Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sojourn in Somalia Insurgency & Interests

Left: The Flag of Somalia is shown.

Some of the heaviest fighting in months has broken out between Ethiopian forces and local insurgents in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

Residents report that at least a dozen people had been killed amid shell and machine-gun fire as the Ethiopian forces launched an offensive.

Somalia has seen a surge in violence since Ethiopia and government troops ousted the Union of Islamic Court last December. Since, hundreds of civilians have been killed in the fighting.

The latest clashes began after Ethiopia moved reinforcements and a convoy of 20 tanks and armored cars into the city late on Friday. One of the vehicles was hit by a landmine and exploded. Early on Saturday the Ethiopians fanned out of their barracks and fighting erupted.

Left: Map of Somalia and surrounding countries.

The forces targeted areas of the city occupied by militia who are remnants of forces loyal to the ousted Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Insurgents are reported to have captured and ransacked a police station. They later retreated chanting "God is great," witnesses said.

There was street to street, house to house combat reported. The Ethiopian forces have since reportedly returned to their barracks, but heavy artillery fire has continued.

A worker at one of Mogadishu's main hospitals said many people had been brought in suffering from gunshot and shrapnel wounds. Local elders described the Ethiopian offensive as a genocide and have appealed to the international community to intervene.

Some 1,600 Ugandan troops are also in Mogadishu as part of a planned 8,000-strong African Union (AU), force to support the interim government. However, augmentation of AU troops has been reluctantly, slow.

The Union of Islamic Courts

Left: Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), chairman Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The Union of Islamic Courts brought order to Mogadishu. The US has placed him on terrorist list.

During the six months that the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), ruled Mogadishu, it brought order to the capital. The UIC managed to quell much of the lawlessness that blighted Somalia for the last 17 years and reunited the capital, which had been carved up into fiefdoms by various warlords - the current president, Abdullahi Yusuf, is one among the warlords favored by the US. Abdullahi Yusuf is a long-time Ethiopian ally and warlord, who came to power in 2004.

The US claims finances for the courts were being provided by rich individuals in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The interim Somali government also says that "Islamist" radicals from around the world have gone to help the UIC. Nevetheless, this is strongly denied by the Islamic courts.

There have also been reports that Eritrea - which has a long-running border dispute with Ethiopia - has been supplying arms to the militants. A leaked UN report says that 2,000 "fully equipped" Eritrean troops are working with the UIC. This charge is denied by the authorities in Asmara.

The chairman of the Union of Islamic Courts, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, wrote to the UN, the European Union and the United States, calling for the establishment of friendly relations with the international community, based on mutual respect.

In a four-page letter he denied giving sanctuary to Islamic extremists, or groups loyal to al-Qu'aida.
Another key UIC leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, is also on a US list of individuals linked to terror groups.

Left: Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, is a darling of the west and has been brought along on the campaign against terror (TWAT).

Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, has been able to get away with brutally putting down internal dissent in his own country, and now has thousands of troops in Somalia. A warmonger he may be, but Mr Meles is on the side of Washington and London in the so-perceived "war on terror," and as such, has become the most important leader in the horn of Africa.


The UIC now operates as an insurgency group attempting to oust the Ethiopians and other foreign influences from their homeland. After the UIC fled Mogadishu in December, some went to the south near the Kenyan border, where the US carried out air-strikes against them and alleged al-Qu'aida operatives.

The UIC has been on the run, boxed in against the Kenyan border in the south, pursued by the Ethiopians with their tanks and airpower, blocked by an American warship offshore, and probably monitored from above, by American satellites. There are reports of US drones hissing high above the clouds in various parts of Somalia.

International Intervention & Interests

The African Union has called for Ethiopian forces to leave Somalia following their offensive, however the UN Security Council has failed to agree on a statement calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces. Last year, the UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution to provide an 8,000-strong African peacekeeping force to protect the weak government.

Left: US is backing anti-Islamic insurgency in Somalia. Somali militiamen go on a patrol of Mogadishu.

This followed the establishment of the International Contact Group on Somalia (ICGS), which had the support of the US, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Tanzania and the EU. The African Union, Arab League and Kenya participated as observers.

The Contact Group was formed after the collapse of the previous US strategy, which was to fund and arm the warlords who had controlled Mogadishu for many years. UN Security Council Resolution 1744 supersedes the mandate of the Contact Group.

There is of course an international plan to make things better in Somalia. There is always a plan in these crises. The question is whether it can be implemented toward the benefit of Somali.

The plan was put forward in UN Security Council resolution 1744, passed in February, in the aftermath of the quick victory declared by Ethiopia over the Islamic Courts, a victory whose completeness has been called into severe question by continuing unrest and attacks.

