Foreign Policy reports: Some say the Americans are everywhere. Some say they are nowhere. Still others say they are everywhere and nowhere at once. But the shadowy U.S. presence in this strategic port city in war-torn southern Somalia has clear consequences for anyone with a share of power here. That includes Somali regional officials who are quick to praise American counterterrorism efforts, African Union forces who rely on U.S. intelligence as they battle back al-Shabab, and even the al Qaeda-linked militants themselves, who are increasingly hemmed in by a lethal combination of AU-led counterinsurgency, airstrikes, and raids by U.S. special operators.
Based out of a fortress of fading green Hesco barriers at the ramshackle airport in Kismayo, a team of special operators from the Joint Special Operations Command, the elite U.S. military organization famous for killing Osama bin Laden, flies drones and carries out other counterterrorism activities, multiple Somali government and African Union sources have confirmed. Their presence in this volatile city, which until 2012 was controlled by al-Shabab, has not previously been reported. Nor has the United States acknowledged operating drones from Somali soil. (Unmanned armed and surveillance flights are said to originate from Camp Lemonnier in nearby Djibouti or from bases in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.)
“They have a base over there,” Abdighani Abdi Jama, state minister for the presidency in the interim regional administration in Kismayo, said of U.S. forces, gesturing to a heavily fortified compound not far from the airport’s small terminal. He confirmed that as many as 40 U.S. military personnel are currently stationed in Kismayo, roughly 300 miles south of the capital of Mogadishu, where he said they operate drones from the airport’s single runway and carry out covert “intelligence” and “counterterrorism” operations. [Continue reading…]
Jeremy Scahill reports: U.S. counterterrorism agencies have long been preoccupied with the threat posed by the recruiting successes of the Somali terrorist group al Shabaab in Western countries. The group has managed to lure hundreds of foreign fighters — including some 40 Americans — to Somalia through online propaganda videos and word-of-mouth in disaffected immigrant communities.
In recent years, however, al Shabaab has turned on the foreign fighters in its own ranks, waging a brutal campaign to purge the perceived spies from its midst. An intimate account of the Shabaab civil war was provided to The Intercept in a series of interviews conducted with a current member of al Shabaab and a source who has maintained close contacts with the group.
Al Shabaab has assassinated several foreign fighters on the CIA’s kill/capture list over the past few years and currently runs a network of secret prisons that hold, on charges of spying, U.S., British and other Western citizens who came to Somalia to join Shabaab, The Intercept has found. Shabaab operatives torture detainees using techniques such as waterboarding, beatings, and food and sleep deprivation, and conduct public executions of suspected spies, including by crucifixion. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: “More than 20 years ago, the United States was forced to pull back from your country,” Kerry said [at a meeting with Somalia’s president and prime minister and several regional chiefs and civil society groups], invoking the “Black Hawk Down” debacle when 18 servicemen died after Somali militiamen shot down two U.S. helicopters and a subsequent rescue mission failed. “Now we are returning.”
The trip was made under tight security. Somalia’s government only learned a day ago that Kerry would join the State Department’s top Africa official, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on the trip. U.S. officials closely controlled access to the conference building where the discussions took place, an edifice encased by 6-foot high piles of sandbags and ringed by fencing wire.
The actual meeting room was bleak and dark, illuminated by a single fluorescent light overhead. Down the street African peacekeeping troops sat at picnic tables as oily streaks of airplane fuel glimmered in the Indian Ocean. [Continue reading…]
Hussein Khalid writes: The merciless killing of more than 140 innocent students at Kenya’s Garissa University College last month by al-Shabab terrorists requires a serious government response — both from Kenya and the United States. Unfortunately, my government has decided to double down on a long-standing counterterrorism strategy that includes human rights abuses and the indiscriminate targeting of the country’s Muslims. This is guaranteed to make the situation worse, not better. As Kenya’s loyal partner, the United States must persuade Nairobi to drop this unsound strategy.
