The Guardian reports: Faheem Qureshi’s uncles sat with their neighbors, chatting, cracking jokes and sipping tea, in their family’s lounge for male guests. Qureshi, almost 14, stood nearby, bored and restless, thinking about when he could go to the nearby playground where he and the other Ziraki village kids played badminton and cricket.
It had been a long day – Friday prayers, a food shopping errand at his mother’s behest, hosting – but also a happy occasion, as people stopped by to welcome an uncle home to North Waziristan, in tribal Pakistan, from a work excursion to the United Arab Emirates. Then he heard a sound like a plane taking off.
About two seconds later, the missile punched a hole through the lounge. Qureshi remembers feeling like his body was on fire. He ran outside, wanting to throw water on his face, but his priority was escape. The boy could not see.
This was the hidden civilian damage from the first drone strike Barack Obama ever ordered, on 23 January 2009, the inauguration of a counter-terrorism tactic likely to define Obama’s presidency in much of the Muslim world. It was the third day of his presidency. [Continue reading…]
After a 52-minute video made by al-Kataib, the media outlet of Somalia’s al-Qaeda-affiliate, al-Shabaab, was posted on YouTube yesterday, it was swiftly removed. YouTube has a long-standing policy of banning videos that incite violence.
As the ABC News report above shows, the element in the video which has grabbed the media’s attention is its use of Donald Trump’s recent call for Muslims to be prohibited from entering the United States.
Here’s the part of the video which features Trump — although, by the time you read this post, YouTube will have removed this clip, which is why I’m also posting a transcript:
First we see the American imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, making a prediction about the fate of Muslims who continue living in the U.S. — Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Then comes a clip of Trump and then Awalaki again.
Awlaki, date unknown: Muslims of the West, take heed and learn from the lessons of history. There are ominous clouds gathering in your horizon.
Yesterday, America was a land of slavery, segregation, lynching, and Ku Klux Klan. And tomorrow it will be a land of religious discrimination and concentration camps.
Trump speaking at a campaign rally on December 7: Guys remember this and listen: Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States [cheers] until our country’s representatives can figure out what [expletive bleeped] is going on [cheers and applause].
Awlaki: The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens. Hence, my advice to you is this: You have two choices, either hijra or jihad. You either leave or you fight. You leave and live among Muslims, or you stay behind and follow the example of Nidal Hassan [perpetrator of the Fort Hood mass shooting] and others who fulfilled their duty of fighting for Allah’s cause.
In response to pressure from Western governments, YouTube and other social media channels are becoming increasingly aggressive in blocking the distribution of terrorist propaganda. There is understandable frustration at the fact that the internet is being used to threaten the very societies within which this global communications system was created.
Censorship can easily backfire, however, and this is happening with the removal of clips of the new al-Shabaab video.
After the full-length version had been removed, snippets which just showed the al-Awalaki statement and Trump, have also been removed (as I noted above).
It is clear that these videos are being posted by Trump critics rather than al-Shabaab supporters and their removal is breathing life into a conspiracy theory being propagated by some Trump supporters: that the al-Shabaab video itself is a fabrication created by the Clinton campaign!
It seems likely that there are some Trump supporters who — following the lead of Bashar al-Assad supporters — are using YouTube’s community guidelines in order to silence criticism.
Although in the short clips of the al-Shabaab, Awlaki is indeed inciting violence, the clips themselves are clearly not being posted in order to incite violence — they have been posted to show how Trump’s rhetoric serves as a propaganda gift for jihadists.
By removing these clips, YouTube is playing straight into the hands of conspiracy theorists.
At the same time, censorship also buttresses the perception among ISIS and al Qaeda supporters, that the West feels threatened by “the truth.”
It’s worth remembering the trajectory Awlaki followed which eventually led to him promoting terrorism from Yemen.
In 2000, he supported George Bush’s campaign to become president and after 9/11 believed his own emerging role must be to serve as bridge between America and all Muslims.
Last August, Scott Shane wrote:
At midnight on Sept. 14, 2001, Awlaki, then a young Yemeni-American imam at the prominent Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., finished a long day by answering an email from his younger brother about the terrorist attacks of a few days before. ‘‘I personally think it was horrible,’’ he wrote to Ammar, a college student in New Mexico at the time. ‘‘I am very upset about it.’’ He added, ‘‘The media are all over us.’’ Anwar was disconcerted, but perhaps also pleased that an onslaught of reporters had turned his Friday prayers, or jummah, into a circus. ‘‘At jummah today we had ABC, NBC, CBS and The Washington Post.’’ He closed on a positive note, hinting at a noble purpose, to be sure, but also displaying a trace of personal ambition: ‘‘I hope we can use this for the good of all of us.’’
