Archive for December 16, 2014

8 October 2014

By Berouk Mesfin

Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of Somali militant Islamist group Harakat Al Shabab Al Mujahidin – commonly known as al-Shabaab – was killed by an American airstrike on 1 September. Godane took over leadership of the group in 2008 after his predecessor, Aden Hashi Ayro, was killed by a similar airstrike.

Godane tightened his grip by effectively eliminating his rivals in June 2013. These rivals had alleged that Godane had favored members of his own Isaaq clan, and that al-Shabaab was undermined by his one-man rule.

A harsh and uncompromising figure, Godane had rejected any negotiations with the Somali government and forced the allegiance of al-Shabaab to al-Qaeda in September 2009.

Godane had also overseen a number of attacks outside Somalia’s borders, including a bombing in the Djiboutian capital in 2014, the attack on Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital in 2013 and a bombing in the Ugandan capital in 2010.

Under Godane’s leadership, al-Shabaab suffered repeated military setbacks following offensives on its bases and sanctuaries by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and subsequently also from large parts of south-central Somalia. The loss of the lucrative port of Kisimayo in 2012 was a particularly severe blow, because it had provided al-Shabaab with an income of US$1 million a month.

The group had also become organizationally weakened. Godane’s period of leadership saw a continuous struggle for power between moderate and more militant leaders, who had their own networks of fighters and supporters. Different parts of the group hold different views regarding their relationship with al-Qaeda, the role of foreign fighters, civilian casualties and the group’s ideological and strategic direction.

It is against the backdrop of these internal divisions that Godane was replaced by Ahmed Omar Abu Ubeid, who was born in Ethiopia. Although a junior in terms of the group’s power structure, Abu Ubeid was a protégé of Godane and appears to have shared his aspirations. He may thus have enjoyed Godane’s approval as a possible successor.

Yet, he has neither his predecessor’s jihadist credentials, nor the strong clan support that some of his current rivals enjoy. For this reason, he is said to have convened an urgent meeting and relieved key commanders of their responsibilities, replacing them with more trusted individuals.

Ideologically, Abu Ubeid will probably not effect a major shift in al-Shabaab’s relations with the Somali government and al-Qaeda. But his new role begs some important questions. Does he have the necessary stature and resolve to assert the same tight grip that Godane had maintained over the group? Will he be able to unite divergent loyalties and forge them into a unified group, focusing on common enemies rather than internal divisions?

Beyond these questions, it remains that Godane’s killing had dealt a major blow to the group. It deprived al-Shabaab not only of its most prominent ideological figurehead, but also of an efficient organizer who had a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. It also demonstrated that al-Shabaab was unable to protect its senior leadership.

Ultimately, his death will temporarily undermine the morale of his many fanatical followers who have threatened attacks to avenge his death. Thus, in the short term, there could be retaliatory attacks. In the long term, however, al-Shabaab will remain a major and actual threat in the Horn of Africa, where domestic radicalization has risen. It may eventually overcome its present difficulties, and carry out more frequent and sophisticated attacks both inside and outside Somalia.

Godane’s death will definitely not bring about the end of al-Shabaab. The group will continue to exist, as it is sufficiently entrenched. Godane’s passing will likely also increase his followers’ resolve in fighting to the death. Having embraced a cult of death and martyrdom in line with jihadist ideology, al-Shabaab will survive beyond Ayro and Godane – who are seen to have died a martyr’s death.

The killing of the group’s leader will subsequently cause greater damage psychologically than operationally. Indeed, al-Shabaab’s capacity to plan, finance and carry out attacks will not be completely diminished in the near term. The day-to-day mission on the ground may not be significantly altered, and plans for attacks that have already been set in motion may not be disrupted that easily.

The group will remain a very flexible organisation operating in regional commands and multiple, disparate cells. It will retain its approximately 1 000-strong group of committed core fighters.

