War on Al-Shabaab

Title: US Drones Kill 17 Al-Shabab Fighters
Date: September 17, 2011
Press TV

Seventeen al-Shabab fighters have been killed in drone attacks by the US military that targeted their bases in southern Somalia, Press TV reports.

On Friday, three high-ranking members and 14 fighters of the al-Shabab militant group were killed when the US military used remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles in an attack on Dhoobley town, which is located near Kismayo, the capital of the lower Juba region and a port city about 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of the Somali capital Mogadishu, a Press TV correspondent reported on Saturday.

On Thursday, nine civilians were killed and 30 others wounded in US airstrikes on the outskirts of Kismayo.

Somalia is the sixth country where the US military has used remote-controlled aircraft to conduct deadly airstrikes.

The United States has also used drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Strategically located in the Horn of Africa, Somalia remains one of the countries generating the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons in the world (Press TV, 2011).

U.S. Drones Strike Al Shabaab In Somalia
Date: September 26, 2011
Source: Global Post

The United States launched drone strikes against the anti-government group Al Shabaab in southern Somalia this weekend.

An official from the Al Qaeda-allied militant group and local residents confirmed three targets were hit in the southern port city Kismayo, Reuters reported. The city is currently controlled by Al Shabaab.

A surveillance drone crashed in Kismayo, though reports differ on whether it was shot down by militants or crashed due to a technical glitch.

The U.S. embassy in Nairobi has so far declined to comment on the recent series of attacks.

Kismayo is of key importance to Al Shabaab because the city provides taxes to the militant group for its operations and is a gateway for goods reaching areas under their control, according to the BBC.

Renewed violence has plagued the famine-stricken country for the past four years, when Al Shabaab began its insurgency against the West-backed ruling government.  Since then, more than 21,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Though drone strikes are far more extensive in Pakistan and Afghanistan, attacks have been reported in Somalia before. In July this year Al Jazeera reported the first strike against Al Shabaab in East Africa, which wounded two leaders of the militant group.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week the United States is escalating its drone war in East Africa. New installations in Ethiopia and Seychelles will launch drones into Somalia and Yemen to strike militant groups based there.

U.S. officials have warned that the success of the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan might push Al Qaeda’s base of operations west to the Horn of Africa (Global Post, 2011).

Title: 28 Civilians Die In Battle For Mogadishu
Date: October 26, 2011
Source: Press TV

At least 28 civilians have been killed and tens of others injured after African Union forces and al-Shabab fighters turned on each other and clashed in war-ravaged Somali capital of Mogadishu, Press TV reported.

Bitter clashes broke out between al-Shabab fighters and African Union (AU) soldiers in Mogadishu's northern neighborhoods of Dayniile and Gupta as well as Hodan neighborhood in southern Mogadishu.

Over 45 people were also injured as the two sides exchanged heavy gunfire, and barrages of mortar shells were fired.

Somali ambulance workers transported the injured to nearby hospitals.

Thousands of local residents are also fleeing for their lives in the wake of bloody battles in the Somali capital.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The Somali government has struggled for years to restore security, but efforts have not yet yielded results in the nation (Press TV, 2011).

Title: Kenya Bombs Somali Airport Held By Militants
Date: September 25, 2012
Fox News

Abstract: The Kenyan military says its jets have bombed an airport in Somalia -- the last major city in the country held by extremist insurgents who are fighting African Union troops.

Kenya's military said Tuesday that its bombing of the Somali port city of Kismayo destroyed a warehouse and armory belonging to the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, which controls the city. Al-Shabab said on Twitter, however, that the three bombs which hit the airport didn't cause any casualties or losses.

Claims about fighting in Somalia are difficult to verify.

Kismayo is the main remaining stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab. The group, considered terrorists by the United States and others, is waging an insurgency against the U.N.-backed Somali government, which is being bolstered by African troops including forces from Kenya (Fox News, 2012).

Title: White House Widening Covert War In North Africa
Date: October 3, 2012
Yahoo News

Abstract:  Small teams of special operations forcesarrived at American embassies throughout North Africa in the months before militants launched the fiery attack that killed the U.S. ambassador in Libya. The soldiers' mission: Set up a network that could quickly strike a terrorist target or rescue a hostage.

But the teams had yet to do much counterterrorism work in Libya, though the White House signed off a year ago on the plan to build the new military task force in the region and the advance teams had been there for six months, according to three U.S. counterterror officials and a former intelligence official. All spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the strategy publicly.