Though the country was in mourning, a sense of defiant unity emerged. A non-Muslim neighbor of Dar al-Hijrah organized a candlelight vigil around the building to show solidarity with the mosque. Roughly 80 residents of a nearby apartment building sent over a note saying, ‘‘We want your congregation to know that we welcome you in this community.’’ Journalists, hunting for an authoritative voice from the Muslim community, began to pass regularly under the mosque’s grand marble arches or to gather in Awlaki’s modest family home. He denounced the 9/11 attacks but in the same breath would criticize America’s record in the Middle East. Reporters were impressed. The New York Times wrote that Awlaki, just 30, was being ‘‘held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West.’’ He relished the spotlight. He seemed to be quite self-consciously auditioning for a dual role: explainer of Islam to America and of America to Muslims. ‘‘We came here to build, not to destroy,’’ he declared from his pulpit. ‘‘We are the bridge between America and one billion Muslims worldwide.’’
The challenge presented by ISIS, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups is more than one of security and communications. At its core, this is a moral challenge.
The jihadists present themselves as offering the solution to a moral problem: a way for Muslims to confront the immorality, corruption, and hypocrisy they see in the contemporary Western-dominated world.
An effective counter-jihadist strategy cannot simply brush off this critique of the West. It has to present an alternative solution.
Currently, who has the more credible voice? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Anwar al-Awlaki?
Unfortunately, it’s Awlaki.
As Shane observed:
Awlaki’s pronouncements seem to carry greater authority today than when he was living, because America killed him.
Right now, it’s easy to castigate Trump for providing terrorists with fodder for propaganda, but we mustn’t forget the extent to which the U.S. led by Bush and then Obama, has helped reinforce the jihadists’ narrative — by opening Guantanamo; through the use of torture, rendition and secret prisons; through the disastrous war in Iraq; through drone strikes in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia; through continuing to prop up authoritarian regimes across the Middle East; through allowing the Assad regime to destroy Syria, and through failing to broker an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The real challenge for Western political leaders and whoever becomes the next U.S. president is not whether they can destroy ISIS and effectively tackle global terrorism.
It is this: How can they regain sufficient moral authority that their words carry weight? How can they restore some much-needed respect for democracy?
In a global failure of governance, the Middle East can be viewed as the emergency room, while in the West, governance suffers from chronic illness for which symptom-relief is the only treatment on offer.
It’s time we face up to the fact that terrorism is just a symptom what ails the world. Indeed, much of the time a global obsession with terrorism is having the effect of turning our attention away from broader issues that undermine the health of societies and our ability to survive on this planet.
This isn’t a question of striving for some kind of unattainable and contestable moral purity. No one wants to live under the control of zealots. It’s about trying to create societies in which government is no longer a dirty word, where ordinary citizens receive the respect they deserve, and in which individuals are no longer cynical about the possibilities for securing collective interests.
In a word, it’s about the restoration of honesty in public life.
Kenneth Roth writes: European leaders may differ about how to respond to the asylum-seekers and migrants surging their way, but they seem to agree they face a crisis of enormous proportions. Germany’s Angela Merkel has called it “the biggest challenge I have seen in European affairs in my time as chancellor.” Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has warned that the migrant crisis could pose a major threat to the “soul” of Europe. But before we get carried away by such apocalyptic rhetoric, we should recognize that if there is a crisis, it is one of politics, not capacity.
There is no shortage of drama in thousands of desperate people risking life and limb to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean in rickety boats or enduring the hazards of land journeys through the Balkans. The available numbers suggest that most of these people are refugees from deadly conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Eritreans — another large group — fled a brutally repressive government. The largest group — the Syrians — fled the dreadful combination of their government’s indiscriminate attacks, including by barrel bombs and suffocating sieges, and atrocities by ISIS and other extremist groups. Only a minority of migrants arriving in Europe, these numbers suggest, were motivated solely by economic betterment.
This “wave of people” is more like a trickle when considered against the pool that must absorb it. The European Union’s population is roughly 500 million. The latest estimate of the numbers of people using irregular means to enter Europe this year via the Mediterranean or the Balkans is approximately 340,000. In other words, the influx this year is only 0.068 percent of the EU’s population. Considering the EU’s wealth and advanced economy, it is hard to argue that Europe lacks the means to absorb these newcomers. [Continue reading…]
Christopher Dickey writes: Ad hoc measures will be taken here and there, as we have seen, but they will do little more than displace the flood, not stop it:
The boats pushing into the Med from North Africa were never very seaworthy, but now they have to be completely expendable, ready to be seized, and to be written off, or to sink and be written off, by the gangs that launched them leaking and overloaded in the first place.
Close the borders with the Balkan states, and refugees climb into sealed trucks like that putrid 18-wheeler in Austria.
The only medium- and long-term solution for this horrific global problem is to build peace in the war zones of Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, — the three countries that account for more than half of the world’s refugees; impose order on the chaos of Libya; deliver some modicum of freedom and prosperity in West and East Africa; and greater social and economic justice in Latin America.
To do that requires reliable long-term policies to promote development and good governance, not just the tossing of a few millions of dollars or euros here or there, or preaching about a system of globalized free trade that has made the rich so much richer and the poor, by comparison, so much poorer. [Continue reading…]
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.”