However, they will continue to be poorly structured, armed and supplied, while being led by field commanders who have neither extensive military knowledge nor long combat experience. For these reasons, al-Shabaab will likely avoid committing forces to direct combat with the vastly superior AMISOM troops.

Yet, al-Shabaab will still have thousands of active supporters willing to offer safe houses and locations for weapon caches. It will also continue to recruit foreign-born Somali and non-Somali individuals from Yemen, Kenya, the United States and Europe, who will serve as fighters, emissaries, financiers and suppliers of weapons.

Even if it loses control over south-central Somalia, al-Shabaab will launch suicide and roadside bombings on AMISOM and Somali government installations in Mogadishu and other towns. It will also carry out targeted killings of military and police officers, religious leaders, prominent businessmen and journalists.

The group will still tax businesses operating in areas under its control and engage in khat drug smuggling. The Somali diaspora in the United States, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the United Arab Emirates will also continue to collect funds and pass them on to al-Shabaab through money-wiring companies.

Finally and most significantly, al-Shabaab will continue to rely heavily on the Amniyat, its much-feared intelligence-gathering unit, which receives the biggest allocation of its funds.

This secret unit, made up of hardcore Godane loyalists, will continue to receive preferential treatment from Abu Ubeid, who has served as its coordinator. It will also continue to obtain timely intelligence from agents who infiltrate deep into the Somali government.

Source: allAfrica.



MOGADISHU – Somali military commanders Monday celebrated the capture of the last major port held by Islamist Shebab insurgents, as the government secured control of the town for the first time in over two decades.

“Al-Shebab are no longer in Barawe,” military commander Abdirisak Khalif Elmi told hundreds of residents Monday, calling on citizens to support the government.

Tanks and armored vehicles patrolled the town Monday, after the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab retreated late last week ahead of the advance.

The capture of Barawe, with troops entering Sunday but with mopping up operations continuing, removes a key source of revenue for the Islamist militia.

The African Union’s AMISOM force, which draws 22,000 soldiers from six nations, said Barawe, 200 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of Mogadishu, fell without “much resistance from the terrorist group.”

“Barawe is now under the control of SNA (Somali National Army) supported by AMISOM forces — the first time in 23 years, Barawe is under Somali government control,” AMISOM said Monday.

The fall of Barawe is a major blow for the insurgents, and came just a month after the death of their leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in a US air and drone strike.

“Somalia is waking to a brighter future,” UN special representative in Somalia Nick Kay said, in a congratulatory message to government and AU forces.

While some troops conducted house-to-house searches for weapons, the main body of soldiers were setting up bases just outside the town, local governor Abdukadir Mohamed Nur said.

“Operations to ensure security are ongoing,” Nur added.

Residents reported the Indian Ocean port was quiet, beyond soldiers firing into the air in celebration.

“Tanks and other armed vehicles entered this morning and houses have been searched, they were targeting some houses where Al-Shebab commanders lived,” said Ali Nurow, a resident.

“The situation is calm and there is no fighting — except heavy fire into the air by Somali and AMISOM troops when they have re-entered the town,” said Isak Mohamed, another resident.

The Shebab exported charcoal through Barawe to Gulf countries, earning at least $25 million (19 million euros) a year from the trade according to UN estimates.

The Shebab have vowed to avenge their leader’s death and to continue their fight to topple the country’s internationally-backed government.

On Saturday, a Shebab commander, Mohamed Abu Abdallah, said the militia would continue to stage attacks.

“The fighting will continue and we will turn the town into graveyards of the enemy,” he said, quoted by a pro-Shebab website.

The strike against Shebab leader Godane — one of the world’s eight top terror fugitives — came days after the AU and Somali troops launched a major offensive, “Operation Indian Ocean”, against the insurgents on several fronts.

Source: Middle East Online.



NAIROBI – Three years to the day since a famine that eventually killed more than a quarter of a million people was declared in Somalia, aid agencies warned Sunday the country faced a new catastrophe without urgent aid.

