Al-Shabaab Continues Reign of Terror in Somalia
Demand for Better Security Follows Latest Mogadishu Attack
Somalia’s Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire has ordered police and intelligence agents to immediately intensify security “a hundred percent” in the capital of Mogadishu after attacks by Al-Shabaab killed nearly 40 people on Friday.
Friday’s attacks were the first by Al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group Al-Shabaab in the capital since October when a truck bomb killed more than 500, and an attack on a hotel two weeks later claimed the lives of at another 30 people.
“Security is the utmost priority,” Khaire said. “We will not tolerate the killing of our people. We will not be demoralized by one or two explosions. It’s important you end insecurity in Mogadishu.”
Internal Fighting Undermines Mogadishu Security and Stabilization Forces
Last year, the government formed the Mogadishu Security and Stabilization Forces, who were instructed to raid homes suspected of being hiding places for militants and to erect checkpoints without warning.
The effort had several setbacks, including the deadly truck bombing and the firing of two security chiefs in the aftermath of the bombing. There were also incidents where security forces working with the stabilization force clashed after mistaking each other for Al-Shabaab.
Khaire warned the security forces to avoid such mistakes. “You must avoid every step that could lead to internal fights between yourselves,” he said. “We do not have any more time for an enemy among us who is dressed to take the lives of Somali people. You must be watchful every night.”
African Union Soldiers Investigated After Shooting
In another setback, African Union Mission in Somalia peacekeepers were involved in a shooting that led to the death of at least one Somali soldier Friday evening. Six other people were wounded, including two soldiers and a senior legal adviser to the Somali justice ministry.
The shooting happened after an AU military convoy approached a checkpoint near the airport that was manned by Somali troops. But Somali forces on orders to check all vehicles entering the airport stopped the convoy, according to an incident report. An argument ensued, and shooting erupted.
Dahir Amin Jesow, a member of the Somali parliamentary committee on security and internal affairs, discussed the issue on Sunday. He told VOA Somali that AMISOM troops fired on Somali forces. He said the Somali forces were expected to stop vehicles approaching the airport, including AMISOM, because of the security lockdown.
“We suspect that Al-Shabaab is capable of obtaining vehicles similar to AMISOM’s, which they may have seized during attacks on peacekeepers, like the attack in El-Adde,” Jesow said. “Therefore, it was a matter of caution by the Somali troops to stop them since the convoy was headed for the airport.”
AMISOM officials could not be reached for comment. In a press release, Ambassador Francisco Caetano Madeira, head of AMISOM, confirmed that the peacekeepers were involved in an incident at the checkpoint. He said the troops involved in the incident were transporting civilians injured in the Al-Shabaab attack to an AMISOM hospital.
Madeira said the incident was now under investigation by the Somali government and AMISOM.
No Public Support for Somalian and AU Military
Officials say Somali troops and AU forces will have to improve security in Mogadishu if they are to earn the support of the public who doubt the two groups can stop Al-Shabaab attacks.
Khaire echoed the need to win public support and has urged the soldiers to show compassion.
“When you enter their homes, be courteous,” he said. “When you speak to them in the streets, show good conduct and discipline. Don’t be kind to the enemy, but be compassionate to the people.”
The new commander of the police, Gen. Bashir Abdi Mohamed, told Khaire that new operations started effective Sunday night. He said operations will be carried out every night.
UN Claims Al-Shabaab in Decline
The attack comes after a UN report claimed that Al-Shabaab was in decline. The top U.N. official for Somalia said that while al-Shabaab remains a serious threat, the terror group is on the decline, and the continued deployment of African Union troops in Somalia is essential to its ultimate defeat, according to VOA.
“Al-Shabaab remains a potent threat, despite — or perhaps precisely because — it is on the back foot as a result of financial pressures, counter-terrorism operations and airstrikes,” U.N. envoy Michael Keating told Security Council members.
A truck bomb attack Oct. 14 in the capital city of Mogadishu killed more than 500 civilians and demonstrated the al-Qaeda-linked group’s ability to stage a large-scale attack, despite an intensive military offensive against them.
Keating said defeating the group requires both a military and political strategy and serious efforts to address issues that terrorists exploit, such as corruption and the lack of jobs and education opportunities for youth.
The more than 22,000-strong African Union force, known as AMISOM, receives a logistical support package from the United Nations, and gets additional funding from the European Union.
“AMISOM’s continued presence will therefore be essential,” Keating said. “Premature drawdown of AMISOM forces will be a gift to al-Shabaab and risks undermining the gains that have been made, at great human and financial cost, over the last decade.”
But Keating acknowledged that it is not viable for the force to stay indefinitely, and said the Somali security sector needs to prepare for a gradual handover of responsibility.
Somalia Wants End to Arms Embargo
Somalia’s U.N. envoy, Abukar Dahir Osman, urged council members to ease the arms embargo in place for more than two decades on the country.
“The existing arms embargo framework on Somalia is a major obstacle to an effective implementation of our ambitious security sector reform,” Osman said.
The government has previously argued that the embargo needs to be fully lifted so the army can get the heavy weapons it needs to defeat al-Shabaab.
Keating also warned of potential violence between two autonomous regions in the country.
“There is a serious danger that long-standing disputes between Puntland and Somaliland, and in particular an armed standoff in Sool, could erupt into violence in the coming days, with potentially grave consequences,” he said.
Both regions claim Sool as their own, which has previously led to violence.
Somalian Humanitarian Crisis Will Fuel Conflict
The country is also grappling with a severe humanitarian crisis. Persistent drought and conflict have left 6.2 million people in need of assistance. More than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes.
“The risk of famine still looms,” Keating warned.
The U.N. is seeking $1.6 billion to cope with the crisis this year.
US Drone Strikes Kill Al-Shabaab Militants
A U.S. drone strike killed several al-Shabaab militants in southern Somalia, officials told VOA on February 22.
Local sources said missiles fired Wednesday targeted a rickshaw carrying five al-Shabab militants near Jamaame, in the southern Lower Juba region.
“I can tell you that the airstrike hit a rickshaw and that five militants were killed. It was carried out by U.S. drone, helping our intelligence forces on the ground,” a Somali government official told VOA Somali on the condition of anonymity.
The attack was confirmed by witnesses and local residents, who also asked for anonymity because they feared militant reprisals.
Somali officials said they were investigating the identity of those targeted. Some sources said two of those in the rickshaw were civilians traveling with three militants.
A statement Thursday from the U.S. Africa Command said the strike was carried out by the U.S. military “in co-ordination with the Federal Government of Somalia.” The statement said the strike killed four terrorists and no civilians.
On Tuesday, local residents in the region reported another airstrike that destroyed an al-Shabaab training camp in the nearby town of Jilib. That airstrike, also confirmed by U.S. Africa Command, killed three militants.
The U.S. military has carried out dozens of airstrikes against al-Shabaab and Islamic State militants in support of Somalia’s federal government. British Army personnel are also currently deployed to Somalia on Operation TANGHAM to train Somalian soldiers in the fight against al-Shabaab.
Image: Somali National Army (SNA) in Mogadishu, Somalia, currently fighting Al-Shabaab (AMISOM, 2012).