The counterterror effort indicates that the administration has been worried for some time about a growing threat posed by al-Qaida and its offshoots in North Africa. But officials say the military organization was too new to respond to the attack in Benghazi, where the administration now believes armed al-Qaida-linked militants surrounded the lightly guarded U.S. compound, set it on fire and killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Republicans have questioned whether the Obama administration has been hiding key information or hasn't known what happened in the immediate aftermath of the attack. They are using those questions in the final weeks before the U.S. elections as an opportunity to assail President Barack Obama on foreign policy, an area where he has held clear leads in opinion polls since the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

On Tuesday, leaders of a congressional committee said requests for added security at the consulate in Benghazi were repeatedly denied, despite a string of less deadly terror attacks on the consulate in recent months. Those included an explosion that blew a hole in the security perimeter and another incident in which an explosive device was tossed over the consulate fence. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Congress in a letter responding to the accusations that she has set up a group to investigate the Benghazi attack, and it is to begin work this week.

As of early September, the special operations teams still consisted only of liaison officers who were assigned to establish relationships with local governments and U.S. officials in the region. Only limited counterterrorism operations have been conducted in Africa so far.

The White House, the CIA and U.S. Africa Command all declined to comment.

"There are no plans at this stage for unilateral U.S. military operations" in the region, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Tuesday, adding that the focus was on helping African countries build their own forces.

For the Special Operations Command, spokesman Col. Tim Nye would not discuss "the missions and or locations of its counterterrorist forces" except to say that special operations troops are in 75 countries daily conducting missions.

The go-slow approach being taken by the Army's top clandestine counterterrorist unit — known as Delta Force — is an effort by the White House to counter criticism from some U.S. lawmakers, human rights activists and others that the anti-terror fight is shifting largely to a secret war using special operations raids and drone strikes, with little public accountability. The administration has been taking its time when setting up the new unit to get buy-in from all players who might be affected, such as the U.S. ambassadors, CIA station chiefs, regional U.S. military commanders and local leaders.

Eventually, the Delta Force group will form the backbone of a military task force responsible for combating al-Qaida and other terrorist groups across the region with an arsenal that includes drones. But first, it will work to win acceptance by helping North African nations build their own special operations and counterterror units.

And nothing precludes the administration from using other military or intelligence units to retaliate against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 consulate attack in Benghazi.

But some congressional leaders say the administration is not reacting quickly enough.

"Clearly, they haven't moved fast enough to battle the threat," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich.

While Rogers would not comment on the special operations counterterrorism network, he said, "You actually have to hunt them (terrorists) down. No swift action, and we will be the recipient of something equally bad happening to another diplomat."

The Obama administration has been concerned about the growing power and influence of al-Qaida offshoots in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and North Africa. Only the Yemeni branch has tried to attack American territory directly so far, with a series of thwarted bomb plots aimed at U.S.-bound aircraft. A Navy SEAL task force set up in 2009 has used a combination of raids and drone strikes to fight militants in Yemen and Somalia, working together with the CIA and local forces.

The new task force would work in much the same way to combat al-Qaida's North African affiliates, which are growing in numbers and are awash in weapons from post-revolutionary Libya's looted stockpiles. They are well-funded by a criminal network trafficking in drugs and hostages.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM, and Nigerian-based extremist sect Boko Haram are arguably the two largest and most dangerous affiliates. Both have morphed in recent years from extremist rebel groups that challenge their home governments into terrorist groups that use violence to try to impose extreme Islamic rule on any territory they can seize across Africa.

U.S. officials believe AQIM may have helped the local Libyan militant group Ansar al-Shariah carry out the Benghazi attack, and Boko Haram has killed more than 240 people in an anti-Christian, anti-government campaign of assassinations and bombings this year alone.

The governments of Libya and Niger have already asked for U.S. assistance to build their own special operations capability to help combat such al-Qaida-related groups, and Nigeria has requested help to control its porous border to stop militant trafficking, according to two U.S. officials. They, too, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Mali has asked for international assistance to win back control of its northern region from al-Qaida groups including AQIM and Boko Haram, opening the possibility of a return of U.S. special operations forces there. A U.S. training unit was pulled out of the country after a March coup that gave the militants the chaos they needed to seize the northern territory.

The top State Department official for African affairs said Tuesday that the militants in Mali "must be dealt with through security and military means."

"But any military action up there must indeed be well planned, well organized, well resourced and well thought through," said Johnnie Carson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "And it must, in fact, be agreed upon by those who are going to be most affected by it."

U.S. Africa Command chief Gen. Carter Ham said "a military component" would be a part of an overall solution in northern Mali, but he ruled out an overt U.S. military presence, speaking to reporters during a visit to Algeria over the weekend.

Asked about the attack in Benghazi, Ham said it's the host country's responsibility to protect diplomatic missions on its territory (Yahoo News, 2012).

Title: Experts Warn War Against Al Shabaab Far From Won
October 27, 2012
Standard Media

They may have been routed from their stronghold of Kismayo, but the Al Shabaab militants could be re-grouping for a major assault on Kenyan and the African Union forces.

Security analysts at the South African-based think tank – the Institute of Security Studies – are warning that the war against the terror group may be far from over.

