Tag Archives: Al Qaeda Somalia

Lernaean Hydra-cultivating the many Gaddafis

When Doundou Chefou first took up arms as a youth a decade ago, it was for the same reason as other ethnic Fulani herders along the Niger-Mali border: to protect his livestock.  He had nothing against the Republic of Niger, let alone the United States of America. His quarrel was with rival Tuareg cattle raiders.

Yet in October 2017 he led dozens of militants allied to Islamic State in a deadly assault against allied US-Niger forces, killing four soldiers from each nation and demonstrating how dangerous the West’s mission in the Sahel has become.

The transition of Chefou and men like him from vigilantes protecting their cows to jihadists capable of carrying out complex attacks is a story Western powers would do well to heed, as the pursuit of violent extremism in West Africa becomes ever more enmeshed in long-standing ethnic and clan conflicts.

For centuries Tuareg and Fulani lived as nomads herding animals and trading – Tuareg mostly across the dunes and oases of the Sahara and Fulani mostly in the Sahel, a vast band of semi-arid scrubland that stretches from Senegal to Sudan….Though they largely lived peacefully side-by-side, arguments occasionally flared, usually over scarce watering points. A steady increase in the availability of automatic weapons made the rivalry more deadly.

A turning point was the Western-backed ousting of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. With his demise, many Tuareg who fought as mercenaries for Gaddafi returned home, bringing with them the contents of Libya’s looted armouries.  Some returnees launched a rebellion in Mali to create a breakaway Tuareg state in the desert north, a movement hijacked by al Qaeda-linked jihadists who had been operating in Mali for years. In 2012, they swept across northern Mali, seizing key towns and prompting a French intervention that pushed them back in 2013.

Amid the violence and chaos, some Tuareg turned their guns on rivals from other ethnic groups like the Fulani, who then went to the Islamists for arms and training.

“The Tuareg were armed and were pillaging the Fulani’s cattle,” Niger Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum told Reuters. “The Fulani felt obliged to arm themselves.”..

Tuareg in Mali and Niger dreamed of and sometimes fought for an independent state, Fulani generally been more pre-occupied by concerns over the security of their community and the herds they depend on. “For the Fulani, it was a sense of injustice, of exclusion, of discrimination and a need for self-defence,”  A militant who proved particularly good at tapping into this dissatisfaction was Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, an Arabic-speaking north African, several law enforcement sources said.  Al-Sahrawi recruited dozens of Fulani into the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), loosely allied to al Qaeda in the region and controlled Gao and the area to the Niger border in 2012.

Why pastoralists in Mali and Niger turned to jihad, Reuters, Nov. 13,  2017

Corruption in Somalia

Somalia_map_states_regions_districts

A United Nations panel that monitors compliance with U.N. sanctions on Somalia has accused Somalia’s  president, a former minister, and a U.S. law firm of conspiring to divert Somali assets recovered abroad, according to a new report.  The Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, an 8-person committee, disclosed the findings in a confidential report to the U.N. Security Council’s Somalia/Eritrea sanctions committee. Reuters reviewed a copy of the 37-page document.  The U.N. Monitoring Group said the information it has gathered so far “reflects exploitation of public authority for private interests and indicates at the minimum a conspiracy to divert the recovery of overseas assets in an irregular manner.”

Most of the overseas assets were frozen at the outset of the civil war in 1991 and include cash and gold held in banks during two decades of chaos and conflict in Somalia, as well as government properties on foreign soil.  What the monitors describe as a conspiracy involved the U.S.-based law firm Shulman Rogers, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his office, former foreign minister Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam, as well as two other individuals whom the monitors said acted as liaisons between Shulman Rogers and Somalia…

All those accused of involvement in the plan to divert assets have denied any wrongdoing. Several accused the chairman of the Monitoring Group, Jarat Chopra, of dubious investigative methods and making baseless assertions….

A 2013 U.N. Monitoring Group report said individuals in Mohamud’s government used the Somali central bank as a personal “slush fund”, with an average 80 percent of withdrawals made for private purposes. The presidency and the then-central bank governor Abdusalam Omer have strongly denied that accusation..  In its latest report, the Monitoring Group said that “a complex architecture of multiple secret contracts, which defied a separation of powers between the Presidency and the Central Bank, created the opportunity and rationalization for the misappropriation of public resources.”  “‘Pie-cutting’ of overseas assets by those involved in the project entailed retention of excessive percentages and direct payments from recovered assets as well as attempts to circumvent deposits in the Central Bank of Somalia,” it added.

Abrar, the former central bank governor who was also a former Citigroup vice president, quit last October after seven weeks on the job, alleging she had been pressured to sign a contract with Shulman Rogers that she feared could invite corruption at the central bank.According to the new report, she sent her resignation from Dubai after fleeing from Mogadishu out of fear for her safety.The Monitoring Group said it had followed up on a number of Abrar’s allegations and her concerns about the contract and the planned scheme for the recovery of Somalia’s overseas assets. One of her main worries, the monitors said, was a clause in a July 2013 contract with Shulman Rogers that gave the law firm a bonus of 5 percent of recovered assets in addition to its fees and for Shulman Rogers to retain a further 6 percent of recovered assets for undefined costs and expenses.