The idea is that there should be a national reconciliation effort led by President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and the "Transitional Federal Institutions" and that the African Union should send in a peacekeeping force to help with this process, with possibly a UN force to take over at a later stage. However, the TGP refuses to enter into a reconciliation with the insurgency.

The pessimism Somalia avails was brought upon by the overthrow of the UIC. Somalia once again failed to emerge from the upheaval and chaos in the wake of international "intervention." This time the overthrow of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in a counter-offensive in late December launched by Ethiopia with US logistical aid in support of the somewhat hopefully named Transitional Federal Government has created a large refugee problem, has seen thousand dead and thousands more wounded as well as 400,000 refugees. It is noteworthy to point out that Ethiopia has become the largest recipient of us arms in Africa apart from Egypt in the context of the west's war against terror strategy. (See article here, AFRICOM, A FREE CON or afri.com or from old WUFYS site for a full review of arms infusion into Africa.)

Left: Some 400,000 refugees have fled the fighting in Mogadishu.

As many as 10,000 terrorized Somali a month are already voting with their feet, the U.N. says. And that's why this seaside African capital, the scene of the newest and perhaps murkiest front in America's war on global terrorism, is starting to look like one colossal ghost town and a huge skeleton in the war against terror chest.

Despite the mayhem, most world governments are watching in silence. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been one of the few to call for an end to the violence.

Somalia may seem an unlikely prospect for foreign investors seeking untapped oil and gas fields, but that could be about to change as the majors turn their gaze off the beaten track. Driven by record profits, a race with hungry Asian rivals and fears of growing energy nationalism in South America and Russia, interest in eastern Africa has never been higher.

Left: Oil, which should be a blessing to developing countries, is often a curse that brings only poverty, hunger, disease and exploitation in Africa.

Quite a few significant players have moved into position. Big Western companies including ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Total held Somali exploration concessions before the country slid into civil war in the 1990s. World Bank and UN surveys have stated that Somalia ranked second only to Sudan in prospective commercial petroleum production.

Some of the interest is from Chinese, Indian and Malaysian firms with deep pockets, technological skills and an appetite for higher insecurity than Western competitors, experts say. China, the world’s second top energy user, already funds oil projects from Angola to Sudan, and is eyeing opportunities in northern Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia’s Ogaden region.

Australian minnow Range Resources won a company-making deal in 2005 giving it concession rights to all minerals and petroleum in semi-autonomous Puntland, home to Somalia’s president and former warlord Abdullahi Yusuf. Last month, it unveiled a six-year agreement under which Canada’s Canmex Minerals will spend $50mn on exploration for an 80% stake in the project.

The Leading Factions Behind Somali Insurgency

The U.S.-supported Ethiopian invasion that expelled Somalia's Islamic government last December is rapidly deteriorating into a multi-layered conflict that will prove resistant to resolution. Resistance to Ethiopian troops and the US and Ethiopian-installed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), is inspired by nationalism, religion, economic factors and clan loyalties, yet all of these motivations are part of a constantly shifting pattern of allegiances in which the only common characteristic is a desire to expel foreign troops from Somalia. Local warlords and clan leaders who were deprived of power by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) are now scrambling to reassert control over their small fiefdoms in Mogadishu, while many former UIC gunmen have transferred their allegiance to clan militias.

Thousands more (nearly all from the Hawiye clan that dominates the capital) have been killed as residential areas become battlegrounds. Only one overwhelmed hospital is open as Ethiopian troops are using other hospitals as barracks. The Somali TFG is exacerbating the situation by imposing bureaucratic delays on the delivery of relief aid arriving in Mogadishu. Some of the relief aid provided by the international community has been reported stolen by the TFG forces. Unable to resist the Ethiopian incursion, the UIC dissolved returning its stockpiles of weapons and vehicles to the clans and militias who had donated them. Since then, a number of leading elements in the resistance have emerged.

Left: The Islamic courts' militia were mainly from the Hawiye clan.

The Hawiye (one of Somalia's four major clans) provided important support for the UIC in the south-central region of Somalia, which includes Mogadishu. Hawiye members (especially those of the powerful Habr Gidir Ayr sub-clan) dominated all of the UIC's decision-making bodies. Former UIC leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is a member of the Habr Gidir Ayr (one of four major sub-clans of the Hawiye). The Hawiye sub-clans have fought each other for years in Mogadishu, but there are signs that opposition to Ethiopian/TFG forces is beginning to unify formerly antagonistic groups.

