Classifieds | Archives | Jobs | About TGT | Contact | Subscribe
Last updated 3 hours, 57 minutes ago
Printer Friendly Version | TGT@Twitter | RSS Feed |
PV Vivekanand: Al Shabab on its ‘last days’
June 12, 2012
 Print    Send to Friend

The offer made by the administration of US President Barack Obama of tens of millions of dollars in rewards for information about top members of Somalia’s Al Shabab comes amid signs that the Al Qaeda-linked group is about to be trounced in a US-backed African military campaign. By extension, African forces gaining control of the country also offer the prospect of ending the scourge of Somalia-based piracy that is plaguing international shipping.

It is a blemish on the international community that piracy is thriving in Somalia. It is a shame that the world is unable to do anything about it when armed gunmen simply seize ships and hold the vessels and crew hostage until ransoms are paid.

The world is anxious to end the problem of piracy but it has turned apathetic to the overall crisis in Somalia because of the country’s culture of violence and long-running conflicts among its various tribes and clans. Without restoring some form of order to Somalia, there is little hope for solving the problem of piracy.

Now, the most potent and immediate challenge to Somalia’s security and stability seems to be in the process of being eliminated.

Al Shabab are reported to have suffered major setbacks in offensives launched by the military forces of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia as well as the African Union.

Military analysts say it is the likely end of the group’s once-powerful rule over much of the Horn of Africa country. Al Shabab remain strong in Kismayo, the southern port city through which it moves its supplies and from which it gets much of its financing, but the group has lost other transit points that have cut off supply routes to its western and northern fronts, reports say.

As and when the African forces overrun Al Shabab strongholds, then they could possibly provide a solution to piracy that is threatening and undermining international shipping.

Since 2008, Somali pirates have hijacked 175 vessels and attacked at least 445 others, according to US officials. They took 3,000 crew members from over 40 countries as hostage, and are still holding 241 hostages today. They hijacked 27 ships last year and six already this year. There are 10 ships, including three tankers, currently being held by Somali pirates. One of the ships, Iceberg 1, has been hijacked in March 2010, with no sign yet of a solution to the plight of its 23 crew members.

The pirated ships are moored along the central coastline of Somalia across the border from Ethiopia.

Earlier, Somalia’s breakaway Puntland region was the safe haven for the pirates. Through a concerted security push since 2010, Puntland has forced out the pirate gangs from their dens such as Eyl and Garad, with the pirates now primarily operating from the neighbouring Galmudug region.

It is widely assumed that the only effective way to tackle the problem is to storm the pirates’ lairs in a land-and-sea-based operation with air support. But it runs the risk of endangering the lives of the hostages.

At the same time, the prospect of African forces gaining control of the area opens the door for a serious thought about staging a special operation that could, once and for all, put an end to Somalia-based piracy that saw some $150 million being paid as ransom last year.

Al Shabab is not believed to be linked to the pirates.

In fact, an umbrella group of Somali militants, the Islamic Courts Union, that has since been disbanded, had cracked down on piracy in 2006.

Having gained control of most of Somalia, the group used clan connections to put an end to coastal villagers’ support for the pirates. When that effort did not work because of the money that the villagers gained from offering refuge to the pirates, Islamic Courts Union fighters stormed hijacked vessels.

Al Shabab was among the factions which made up the Islamic Courts Union.

The US rewards programme offers up to $7 million for Al Shabab’s founder, Ahmed Abdi Mohammed; up to $5 million each for his associates, Ibrahim Haji Jama, Fuad Mohammed Khalaf, Bashir Mohammed Mahamoud and Mukhtar Robow; and up to $3 million for Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi and Abdullahi Yare.

One of the seven, Khalaf, who is described as Al Shabab’s top fundraiser, has mocked the US offer and presented a counter-offer, offering livestock for “the whereabouts of infidel Obama and the lady of Bill Clinton.”

Khalaf went on to say that anyone who gave him information regarding “the idiot Obama” would get 10 camels, while someone who “reveals the hideout of the old woman Hillary Clinton will be rewarded 10 chickens and 10 roosters.”

It is the first time that Rewards for Justice programme has offered rewards for members of Al Shabab, who terrorise the people of Somalia and stand in the way of international assistance reaching them in areas controlled by its militiamen.

Al Shabab and Al Qaeda formally have merged this year. Al Shabab are said to count hundreds of foreign fighters among their ranks.

That being the case, it should be easy for the US rewards programme to succeed since local residents could be enticed into providing information leading to the capture or death of the seven Al Shabab leaders. However, the people of Somalia have seen Al Shabab’s predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, being ousted from its strongholds only to regroup two years later calling itself Al Shabab and challenging the weak UN-backed transitional government that is confined to the capital, Mogadishu. Those who helped oust the Islamic Courts Union were “punished” by Al Shabab.

The reality is that groups like Al Shabab could never be eliminated, particularly in a chaotic country like Somalia. They could only be held in check, but that needs an effective and powerful government security force trained in guerrilla warfare and in control of entire country.

That calls for a huge and determined effort with massive international support worked out in coordination with an efficient and committed central government in Mogadishu. Such an initiative might look like a non-starter now, given the weakness of the current transitional government whose members, according to reports, are vying with each other to line their pockets with the UN funds that reach them.

One of the soundest proposals to address Somalia’’s problems is to build it as a fluid, decentralised society with local mechanisms to resolve conflicts, according to Jeffrey Gettleman, who served as the East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times in the late 2000s. Under this proposal, clan-based governments will be set up in villages, towns, and neighbourhoods. These could come together to form district and regional governments under a loose national federation that coordinates issues such as currency or anti-piracy efforts, but does not sideline local leaders.

Diplomats and military experts do believe that there could indeed be a plan in the making behind the scenes to storm and destroy the pirate dens and rescue the hostages and vessels.

“The only thing that has been holding back such an operation was the fear of endangering the lives of the hostages,” said one European diplomat. “The risk hangs in the air even today.”

However, a military expert believes that an operation based on intelligence gathering and close surveillance of the pirate-infested areas could produce positive results.

The expert acknowledges the risk of hostages getting killed, but says: “There will be collateral damage. It is inevitable, but that is something that could be minimised with proper planning giving close attention to details.”

Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites
Post a comment
Related Stories
Understanding famine
From ancient Rome to modern times, mankind has suffered devastating periods of hunger caused by drought, war or misguided politics. Last week South Sudan was declared ..
A famine lurks in Somalia
Somalia’s prime minister said on Saturday that 110 people have died from hunger in the past 48 hours in a single region - the first death toll announced in a severe droug..
Too little aid, too many displaced
As hundreds of South Sudanese fleeing famine and civil war enter Sudan each day, aid workers warn of a lack of vital relief supplies, especially for malnourished children..
Ugaaso Boocow: Dispelling doubts about Somalia
I’m a Canadian national currently living and working in Mogadishu, Somalia. Though an eyebrow-raising choice of residence, I decided to move to Mogadishu last year to set..
Stephanie Nebehay: Not to enjoy but to survive
Up to 200,000 children under the age of five could die from severe malnutrition in Somalia by the end of the year unless the United Nations receives emergency funds to st..
Advertise | Copyright