The Kenyan government is cracking down on those who have sought to engage in counter-radicalization efforts simply because they have dared to question its tactics. Without presenting any evidence, Kenya’s top police official recently tried to label my nongovernmental organization, Haki Africa, which documents and challenges human rights abuses perpetrated by Kenyan security forces, as a possible associate of al-Shabab. Our bank account was frozen simply because of the work that we do. Another organization, Muslims for Human Rights, was similarly targeted.
This action was just the latest in an increasingly worrying trend of harassment and intimidation of civil society organizations. Such a heavy-handed approach is more than unjust; it is also ineffective and counterproductive. By alienating an important and sizable Kenyan community, the government is losing a key ally in its fight against violent extremism. If this pattern continues, I fear the security situation in my country can only get worse. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The son of a Kenyan government official was one of the masked gunmen who killed nearly 150 people at a university last week, the interior ministry said on Sunday, as Kenyan churches hired armed guards to protect their Easter congregations.
Pope Francis decried Thursday’s attack in his Easter Sunday service, praying for those killed by Islamist gunmen who hunted down Christians while sparing Muslims.
At one church in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa, worshippers were evacuated and a bomb disposal unit deployed due to a suspicious vehicle parked outside the church. Police took it away for further examination.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said Abdirahim Abdullahi was one of four gunmen who stormed the college campus in Garissa, some 200km (120 miles) from the Somali border.
An ethnic Somali with Kenyan nationality, his father is a government official in the northern Mandera county bordering Somalia, he said.
“The father had reported to security agents that his son had disappeared from home… and was helping the police try to trace his son by the time the Garissa terror attack happened,” Njoka told Reuters in a text message.
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday said the planners and financiers of Islamist attacks were “deeply embedded” within Kenyan communities and urged Muslims to do more to fight radicalisation. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Elosy Karimi curled up in a crawl space, immobilized by fear.
Her classmates were flooding out of the dorms, in boxer shorts and thin nightgowns. Gunfire was ringing all around her. People were screaming. It was predawn and pitch black.
“If you want to survive, come out!” the militants yelled. “If you want to die, stay inside!”
In the terrifying confusion, Ms. Karimi, 23, decided to risk it inside, she said, and stayed hidden in the ceiling above her bunk bed for the next 28 and a half hours.
“I knew those guys were lying,” she said at the hospital, having just arrived to be checked after the ordeal.
New details emerged on Friday about how a handful of fighters from the Shabab militant group, with just a few light weapons, managed to kill nearly 150 students in Kenya’s worst terrorist attack since the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy in Nairobi.
Survivors said many students had fallen for the militants’ trick, voluntarily leaving their dorm rooms and obeying commands to lie down in neat rows, only to be shot in the back of the head. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Mr. Emwazi was called “Jihadi John” by the foreign hostages he guarded, a number of whom he apparently beheaded in widely circulated videos. He was first identified on Thursday by The Washington Post website, and his name was confirmed by a senior British security official. The official said that the British government had identified Mr. Emwazi some time ago but had not disclosed his name for operational reasons. The identification was also confirmed in Washington by a senior United States military intelligence official.
Information is still vague about Mr. Emwazi, with Britain officially refusing to confirm that he is indeed “Jihadi John” because of what are described as continuing operations.
But Mr. Emwazi appears in 2011 court documents, obtained by the BBC, as a member of a network of extremists who funneled funds, equipment and recruits “from the United Kingdom to Somalia to undertake terrorism-related activity.”
Mr. Emwazi is alleged to be part of a group from West and North London, sometimes known as “the North London Boys,” with links to the Somalia-based terrorist group Al Shabab, organized by an individual who had returned to London in February 2007 and whose name was redacted in court documents.
Another person associated with that group was Bilal al-Berjawi, who was born in Lebanon but brought to West London as a baby. He fought in Somalia and rose through the ranks of Al Shabab and Al Qaeda in Africa before being killed in a drone strike in January 2012, according to Raffaello Pantucci, also a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
Mr. Berjawi traveled to Kenya in February 2009, telling his family he was heading for a safari; he and a friend were detained in Nairobi and shipped back to London, but made it to Somalia in October that year.
The neighborhood group “is a tight community and it’s very probable that they knew each other and were part of the same crew,” Mr. Pantucci said.