“Ms. Abrar considered this clause for undefined costs and expenses to be for hidden fees and ultimately understood that it was meant as a side payment to be divided two percent each between Foreign Minister Adam, Musa Haji Mohamed Ganjab and Abdiaziz Hassan Giyaajo Amalo,” the report said…

After consulting with the World Bank, the Somali president’s office said in a statement to Reuters that it revoked a power of attorney it had granted to Shulman Rogers in May and was renegotiating its contract with the law firm.

Excerpts from LOUIS CHARBONNEAU AND DRAZEN JORGIC. Exclusive: U.N. monitors allege ‘conspiracy’ to divert Somali assets, Reuters, July 15, 2014

The Non-Secret US Operations in Somalia 2014

Somalia USA, image from wikipedia

U.S. military advisors have secretly operated in Somalia since around 2007 and Washington plans to deepen its security assistance to help the country fend off threats by Islamist militant group al Shabaab, U.S. officials said.  The comments are the first detailed public acknowledgement of a U.S. military presence in Somalia dating back since the U.S. administration of George W. Bush and add to other signs of a deepening U.S. commitment to Somalia’s government, which the Obama administration recognized last year.

The deployments, consisting of up to 120 troops on the ground, go beyond the Pentagon’s January 2014 announcement that it had sent a handful of advisors in October 2013. That was seen at the time as the first assignment of U.S. troops to Somalia since 1993 when two U.S. helicopters were shot down and 18 American troops killed in the “Black Hawk Down” disaster.  The plans to further expand U.S. military assistance coincide with increasing efforts by the Somali government and African Union peacekeepers to counter a bloody seven-year insurgent campaign by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab to impose strict Islamic law inside Somalia.

Those U.S. plans include greater military engagement and new funds for training and assistance for the Somali National Army (SNA), after years of working with the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, which has about 22,000 troops in the country from Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia.  “What you’ll see with this upcoming fiscal year is the beginning of engagement with the SNA proper,” said a U.S. defense official, who declined to be identified. The next fiscal year starts in October.

An Obama administration official told Reuters there were currently up to 120 U.S. military personnel on the ground throughout Somalia and described them as trainers and advisors. “They’re not involved in combat,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that until last year, U.S. military advisors had been working with AMISOM troop contributors, as opposed to Somali forces.  President Barack Obama last year determined that Somalia could receive U.S. military assistance…

U.S. special operations forces have staged high-profile raids in the past in Somalia, including an aborted attempt in October to capture an al Shabaab operative in the militant group’s stronghold of Barawe. U.S. officials have acknowledged Washington’s support for AMISOM and Somalia’s struggle against al Shabaab.  U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officials have been known to operate in the country.  U.S. troop numbers on the ground in Somalia vary over time, the officials told Reuters. Deployments are “staggered” and “short-term,” one official said. But the Obama administration official added that there was overlap in the deployments to allow for a persistent presence on the ground.

Excerpt from PHIL STEWART, Exclusive: U.S. discloses secret Somalia military presence, up to 120 troops. Reuters, July 2, 2014

The Drone War in Somalia

Covert Operations in Somalia

Not Failed Just Paralyzed: Somalia

Port Mogadishu. Image from wikipedia

Western powers are in early talks on writing off Somalia’s debt, a big shift for a country that was long branded a failed state and has with help scored successes against al Qaeda-linked rebels and piracy.  Just two years ago, Islamist militants and African peacekeepers fought daily street battles in Mogadishu.

Now the city is rid of insurgents, though still vulnerable to attack, and the government’s focus is on bolstering security, rooting out corruption and imposing the rule of law.  Foreign diplomats point to a determination to re-enter the international fold under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, elected last year in the country’s first vote for decades.

This is welcome progress for regional states whose economies have been rattled by their neighbor’s instability and for Western capitals which long worried Somalia provides a base for militant Islam to flourish unchecked.

Mohamud had made it clear Somalia should not be seen as a basket case and wants to change donors’ attitudes, envoys said.  Discussion about debts suggest that change is happening. Somalia’s arrears stood at around $2.2 billion in 2010, World Bank data showed, peanuts in international terms but daunting when domestic revenues are forecast at $54 million in 2013….

Washington, London and Brussels are among those which have formally recognized the government for the first time since civil war erupted in 1991….

Security worries persist. Britain warned this week of imminent attacks in Mogadishu and al Shabaab militants have claimed several suicide bombings in past months, more than two years after they were driven out of the capital.  Their fighters still control swathes of the countryside, but an African Union force has forced them out of most cities and the Islamist group is now at its weakest ebb in the six years since it emerged amid anarchy as a fighting force.

The 17,600-strong African force includes troops from Uganda, Burundi and Kenya. Nairobi is worried by a surge in bombings, kidnappings and grenade attacks on its soil that it blames on the Somali militants and their sympathizers.

But… [i]n a country divided along clan faultlines, the government’s relationship with the regions is delicate and often uneasy under a fledgling federal system.

