predecessor, Zakariya Ahmed Ismail Hersi, gave himself up to the Somali government.

Bardhere resident Ali Ronow told the AFP news agency that hundreds of people watched the killing of the four suspected spies on Tuesday.

“The men were blindfolded and shot from the back by a team of hooded gunmen,” he is quoted as saying.

Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, is notorious for killing by firing squad suspected spies.

In 2011, Muslim cleric Ahmed Ali Hussein was chained and shot dead after being accused of being a CIA spy and belonging to a sect opposed to the group.

Al-Shabab is fighting to create an Islamic state, but has lost key towns and cities in recent years to African Union (AU) and Somali government forces.

The AU has about 22,000 troops fighting al-Shabab in Somalia.

Neighbouring Ethiopia, which sees the Islamists as a major threat to its security, also has troops in the country. Some of them are part of the AU force while others operate independently.

Various armed groups have been battling for control of Somalia since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991.

Somalia – government troops and AMISOM capture port of Barawe

BBC

Somali troops capture key port town from al-Shabab

African Union forces march through the town of Golweyn in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region - 30 August 2014African Union troops have helped government forces retake several towns across Somalia in recent weeks

Somali government troops backed by African Union forces have captured a key stronghold of al-Shabab Islamists, local officials say.

The regional governor told the BBC that he was in the centre of Barawe, about 200km (125 miles) south of Mogadishu.

The AU says al-Shabab, who had held the town for six years, used it as a base to launch attacks on the capital.

Residents said many of the al-Qaeda-aligned militants had begun withdrawing from the key port town on Friday.

map

“The situation is calm, the militiamen had fled before the forces reached the town,” regional governor Abdukadir Mohamed Nur said.

Al-Shabab has lost control of several towns in the past month, but still controls large swathes of territory in rural areas.

The BBC’s Emmanuel Igunza says the news is a significant blow to al-Shabab because they had used Barawe as a supply route for weapons and food and as a base for a lucrative charcoal business.

The loss of Barawe comes a month after al-Shabab’s leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed by a US air strike near the town. US strikes have also targeted other senior militants in and around Barawe.

The group, which is estimated to have at least 5,000 fighters, wants to overthrow the UN-backed Somali government and has imposed a strict version of Sharia in areas under its control.

Last week, a woman was stoned to death in Barawe for alleged adultery.

Correspondents say al-Shabab tends to tactically withdraw from areas when faced with a large offensive, but leaves some fighters within the civilian population to launch attacks later.  BBC

Somalia – US air strike against Al Shabab leader Godane

DW

US armed forces have launched an air strike against the Islamist militant group al-Shabab in Somalia. The attack targeted the head of the group, Ahmed Abdi Godane, but it’s not yet clear if he was hit.

The Pentagon’s initial statement was terse. A spokesman confirmed an “operation” was carried out against the militia, and that it was “assessing the results.”

Only on Monday afternoon could Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby confirm what Somali officials had already let slip: the drone missile strike was directed at Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr.

Kirby said that “actionable” intelligence led to the airstrikes by special operations forces using both manned and unmanned aircraft. The airstrikes “hit what they were aiming at,” Pentagon spokesman Kirby said, saying that if Godane were killed in the attack, it would be “a very significant blow” to al-Shabab and its capabilities.

Godane, who has headed the East African terrorist group since 2008, is high on the US State Department’s list of the world’s top terror fugitives. The US is offering a $7-million (5.33-million-euro) reward for information leading to Godane’s arrest.

It is still not clear whether Godane, high-ranking advisors and commanders were among the “several” dead reported by the German press agency DPA in the military mission in southern Somalia. According to the Associated Press news agency, “six militants” were killed.

Drones instead of ground troops

In the 1990s the US was forced to withdraw its troops following a traumatic mission, and over the past years, Washington has relied on drone strikes to keep the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group in check. Observers rate the fact that the Somali government has not protested yet as an indication that it was informed and involved. The population was pleased at the news, says DW correspondent Hussein Aweys in the capital Mogadishu.

Somali soldiers in Mogadishu
Photo: REUTERS/Omar Faruk Somali soldies at the site of a bomb explosion in Mogadishu

Monday’s drone strike is presumably connected to the offensive launched this past weekend by Somali government forces and African Union (AU) troops under the codename “Operation Indian Ocean”.

They managed to recapture the strategically important town of Bulomarer, an al-Shabab stronghold in southwestern Somalia. Apparently in retaliation, the militia then attacked the intelligence headquarters and a high-security prison in Mogadishu on Sunday.

The US operation is presumably also linked to the Somali and AU troops’ plans to capture the coastal town of Barawe, the last port under al-Shabab’s control. From here, the militia dispatches ships carrying charcoal to the Gulf States – the group’s key source of income at an estimated 19 million euros per year.

Far from defeated

But even Godane’s death wouldn’t mean the militia is defeated, says Annette Weber, Somalia expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), adding they have proven to be quite versatile over the past years. “They were always prepared to adapt their military tactics, from urban fighting in Mogadishu and control over larger territories outside of the city to the return to guerilla fighting.” The militia still has a relatively large sphere of influence even though it was swept out of the capital by AU troops in 2011, she says. “The idea of al-Shabab is much greater than a few hundred or thousand fighters in southern Somalia”, Weber told DW.

Shabaab fighters training with guns
Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh- Al Ahabaab is not yet defeated

But simply taking control of al-Shabab’s territory is not going to be the end of the group, warns Rashi Abdi – a security analyst and Somalia expert based in Nairobi – even if the present offensive is the most intense against their strongholds in the south so far. “It has deep roots in Somali society in many places,” he told DW. “While the military campaign will probably diminish al-Shabab’s military capabilities, its asymmetric capabilities will not be diminished and will probably escalate as a result of the military pressure.”

Seeking a political solution

Weber is critical of reports that al-Shabab is the eastern toehold of a pan-African terrorism belt that stretches all the way to Mali in the west. While Godane publicly confirmed his alliance with al Qaeda, praising the terrorist network as “pioneers of the jihad,” cooperation with other militant groups like Boko Haram and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is not as close as reports would indicate. “Al-Shabab is a very self-contained group,” she says, adding that although some fighters from the western diaspora are trickling in, the group is by no means hooked up with the network of your typical traveling jihadists.

Rashid Abdi agrees that there may be a broad strategic approximation between the jihadist groups, but he points out they definately have different ideologies. “The context is always very different from one place to another, so we should not always see a grand scheme,” he says.

Experts like Weber and Rashid have for years urged a political solution for Somalia, but a change in stance is not on the horizon, particularly in Washington. Strategies based solely on a military solution are not likely to be “crowned by far-reaching success,” Weber says. “We’ve seen over the years that al-Shabab is very adept at adapting territorially and tactically.”

This is essentially a political struggle, Rashid says. “It may be military at the moment, however the real problem in Somalia is not even al-Shabab, but the inability of the government as well as the clans to really agree on stabilization and a political way forward.”

 

 

 

 

DW