So it is likely that Mr. Emwazi’s own safari a few months later in May, from Britain to Germany to Tanzania, using the name of Muhammad ibn Muazzam, set off alarms with the British security services, and that he had started on the road to radicalism even before his encounter with MI5 in 2009. [Continue reading…]
Ars Technica reports: Seven months after his conviction, Basaaly Moalin’s defense attorney moved for a new trial (PDF), arguing that evidence collected about him under the government’s recently disclosed dragnet telephone surveillance program violated his constitutional and statutory rights. Moalin’s is the only thwarted “terrorist plot” against America that the government says also “critically” relied on the National Security Agency phone surveillance program, conducted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
The government’s response (PDF), filed on September 30th, is a heavily redacted opposition arguing that when law enforcement can monitor one person’s information without a warrant, it can monitor everyone’s information, “regardless of the collection’s expanse.” Notably, the government is also arguing that no one other than the company that provided the information — including the defendant in this case — has the right to challenge this disclosure in court.
The success of these arguments is critical to the government; the terrorist plot for which Moalin and three other defendants were convicted in February was sending about $8,500 to al-Shabaab, known most recently for the Kenyan Westgate mall attack. The money was sent in 2007 and 2008.
The United States government designated al-Shabaab — which means “The Youth” — a terrorist group in 2008, but the FBI’s extensive wiretapping of Moalin started about two months before that. FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce recently revealed to Congress that the FBI had also conducted another investigation into Moalin’s activities in 2003 and ultimately concluded that there was “no nexus to terrorism.” This evidence was kept from the defense during trial. [Continue reading…]
Simon Tsidall writes: Official US reluctance to identify the target of the failed Somali raid by Seal Team Six special forces commandos may stem from a wish not to further bolster the reputation of al-Shabaab’s shadowy leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr.
The Islamist militia’s hardline emir emerged as Africa’s most wanted man after the 21 September Westgate mall attack in Nairobi that killed least 67 people, for which he claimed responsibility. His capture would have been portrayed as a triumph. By extension, his eluding of US-style justice will be seen as a serious setback. Pentagon officials will say only that the target of the dawn raid on the seaside town of Barawe, south of Mogadishu, was a “high-value” al-Shabaab terrorist linked to Westgate. Local sources said the Seals attacked a building housing foreign fighters, and that an unidentified Chechen fighter may have been their quarry.
But this is unlikely to be the whole story, given the elaborate preparations for the raid, which began soon after Westgate. The US navy Seals are the same crack unit that killed the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden, two years ago in Pakistan. This time, too, Barack Obama was reportedly kept closely informed of the progress of the Somali plan, and of the almost simultaneous operation in Libya.
Given the political sensitivity, at home and in the Muslim world, that surrounds such US on-the-ground incursions, Obama will have personally given the go-ahead for both raids. His orders were reportedly to capture, if possible, rather than kill. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Libya has demanded an explanation for the “kidnapping” of one of its citizens by American special forces, hours after a separate US military raid on a terrorist target in Somalia ended in apparent failure and retreat.
In Tripoli the US army’s delta force seized alleged al-Qaida leader Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby and wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 220 people.
But US navy Seals suffered a major setback when they launched an amphibious assault to capture an Islamist militant leader said to be Ahmed Godane, described as Africa’s most wanted man and the architect of last month’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. The elite Seals were beaten back by heavy fire and apparently abandoned equipment that the Somali militants photographed and posted on the internet.
As dramatic details of Saturday’s twin operations emerged, US secretary of state John Kerry insisted that terrorists “can run but they can’t hide”, but faced growing questions about America’s military reach in Africa and the consequences of unilateral aggression.
Al-Liby was captured outside his family home at 6.15am in Noufle’een, a quiet suburb in eastern Tripoli, according to witnesses, but there were conflicting reports over who took him. His brother, Nabih, told the Associated Press that al-Liby was parking when a convoy of three vehicles encircled his car. Armed gunmen smashed the car’s window and seized al-Liby’s gun before grabbing him and taking him away, the report said. The brother said al-Liby’s wife saw the kidnapping from her window and described the abductors as foreign-looking armed “commandos”.