The TFG is dominated by the Darod, another of the four major clans. The Hawiye suspect that the TFG is dedicated to the advancement of the Darod and the elimination of the Hawiye. Elders of the Hawiye clan pin responsibility for the devastation of Mogadishu on the TFG and have asked for an international commission to investigate the circumstances of the conflict. Hawiye elders also accuse the TFG of recruiting only Darod into the army. To deflect such criticism, TFG Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi recently appointed a notorious Hawiye warlord to the post of Somali chief of police.

Left: The TPG President, Adullahi Yusuf Ahmad

TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad is from the Majerteen sub-clan of the Darod. He commanded Darod forces in battles against the Hawiye in the 1990s. The Hawiye believe that the Ethiopians are set on installing a Darod-dominated government intent on eliminating their clan. Claims of "ethnic-cleansing," "war crimes" and "genocide" are increasingly used by the Hawiye to describe Ethiopian actions in Mogadishu. Relations between the Hawiye and the Darod clans were irreparably poisoned by the massacres of Darod by the Hawiye in Mogadishu after the overthrow of Somali dictator Siad Barre in 1991. Given this history, the arrival of President Yusuf and his well-armed veteran Darod militia was especially alarming to the Hawiye, who now fear retribution for the massacres of 1991.

Typical of many Salafi militant groups, Shabaab offers an alternative to clan- or tribal-based movements, drawing on a wide base of recruits. The typical Shabaab gunman is a poorly-educated youth in his late teens or early twenties who has grown up in the midst of Somalia's violent rivalries. Unlike former UIC colleagues who have found work with the re-emerging clan militias, the Shabaab fighter holds a rather inflexible and radical interpretation of Islam that compels him to undertake dangerous missions in the cause of creating an Islamic Somalia. This is a fairly new development in Somalia, where allegiance to ideology has tended to take second place to family and clan loyalties when under pressure. Many Shabaab fighters are reported to have undergone military training in Eritrea.

Shabaab fighters are often referred to as "the masked men" due to their habit of drawing red scarves across their faces during assaults on TFG and Ethiopian troops. Although Shabaab once numbered several thousand fighters, it probably does not field more than several hundred men at the moment.

Left: Somalia has been in chaos for 17 years.

Another resistance group formed in January of this year is al-Harakah al-Muqawamah al-Sha'biyah fi al-Bilad al-Hijratayn (The Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, PRMLTM). Led in the Banadir region by Sheikh Abdikadir, the movement has issued warnings to African Union peacekeepers that they can expect no different treatment than the Ethiopians.

Responsibility for a March 6 assault on the Mogadishu airport and a March 16 mortar attack on the presidential palace was claimed by the Tawhid wa'l-Jihad Brigades in Somalia (Unity and Struggle), apparently in response to the alleged rapes of Somali women by Ethiopian troops. The group promised a series of suicide attacks.

The Young Mujahideen Movement in Somalia is another group that has claimed attacks on Ethiopian troops, including an April 19 suicide bombing that allegedly involved the use of chemicals.

Left: Mogadishu is turning to rubble in the offensive against insurgents

The Weapons of the Insurgency

After being driven from the Somali capital of Mogadishu to the port city of Kismayo by Ethiopian troops in late December, Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed urged Islamic Courts fighters, supporters and every true Muslim to start an insurgency against the Ethiopian troops in Somalia. In mid-January, the Union of Islamic Courts reorganized into an insurgent group with the name Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, or PRMLTM.

Modern Somali combat tactics are typically based on the use of the "technical," an armor-plated pick-up truck equipped with an anti-aircraft gun, used for firepower and battlefield mobility. Insurgents have largely abandoned the use of the technical in urban Mogadishu, where civilian vehicles attract less attention from Ethiopian patrols. The technicals are no match for Ethiopian armor. Insurgents are active mostly at night when the police, TFG troops and Ethiopians retreat to their compounds, but daytime attacks are not uncommon.

Somali insurgents prefer three types of operations against allied (TFG/Ethiopian) positions:

Mortar or rocket assaults on allied positions are the most common form of attack, occurring on an almost daily basis in Mogadishu. The mortar is usually transported to a residential neighborhood by car or pick-up truck before deployment. Typically, a small number of rounds are launched before the target is engaged with automatic weapons fire, while the mortar is withdrawn. Firefights can last a few minutes or several hours, with government or Ethiopian forces generally reluctant to emerge from their positions until the firing has stopped. As the gunmen withdraw, retaliatory allied rocket or artillery fire targets the neighborhood from which the mortar fire came. TFG/Ethiopian troops may conduct a house-to-house search for weapons in the neighborhood the next day. At one point, TFG soldiers began to confiscate cell phones from people in the street, fearing that they might be used to direct mortar attacks.

