GULF NEWS — Dubai: Of late, rumours have done the rounds that the UN-backed African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) may withdraw from the country in a year or two. This, despite the fact that the threat from the Al Qaida-aligned Al Shabab militant group remains grave, as indicated by the horrific bombing in the capital Mogadishu in October last year that left at least 512 people dead and hundreds more injured.
“AMISOM has been in Somalia for over a decade now. Overall, its performance is a mixed bag,” said Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group, an influential Brussels-based think-tank. Speaking to Gulf News by phone from Nairobi, Abdi noted: “AMISOM has managed to push out Al Shabab from Mogadishu, and from many towns in south-central Somalia, especially in the past five years. But Al Shabab still exists in rural areas. And it’s not possible to control the towns and cities [fully] unless the rural areas are also under control.”
Abdi said AMISOM countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Djibouti – are caught in a difficult situation. “Eleven years on, progress has been slow. AMISOM is operating on only 80 per cent of its budget. Resources remain a challenge, especially equipment promised by Western countries. The West has talked about increasing training and equipment but they have not delivered 12 helicopter gunships as promised, for instance.”
Al Shabab still exists in rural areas. And it’s not possible to control the towns and cities [fully] unless the rural areas are also under control.”
– Rashid Abdi | Horn of Africa Project Director, International Crisis Group
For a majority of Somalis, their country has been in a state of war ever since they can remember. Full-blown warlordism became the norm in Somalia following the toppling of the military dictatorship of Siad Barre in 1991 by clan-based militias. The warlords carved out fiefdoms across the country.
A unity government formed in 2000, which had international backing, was never able to establish full control, and the two comparatively peaceful northern regions – Somaliland and Puntland – broke away, becoming de facto independent states. A coalition of Islamists jurists, called the Union of Islamic Courts, took over the capital and established a government in 2006. But, six months later, Ethiopia invaded to topple that government.
In the period that followed, Somalia was engulfed in violence. A new threat – the Al Qaida-aligned Al Shabab militant group – popped up, and AMISOM began operations in the country in February 2007.
In 2012, a new internationally-backed government was installed, but despite help from relentless US drone strikes and the backing of almost 20,000 AMISOM troops, Al Shabab continues to pose a serious threat to the authorities in Mogadishu.
“AMISOM is stretching itself … its supply lines are getting longer. Its casualties are increasing. Besides, [there is the question of] ‘liberated’ territory not being well governed, providing Al Shabab the advantage,” said Abdi.
Exit strategy talks hint at a ‘transition period’ in which the aim is to increase the capacity of the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF). But, Abdi said, the SNAF is “nowhere near” being a cohesive force. “If AMISOM leaves, SNAF cannot manage the situation. It is not capable [of providing security] in the short to medium term.”
Abdi agreed there were many parallels between the situation in Afghanistan and Somalia. “[In both countries] we have weak governments that depend on the support of foreign forces. The parallels are obvious.”
One of the reasons that AMISOM feels like it can now move out is Somalia’s bilateral secuirty arrangements with different countries. “There is a proliferation of bilateral security arrangements. But Mogodishu’s security dealings with these countries can never replace AMISOM.”
Asked what the endgame in Somalia would look like, after decades of war, Abdi said: “That’s the million dollar question. Mogadishu looks much different than before. There have been improvements. Somalia’s federal system has reistered progress. The picture overall is not hopeles. But, if AMISOM pulls out in a hasty manner, all that will be lost.”
Kansas Trio Convicted in Plot to Bomb Somali Immigrants
WICHITA, Kan. — A federal jury on Wednesday convicted three men of plotting to bomb an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and worshiped in Garden City, Kan., giving prosecutors a victory at a time when threats against religious and racial minorities are rising nationally.
“These defendants conspired to build a bomb, blow up a building and murder every single man, woman and child inside,” Tony Mattivi, a federal prosecutor, told jurors during closing statements.
The men, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein, all of whom are white, appeared stoic as the verdicts were read. They face up to life in prison when they are sentenced in June.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for about seven hours over two days.
Defense lawyers tried to convince jurors that their clients were manipulated by the F.B.I., and had been unfairly targeted for exercising their rights to own guns and speak freely.
“He was a member of a militia. He loved his guns. This was a lifestyle,” Melody Brannon, a lawyer for Mr. Allen, told the mostly white jury. “The government tried to criminalize that lifestyle.”