But al-Liby’s son Abdullah insisted that Libyan forces were involved. Appearing on Tripoli’s Nabir TV station, he said: “The people who took my father were Libyan, not Americans – they spoke with Tripoli accents. [Continue reading…]
Jamal Osman, a Somali-born reporter for Channel 4 News in the UK says that his sources say that “some or most” of the attackers in this weekend’s attack on Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi are “Western passport holders”.
Channel 4 News reports: Striking at the heart of the capital city and a symbolic place, it is designed to have the maximum effect on the locals.
Kenyans who have generally enjoyed peace will find it hard to go about their daily lives, for some time to come.
It is also going to have an impact on the nation’s economy, a country that prides itself of being a regional hub.
Foreign companies invest in every sector. Tourism makes huge contribution to the local economy.
Many aid organisations including the UN are based there. This attack is likely to scare off foreign tourists, investors and international aid workers.
The al-Qaeda-linked group, which still controls large parts of southern and central Somalia, has been under pressure in the last three years.
A coalition of forces from several African nations, supporting a weak Somali government, is fighting to defeat the militants.
Kenya is part of the alliance that pushed the Islamist from the main cities and its forces captured Kismayo from the group in 2011.
For the Islamists, losing Kismayo was very difficult to swallow.
The port city, third largest in the country, was a strategic place and it generated an enormous source of income.
Therefore, they chose their target and planned the assault carefully. Westgate shopping mall was the perfect place for them.
The centre is popular with westerners, wealthy Kenyans and Somali politicians.
All of them targets for al-Shabaab. More so, it is reportedly owned by Israelis.
Targeting Israeli interests will win al-Shabaab supporters amongst the jihadi community and some in the Arab world.
Colum Lynch reports: The Obama administration earlier this year expanded its secret war in Somalia, stepping up assistance for federal and regional Somali intelligence agencies that are allied against the country’s Islamist insurgency. It’s a move that’s not only violating the terms of an international arms embargo, according to U.N. investigators. The escalation also could be a signal that Washington’s signature victory against al-Qaeda’s most powerful African ally may be in danger of unraveling.
Just last year, Obama’s team was touting Somalia as unqualified success. “Somalia is a good news story for the region, for the international community, but most especially for the people of Somalia itself,” Johnnie Carson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters last October at the New York Foreign Press Center. Carson praised African forces, principally Uganda and Kenya, for driving the terror group al-Shabab out of the Somalia’s main cities, Mogadishu and Kismayo. “The U.S.,” he boasted, “has been a significant and major contributor to this effort.” Indeed, the United States has emerged as a major force in the region, running training camps for Ugandan peacekeepers destined for battle with Somalia’s militants, and hosting eight Predator drones, eight more F-15E fighter jets, and nearly 2,000 U.S. troops and military civilians at a base in neighboring Djibouti.
But despite the array of forces aligned against it, Al-Shabab is demonstrating renewed vigor. “The military strength of al-Shabaab, with an approximately 5,000-strong force, remains arguably intact in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communications ability,” according to a report by the U.N. Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea. “By avoiding direct military confrontation, it has preserved the core of its fighting force and resources.”
“At present, al-Shabaab remains the principal threat to peace and security in Somalia,” the report adds. “The organization has claimed responsibility for hundreds of assassinations and attacks involving improvised explosive devices, ambushes, mortar shelling grenades and hit and run tactics.”
Not coincidentally, perhaps, American involvement in the region is again on the rise, as well. Last year, according to the U.N. group, the United States violated the international arms embargo on Somalia by dispatching American special operations forces in Russian M-17 helicopters to northern Somalia in support of operations by the intelligence service of Puntland, a breakaway Somali province. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Yusuf Garaad left his comfortable home and job as head of the BBC Somali Service in London to run for the presidency of Somalia when the Horn of Africa nation embraced a plan to shed its image as the archetypal failed state.
He is one of several new faces who have returned home to try and lead the country out of two decades of lawlessness and violence at the hands of gun-toting militias, fanatical Islamist militants and rapacious pirates.