Politically-inspired killings of government officials or police officers are often carried out in a "drive-by" fashion by gunmen in a car. Bombs may be used for significant targets, although it is much more common for a hand grenade to be tossed through a house or car window. A TFG spokesman claimed that assassinations are a long-standing technique of the insurgency. Be as it may, political killings has a long history in Somalia. Moreover, when the UIC took over control of the capital assassinations were in fact halted. Now that they were defeated, the high profile killing spree has returned.

RPG and automatic weapons fire on TFG/Ethiopian convoys is rare in comparison, but offer the insurgents the best opportunity to kill allied troops outside their well-defended compounds. The fierce attacks by the insurgency has rendered the Ethiopians in a frenzied state. Ethiopian troops often open fire on market crowds and other civilian centers, much like the occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing and wounding many.

The insurgents' targets include police stations, the presidential compound, the Defense Ministry, hotels housing TFG, Ethiopian or AU officials (such as the Banadir Hotel, Hotel Kaah and the Ambassador Hotel), TFG/Ethiopian army compounds (including the Difger Hospital, commandeered for military use), the seaport (where Ethiopian troops are quartered) and the airport (the PRMLTM threatened to shoot down aircraft using the airport, but so far only mortar attacks have been carried out). Insurgent losses during operations in Mogadishu appear to be remarkably small. Those killed or wounded are apparently recovered before pulling out. No insurgent has been taken prisoner in the course of an operation in Mogadishu.

A spokesman for the PRMLTM recently threatened the use of suicide attacks against AU peacekeepers: "We promise we shall welcome them with bullets from heavy guns, exploding cars and young men eager to carry out martyrdom operations against these colonial forces." So far, suicide attacks have been rare in a population little inclined to such methods. Iraq-style bombings directed at masses of civilians have also failed to materialize in the Somali insurgency.

While scores of foreigners have been arrested at the Kenyan border, the allegations made by the US and TGP that thousands of foreign fighters have joined the insurgency is an exaggeration. There is no evidence yet that foreign fighters are involved in the current clashes in Mogadishu. Although, TFG military commander, Saed Dhere, accused unnamed foreign countries of financing the attacks. The well-tested tactic of charging Al-Qu'aida linkages in domestic struggles in order to secure funds and arms from the west is liberally, used in Somalia.

When the UIC withdrew from the capital, they abandoned a large cache of arms that was then plundered by looters. Incredibly, the Bakara and Argentina arms markets in Mogadishu remain open, selling hand grenades, RPGs, machine guns, anti-aircraft guns and the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle. The AK-47 remains the insurgents' most common weapon, many of these having been seized from the police.

Left: Insurgents turned to guerrilla warfare since their ouster by Ethiopian and US military efforts.

The insurgents do not target civilian areas so much as display ineptitude in finding the proper range with their mortars. Further casualties are created when allied forces lash out blindly with artillery and rocket fire when they come under attack from residential neighborhoods. The wounded have difficulty reaching already overwhelmed hospitals due to continuous weapons fire or roadblocks erected by allied forces. Nearly half of the wounded perish after they finally reach medical care. As is the case with all insurgencies, the civilian population bear the brunt of the casualties in Somalia's conflit.

Religious and community leaders in Mogadishu have begged both sides to stop the devastation created by these endless rounds of attacks and counter-attacks. Sheikh Ali Haji Yusuf urged the formation of local security forces until the government can establish security in Mogadishu. Some gunmen have found new careers as vigilantes for hire in different neighborhoods in response to those concerns.

Mogadishu police usually, remain in their compounds and rarely emerge, leaving control of the streets to gunmen, vigilantes, criminals and the well-armed security forces of Mogadishu's business community. The TFG claims to have developed new teams of counter-terrorism specialists, but these appear to have had little effect so far.

Although Mogadishu's insurgents may be willing to start a large-scale insurgency, their lack of training on most weapons more powerful than an AK-47 restricts the effectiveness of their attacks on allied positions. Just before the Ethiopian invasion, large numbers of students were handed arms from UIC stockpiles. Predictably, Ethiopian regulars and warplanes quickly routed these inexperienced insurgents on open ground. Mogadishu is another story. In the urban battleground, TFG and Ethiopian troops have shown distaste for counter insurgency operations. TFG forces mostly, rely on Ethiopian firepower, while the Ethiopians are already in the process of withdrawal.

Nearly 1,600 AU peacekeepers are also patrolling Somalia. AU peacekeepers will have to be more aggressive than the Ethiopians to contain the Mogadishu insurgency, although such tactics might reinforce popular perception of the peace-keepers as an occupation army. Nevertheless, the envisioned 8,000 strong force has not materialized. With time, the effectiveness of the insurgents will improve, leading to the possibility of intense fighting as long as the TFG refuses to include the UIC leadership in the national reconciliation process, as urged by Ethiopia, the United States and the European Union.

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