Strips of Somalia’s coast remain infested with pirates, even if they stage fewer successful attacks now due to the greater use of armed guards, increasingly aggressive naval action and slight improvements in law and order onshore.”The other parts of the country are dark,” said Hashi. “Mogadishu, which is the heart of Somalia, has recovered but the other regions, the limbs, are still paralyzed.”

A political newcomer, Mohamud’s election was hailed by many as a vote for change, but seven months on some grumble.  “He promised to improve security but it has not yet happened,” said shopkeeper Halima Bile from Baidoa, which relies on foreign rather than local forces for protection from the rebels. “I don’t know when Somalia will become a real country.”….

Somalia strives to shake off “failed state” tag

Why the CIA Loves Somali Warlords

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and US military special operations teams carried out frequent espionage and counter-terrorism missions inside Somalia starting in 2003, according to a recent series of articles in a newspaper focused on the US Army.Secret operatives who flew or swam to Somalia planted cameras and phone-tapping devices and paid local warlords to help hunt for key figures in Al Qaeda’s East African network, the reports in Army Times reveal.

Sean Naylor, a reporter for the privately owned Virginia-based newspaper, attributes the disclosures mostly to anonymous sources currently or formerly affiliated with US military or intelligence services.  For example, he quotes “an intelligence source with long experience in the Horn” indicating that although Al Qaeda’s “centre of gravity” was in Mogadishu, “there was a huge support cell split between Nairobi and Mombasa.”  Some of the clandestine missions inside Somalia yielded important results, Army Times reports.

In late 2003, CIA agents persuaded warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed to sell them about 40 surface-to-air missiles, each capable of shooting down a civilian jet liner, the newspaper recounts.  It was a weapon of this type that was fired at, but missed, an Israeli aircraft taking off from the Moi International Airport in Mombasa in 2002.  The CIA paid about $360,000 for the missiles — a sum described by a US intelligence source as “peanuts.” They were taken initially to the US military base in Djibouti and later flown out, Army Times writes.  American agents were flown into Somalia from Kenya on civilian turboprop planes loaded with miraa, the newspaper says.  “The safest flight you can be on in Somalia is the miraa flight,” a source is quoted as explaining.  The planes are said to have landed at the K50 airport, about 50 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu.  From there, CIA case officers and “shooters” from a US special operations force travelled to Mogadishu in small convoys escorted by militants loyal to one or another warlord, Naylor reports.

Devices for eavesdropping on mobile telephone conversations were seeded in several locations in the Somali capital. “The ability to listen to Al Qaeda in East Africa’s phone calls paid big dividends,” Naylor writes.  The ultimate aim of these undercover missions was to capture or kill the 20 or so most important Al Qaeda figures in Somalia, Army Times says. “But rather than use US forces to do this, the CIA’s plan would have Somali warlords capture the Al Qaeda personnel before turning them over to the US to send — or ‘render’ — them to an American ally or one of the agency’s secret prisons,” according to Naylor’s account. At least two of the targets were subsequently hit.

Saleh Ali Nabhan, described as a key Al Qaeda operative in East Africa, was killed in a 2009 raid by US Navy special forces; Aden Hashi Ayro, a leader of Al Shabaab, was among several militants who died in a US airstrike in 2008.  In southern Somalia, US intelligence agents paid local spies up to $2,000 a month, Army Times reports.  A key point of interest was a rumoured Al Qaeda training camp in Ras Kamboni, a coastal town three kilometres from the Kenya border.  But it was not until 2007 that the US became convinced that “hundreds” of fighters were indeed training in and near Ras Kamboni, the newspaper says.

Somali warlords who did not agree to co-operate with the US in exchange for payoffs were threatened with the possibility of air strikes, Naylor reports. That was supposedly a bluff on the part of the CIA, however.

In the first of his articles, published in Army Times on October 31, Naylor describes an operation involving about a dozen forays into Somalia to plant cameras that had been disguised to look like natural or man-made objects.  These “Cardinal” devices were put in place by special forces who travelled via small submarines to within a mile of the Somalia coast and then swam to shore through what the newspaper describes as some of the world’s most shark-infested waters.  The cameras were placed near suspected militant training sites as well as in Kismayu and other ports where foreign fighters were believed to be arriving.

The missions were opposed by then-US ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy as well as by the CIA station chief in the Nairobi embassy, Naylor reports.  On the other side was US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. President George W Bush was eventually persuaded to approve the missions, Naylor reports.  One of the devices was discovered in January 2004 by fishermen from Ras Kamboni, Army Times says, citing a report on a Somalia news website.  “Nothing” came out of these operations, however, says a source cited by Naylor. A “senior intelligence official” offered the same verdict: “If it were a business, it’s not making any money.”

Seven or eight years ago, “the warlords’ fear of being whacked by US air power was groundless. There were no US aircraft overhead,” Naylor writes.  He quotes a US source as saying, “We had very, very few imagery assets available — everything was still dedicated to Iraq.”  It was the lack of pilotless aircraft and a shortage of reliable local spies inside Somalia that led the US to undertake risky espionage missions that, in some cases, produced no useful information.

KEVIN KELLEY, Reports detail past CIA operations in Somalia, East African, Nov. 20, 2011