“I watched for so long from afar, not doing anything but reporting and pretending it was not up to me to do something,” Garaad told Reuters in his villa in the capital Mogadishu.
Since the outbreak of civil conflict in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country, but now there is opportunity to close that long chapter in a regionally brokered and U.N.-backed roadmap.
As part of that process, a speaker of a reformed parliament and a new president should have been elected before August 20.
In spite of heavy cajoling by donors, that deadline has been missed, though Western diplomats hope the delay will be just a few weeks. The bigger question is whether the new government can represent a break from the string of ineffective interim administrations of recent years.
Garaad and other newcomer contenders for the presidency are up against a determined phalanx of old-guard politicians. The top leaders of the existing transitional federal government (TFG) are all competing to be president.
So while the end of the interim administration is being touted as a new dawn in Somali politics, there are fears the new government will look much like previous ones, with the same security problems, corruption and fractious clan politics.
“If the current TFG leadership succeeds in manipulating the outcome, the end of the transition will be in some ways a distinction without a difference,” said Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert and professor of political science at Davidson College.
By Monday, a new slimmed-down parliament is expected to convene, though not all members will have been appointed. About 220 of the 275 parliamentarians have so far been selected. [Continue reading…]
When anyone gets rescued — whether they be the victim of a disaster or they were being held hostage — there is reason to celebrate. Even so, the story of the Navy Seals operation that resulted in the release of Jessica Buchanan resonates in other ways as well.
I imagine the Danish aid worker, Poul Hagen Thisted, realized that the odds of him being rescued in a dramatic military operation were boosted by the fact that he was being held alongside a blond young American woman. And it’s hard to imagine that the White House and the Pentagon did not take into consideration any applicable lessons learned from the Jessica Lynch episode. And it’s hard not to think that in an election year President Obama has a political investment in burnishing his image as a president who more than any other has championed the use of special operations forces around the globe.
What the celebrations obscure is that the United States has had an instrumental role in allowing Somalia to fester as an ungoverned state and U.S. counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations will do little to aid that abandoned country’s political recovery. Neither will one rescue operation do anything to improve the chances for other hostages being released. Indeed, their chances may have significantly turned worse.
Around 2 a.m. Wednesday, elders in the Somali village of Galkayo said they began hearing an unusual sound: the whir of helicopters.
It was the culmination of a daring and risky mission by about two dozen members of the Navy Seals to rescue two hostages — an American aid worker and her Danish colleague — held by Somali pirates since October. The commandos had dropped down in parachutes under a cloak of darkness while 8,000 miles away President Obama was preparing to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The commandos hiked two miles from where they landed, grabbed the hostages and flew them to safety.
For the American military, the mission was characterized by the same ruthless efficiency — and possibly good luck — as the raid on Osama bin Laden in May, which was carried out by commandos from the same elite unit. Nine Somali gunmen were killed; not a single member of the Seals was hurt.
One pirate from the area who seemed to have especially detailed information about the Seal raid said it involved “an electrical net-trap, flattened into the land,” which presumably was the parachute. “Then they started launching missiles,” said the pirate, who spoke by telephone and asked not to be identified.
Pirates operate with total impunity in many parts of lawless Somalia, which has languished without a functioning government for more than 20 years. As naval efforts have intensified on the high seas, stymieing hijackings, Somali pirates seem to be increasingly snatching foreigners on land. Just last week, pirates grabbed another American hostage not far from where the Seal raid took place.
American officials said they were moved to strike in this case because they had received “actionable intelligence” that the health of Jessica Buchanan, the American aid worker, was rapidly deteriorating. The gunmen had just refused $1.5 million to let the two hostages go, Somali elders said, and ransom negotiations had ground to a halt.
Somali pirates have held hostages for months, often in punishing conditions with little food, water or shelter, and past ransoms have topped more than $10 million. One British couple sailing around the world on a little sailboat was kidnapped by pirates from this same patch of central Somalia and held in captivity for more than a year.