A joint statement issued by a group of charities and aid agencies said there were more than 300,000 malnourished children in Somalia and a total of 2.9 million people in need of life-saving help.

“Aid agencies today caution, again, that the signs of a drought are re-emerging in Somalia and urge for these not to be ignored in order to avoid a relapse into the conditions of the 2011 catastrophe,” the statement said, warning that without funding, aid programs were likely to be forced to shut down.

The charities said the number of people in crisis in the war-ravaged country was expected to rise as conditions worsen, with 1.1 million externally displaced people the hardest hit.

“Most affected people are still recovering from the massive losses of the 2011 drought and famine. This time, we must not fail the people of Somalia,” said Francois Batalingaya, World Vision’s country director for Somalia.

The agencies called for “urgent and consistent” support over the next three to six months to avoid a recurrence of the 2011 disaster.

The United Nations had warned earlier this month that the food crisis was expected to spiral into “emergency phase” in the capital Mogadishu, just one step short of famine on its classification scale of hunger.

Thousands displaced by war live in basic makeshift shelters in Mogadishu, where Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents continue to launch regular attacks against the fragile internationally-backed government.

In May 2014, only 12 percent of Somalia’s annual humanitarian needs had been funded out of a required $933 million (690 million euros), the joint NGO statement said.

The percentage has since risen to 27 percent — still well short of target, the agencies said. “The current funding gap means that programs addressing these needs and delivering vital basic services are at risk of shutting down.

Source: Middle East Online.


Mogadishu (AFP)

April 16, 2014

Armed forces from Somalia’s rival northern regions faced off on Wednesday over a contested region, with both the United Nations and United States calling for calm.

Troops from self-declared Somaliland in the northwest and soldiers from autonomous Puntland in the northeast have deployed around the town of Taleh, a contested zone in the northern Sool region.

The two regions claim several areas in border regions including potentially valuable oil blocks, with both sides in certain cases issuing overlapping exploration licenses.

Rival forces have clashed repeatedly in the region before, a lawless area bordering Ethiopia that does not recognize the authority of the weak central government based far to the south in Mogadishu.

“The situation will not be resolved by military means,” UN special representative Nicholas Kay said in a statement.

“All parties must refrain from violent actions, and make immediate efforts to de-escalate the situation and resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue and compromise,” he added.

US special representative James McAnulty expressed “deep concern” at the “mounting tensions” between the regions.

“We call upon all parties to refrain from violence and to seek resolution through peaceful dialogue,” he said in a statement.

Source: Africa Daily.


December 15, 2014

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s pan-Arab news channel will finally take to the airwaves early next year.

Officials for the channel, dubbed Alarab, said Monday it will begin broadcasting on February 1 from its base in the Bahraini capital, Manama. The channel promises to provide “an objective, fresh and unbiased view of world events,” according to a press statement.

Officials didn’t say how much it would cost. The channel had previously been expected to begin operations in 2012 in Bahrain, a tiny island kingdom connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia that is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Bahrain continues to face low-level unrest following widespread Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011 that were dominated by the country’s Shiite majority, which seeks greater political rights from the ruling Sunni monarchy.

Alarab will be located in the country’s prominent, twin-towered World Trade Center. Alarab’s general manager, Jamal Khashoggi, told reporters the channel wouldn’t shy away from sensitive issues in its own backyard.

“We will cover all views,” he said. Alarab will compete against well-established competitors including Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, as well as Sky News Arabia and Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, both of which are headquartered in the United Arab Emirates.

Bloomberg LP has a deal to provide business news content for Alarab, which could put the new channel in competition with Dubai-based business news channel CNBC Arabiya as well. Khashoggi said the channel will focus only on Arabic content, and has no plans to follow Al-Jazeera in launching an English-language channel.

A member of the Saudi royal family, Alwaleed controls Kingdom Holding Co., which has stakes in several well-known companies, including Citigroup Inc., Apple Inc., News Corp. and Twitter.