In a report on conflict prevention and risk analysis in Africa released last week, the Pretoria-based group says the celebration over the fall of Kismayo may have been premature.

The report says all indications were that remnants of the terror group that have been targeting Kenya in its revenge attacks were planning a new round of war in their bid to retake the coastal city.

Kismayu fell under a cloud of gunfire last month when the Kenyan Defence Forces overran it, leaving hundreds of Al Shabaab fighters killed, wounded or captured.

The city, a priced catch for both the Kenyan and the African Union Forces (Amisom) was captured after months of aerial, land and naval assault on the militants.

But the ISS analysts are now calling for new tactics to stop the terror group from waging fresh battle.

Major Onslaught
“While taking Kismayu represents a huge victory for Amisom, it does not mean that the threat of Al Shabaab has been eradicated,” says the report.

It adds: “There are indications that Al Shabaab is planning to resort to unconventional warfare methods, including deploying suicide bombers and other guerrilla tactics, to make the area ungovernable.”

The experts say the people of Kismayo remain concerned that Al-Shabaab has simply blended into the local population.

“They may be hesitant to show their support for Amisom, as this may unwittingly court a reprisal from Al Shabaab, putting their lives at risk. Now, however, the population is still gradually warming to Amisom’s presence,” they say.

The ISS group further observes that the KDF and Amisom face the challenge of securing Kismayo, as Al Shabaab left booby traps and unexploded improvised explosive devices, which are not always easy to identify.

It says the KDF is currently busy removing such devices from the town.

“It remains to be seen what Al Shabaab will do next, but it is probable that it will move on to bigger towns, and start engaging in unconventional warfare,” writes the ISS team.

They add: “The fact that Amisom managed to take control of Kismayo with relative ease indicates that Al Shabaab may be changing its game plan.”

They warn that KDF and Amisom should remain alert and not become complacent because of its ‘easy’ victory. Al Shabaab may be mutating, and may soon start engaging in guerrilla-type warfare.

According to the Pretoria based group, the African Union forces’ immediate challenge is to keep Kismayo under control, and to win the hearts and minds of the people.

However, the experts say it was possible that the war in Somalia is taking a new turn and that Amisom has not even seen the beginning.

They also want the African Union forces to exercise great care in its attempts to form a local authority, in order not to worsen existing clan tensions. “The fact that the KDF was involved in the taking of Kismayu may be used by Al Shabaab to claim that Somalia has been ‘invaded’.

If it succeeds in doing this, it may be easier for the group to gain access to more arms,” they say.

But the KDF Information operations officer, Col Cyrus Oguna appeared to downplay the new report when he reported on the forces’ arrest of a key woman linked to Al Shabaab in Kismayo.

Big Boost
Oguna said the forces were on top of the operations and that the arrest of the woman was a big boost to the soldiers’ efforts to neutralise the terror group’s plans to use women to carry out attacks.

He said a house-to-house search last Sunday netted 72 suspected Al Shabaab members.

In a recent press statement, the Amisom Commander, Lt Gen Andrew Gutti said the Al Shabaab had completely been routed out of major towns and assured ordinary Somalis of protection.

He said the capture of Kismayo and other key towns had denied the terror group the food supply and illegal income, making them vulnerable. Gutti said the recent capture of another key Al Shabaab stronghold area of Wanla Wein was proof the militants had lost considerable strength.

He however conceded the militants were still imposing illegal taxes on the locals.

The security operations in Somali are of immense importance to Kenyans because the country has in the past few years bore the brunt of the militant group.

A number of police officers and civilians have either died or badly wounded in grenade attacks blamed on the Al Shabaab group.

The militants and their sympathisers have been targeting churches and other public places for attacks.

A retired security operative in Nairobi, Ben Koske said the KDF operations in Somali would take longer than expected because it would take long to completely wipe out the Al Shabaab.

“Kenya must also be ready to spend more money to defend its people against Al Shabaab attacks in North Eastern and other major towns,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ugandan authorities now say they are reviewing the presence of its troops in Somalia, after the UN accused it of backing Democratic Republic of Congo rebels.

A senior Uganda minister was categorical they had been “stabbed in the back” by the UN.

Asuman Kiyingi said Uganda could now suspend its involvement in Somalia, where it supplies the largest number of troops to the African Union mission.

The AU has helped government forces gain ground against Islamist militants.

The report by a UN panel of experts last week said Rwanda and Uganda were supplying weapons to the M23 rebels, whose insurrection has forced some 500,000 from their homes since April - charges both countries denied.

“We are reviewing our engagement in Somalia until these malicious allegations are withdrawn and the international community at the UN assure the people of Uganda that the sacrifices they are making are appreciated and recognised instead of being stabbed in the back the way that... report did,” Mr Kiyingi told the BBC (Standard Media, 2012).