President Obama, who Pentagon officials said personally approved the rescue plan and raid, had called several high-level meetings on the case since the two aid workers were kidnapped by gunmen who Somali elders said were part of a well-established pirate gang. “As commander in chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on Wednesday. “The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people.”
Another attack by a US assassination drone has claimed the lives of at least 28 civilians, while injuring dozens of others in southern Somalia, Press TV reports.
The incident took place in the town of Gilib, 350 kilometers south of Mogadishu, a Press TV correspondent reported on Sunday.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday: The Air Force has been secretly flying Reaper drones on counterterrorism missions from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethiopia as part of a rapidly expanding U.S.-led proxy war against an al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, U.S. military officials said.
The Air Force has invested millions of dollars to upgrade an airfield in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs. The Reapers began flying missions earlier this year over neighboring Somalia, where the United States and its allies in the region have been targeting al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group connected to al-Qaeda.
On Friday, the Pentagon said the drones are unarmed and have been used only for surveillance and collecting intelligence, though it would not rule out the possibility that they would be used to launch lethal strikes in the future.
Mindful of the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in which two U.S. military helicopters were shot down in the Somali capital of Mogadishu and 18 Americans killed, the Obama administration has sought to avoid deploying troops to the country.
As a result, the United States has relied on lethal drone attacks, a burgeoning CIA presence in Mogadishu and small-scale missions carried out by U.S. Special Forces. In addition, the United States has increased its funding for and training of African peacekeeping forces in Somalia that fight al-Shabab.
The Washington Post reported last month that the Obama administration is building a constellation of secret drone bases in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, including one site in Ethiopia. The location of the Ethiopian base and the fact that it became operational this year, however, have not been previously disclosed. Some bases in the region also have been used to carry out operations against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: Three decades ago, Mohamed Siad Barre, commander of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, head of the politburo of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party and the last ruler of a functional Somali state, built vast concrete buildings all over Mogadishu. The beautiful city on the coast of the Indian Ocean, with its Arabic and Indian architecture, winding alleyways and Italian colonial-era villas, was dominated by these monuments. They were Third World incarnations of Soviet architecture, exuding power, stability and strength. The buildings – like the literacy campaigns, massive public works programmes and a long war against neighbouring Ethiopia in the late 1970s and early 1980s – were supposed to reflect the wisdom and authority of the dictator.
Sycophants and poets sang Siad Barre’s praises in these buildings, and schoolchildren waved ribbons and flew flags in their courtyards to celebrate his birthday. But in the deserts beyond the city walls nomadic tribes were agitating for war. When the Soviet Union fell and the unpredictable dictator could no longer play his hand in the Cold War game of African dictatorships, he was toppled. His clan was defeated by the clans he had marginalised.
Tribesmen poured into the city and Siad Barre’s state collapsed. The fighters ransacked Mogadishu’s Arab and European quarters and stripped its cinemas and ministries bare, shelled its old stone houses and hammered bullets into the walls and columns of its bars and cafés. Tribal commanders installed themselves as kings of crumbling neighbourhoods. Clan wars fragmented into sub-clan wars and then into sub-sub-clan wars. Tribesmen fought and killed other tribesmen and then turned against men of their own tribe and killed them. The fighters replaced their camels with Japanese pick-up trucks and fitted them with guns, turning them into war wagons. Everyone had been fighting for so long they forgot why they had started fighting in the first place and a miserable lethargy settled in. Generations of young men were born into the war, boys whose real mother was a Kalashnikov and whose only knowledge lay in the killing of other boys.
Twenty years later, Siad Barre’s monuments stand over a city of the dead and dying. They are landmarks in a battleground crisscrossed by front lines. ‘The Hotel Al-Uruba front line,’ people say. ‘There are food shipments at the Ministry of Health line.’ Trees and shrubs grow out of the broken walls and millions of bullets have marked the ruins with hairline cracks. You walk in fear of snipers and kidnappers and then a man comes up to you and points at a crumbling façade and says this was the Italian cinema, or at a pile of ruins on the beach and says that was Bar 54, the best bar in Mogadishu.
In the second decade of fighting, in 2006, when the warlords were exhausted after the long, incestuous wars, an alliance of Islamists called the Islamic Courts Union suppressed the warlords and brought a semblance of stability to Somalia. Most members of the Courts were traditional mullahs teaching the Quran in villages or local clerics dispensing justice according to sharia law in the absence of any other judicial system. Among the Courts there were few jihadis.
The Americans, pursuing their quixotic war on terrorism, hired some of the remaining warlords to work for the CIA, forming the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism. When the alliance was defeated by the Courts the Ethiopian army, with the blessing of the Americans, invaded to crush the Islamists. After fighting a vicious war for more than a year the invading army withdrew, leaving tens of thousands injured and maimed and thousands more dead, most of them civilians. Mogadishu was further destroyed – if that was possible – and tens of thousands joined the long caravan of Somali refugees driven from their homes by indiscriminate shelling.
A corrupt, dysfunctional, ‘transitional’ government was left to rule, guarded by African Union troops. But the worst outcome of the Ethiopian invasion was the rise of al-Shabaab, a small faction of the Courts at the beginning but a formidable power by the end of the war. They were supported by the Eritreans, the Ethiopians’ nemesis, and by 2009 controlled most of southern Somalia and Mogadishu.
That was the first year the rain failed.
Al-Shabaab ruled most of the city and their fighters were young. They imposed a brutal and arbitrary punishment code and beheaded their enemies. The government and its African backers controlled a small sliver of land to the west of the city and used it to try and shell the Islamists into submission.
The war continued and the rain failed again.
This summer al-Shabaab – weakened by internal divisions and the drought and under pressure from African Union troops armed with tanks and artillery – withdrew from Mogadishu. The government and African Union troops took over their positions but the rain refused to come and the city filled with the starving.
Badbaado means ‘salvation’ in Somali. It’s the name of a stretch of ruins and wild scrub on the outskirts of Mogadishu a few hundred metres from the closest al-Shabaab position. Thousands of tents fill the area: it is now the biggest refugee camp in Somalia.
John Norris and Bronwyn Bruton write: On the morning of Oct. 4, a truck bomb exploded on a well-trafficked street outside the Ministry of Education in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing upwards of 80 bystanders, many of them university students. The attack brought an end to the relative lull that had held in Mogadishu since August, when fighters for the al-Shabab guerrilla forces withdrew from the city, and offered a stark reminder that the world’s most notorious failed state remains just that.
Somalia’s ruin can’t simply be chalked up as a case of Western neglect. For decades, the United States and international organizations have poured money into Somalia despite its relative geopolitical insignificance — first as a Cold War bulwark, then as a humanitarian emergency, and now as an effort to contain crime and terrorism. Just how much has Somalia cost us? To figure out the true financial burden that Somalia’s conflict has imposed on the world since 1991, we used a variety of official and unofficial sources, combined with some educated guesswork, and came up with an estimate of $55 billion. That figure includes everything from aid supplied by the Red Cross and defaulted World Bank loans to naval patrols off Somalia’s piracy-plagued coast and CIA-run detention facilities within the country.
$55 billion may be modest in comparison with the cost of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan — which together are likely to end up costing the United States more than $1 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office — but what’s remarkable is how little we have to show for it. For all the treasure expended there, Somalia is no closer to stability than it has been at earlier points in its two-plus decades of chaos. The country is currently experiencing the worst famine the world has seen in two decades, with more than three-quarters of a million people at grave risk of starvation, and remains riven by civil conflict, piracy, and extremism.
The world’s approach to Somalia has long been trapped in an unhappy middle: It has been insufficiently robust and well-designed to resolve the country’s conflicts but far too heavy-handed and frequent to allow the country to resolve its own problems. An entire generation of Somalis now views the “state,” whether it is the Transitional Federal Government or al-Shabab, as a largely predatory institution to be feared, not as a source of stability. Perhaps more than anything, the spending on Somalia demonstrates how the world — and Washington in particular — keeps groping for quick tactical fixes while failing to embrace the sensible diplomacy and the kinds of patient engagement that might help Somalia achieve peace.