The trial, which played out over about a month in Wichita, focused on a period before the 2016 presidential election when a paid F.B.I. informant infiltrated a militia group that prosecutors said included the three men. Prosecutors, who built much of their case around secret recordings that the informant made of the men talking, said that they planned to carry out the bombing on Nov. 9 of that year, a day after voters selected a president.
“They wanted to send a message to the people living there that they’re not welcome in Garden City, they’re not welcome in southwest Kansas, they’re not welcome in the United States,” Mr. Mattivi said.
The men, who called themselves “the Crusaders,” were arrested about four weeks before Election Day and charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against rights, which the Justice Department considers a hate crime. Mr. Wright was also charged with lying to the F.B.I. The three men were found guilty on all counts against them.
The trial came amid a national escalation in threats against religious and racial minorities, especially Muslims, according to the F.B.I. and organizations that monitor hate crimes.
“It is now approaching the level of hate violence against the same communities that we saw in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT: South Asian Americans Leading Together, a national advocacy organization.
Prosecutors portrayed the Kansas defendants as aspiring domestic terrorists who joined a militia and decided to bomb the Somali apartments after considering other attacks — on elected officials, churches that helped refugees and landlords who rented to immigrants.
Defense lawyers, who criticized the F.B.I.’s investigation throughout the trial as government overreach, suggested that their clients had merely engaged in idle talk inspired partly by the 2016 election. Expletive-filled recordings of the men played before the jury contained repugnant, bigoted language, the defense lawyers said, but not evidence of a federal crime.
“It is not morally right to hold such hate, but it is not legally wrong,” said James Pratt, a lawyer for Mr. Stein, who acknowledged that his client referred to Muslims as “cockroaches.” Mr. Stein referred to himself, the recordings showed, as an “Orkin man,” referencing the pest extermination company.
“We all have the right to hate,” Mr. Pratt added.
A bombing never took place, and no one was physically injured in Garden City, a point defense lawyers emphasized to jurors. They said the men lacked the ability or commitment to carry out such an attack, and that the F.B.I.’s paid informant helped steer the plot and suggested targeting the apartments.
Garden City is a racially diverse place about 200 miles west of Wichita with around 27,000 residents. Many Somalis and other immigrants have moved to the area in recent years to work at a nearby meatpacking plant.
The apartment complex that prosecutors say was targeted is a center of Somali life in Garden City. Many refugee families live in units of the complex; others come to pray in a makeshift mosque inside one unit.
Moussa Elbayoumy, who chairs the board of the Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the verdict affirmed his faith in the justice system.
Many Muslims he talked to in Garden City had not followed the trial closely, Mr. Elbayoumy said, but had hoped for convictions.
“The instance was troubling, was concerning. People were afraid,” Mr. Elbayoumy said in a phone interview. “But after that, they put this behind them and moved on with their lives.”
What’s triggering tension between Somalia and the UAE? | Inside Story
Somalia has been in conflict for much of the past 25 years. But the horn of Africa nation has been showing signs of recovery.
And that’s provoked interest from many regional countries including the United Arab Emirates.
The Gulf nation has been conducting a military training programme and running a hospital in the capital Mogadishu.
But, the UAE’s government has now abruptly ended its involvement on both those fronts after a series of recent diplomatic disagreements.
So, why are the UAE and other regional countries interested in Somalia?
AMISOM asks for more police officers in Somalia
DAILY MONITOR — KISMAYO- The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has asked partners states to contribute more police officers to expand its operations in the war-torn country.
The call was made on Tuesday by Ms Christine Alalo, the acting AMISOM police commissioner while receiving 145 police officers from Sierra Leone.
The deployment of the force from Sierra Leone brings to 160 the number of police officers from Sierra Leone.
“We expect other police contributing countries to do the same because we are expanding our operations. We are moving away from Mogadishu,” Ms Alalo said.
Apart from Sierra Leone, other police contributing countries in Somalia are; Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Ghana.
Early this month, over 500 Ugandan Police Officers sat for interviews that would see successful ones join police operations in Somalia.
Ms Alalo said since police operations will be extended to other federal states and districts, it is inevitable to increase the number of police units.
Between 2015 and 2016, AMISOM trained 600 Somali officers in Jubbaland, but Ms Alalo said that number has to be reinforced.
Meanwhile, the AMISOM Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mustafa Solomon Kambeh, said the police officers would be deployed in Jubbaland and Kismayo.
Mr Kambeh doubles as the Contingent Commander of the Sierra Leonean FPU in Mogadishu urged the forces to stick to the AMISOM mandate of pacifying Somalia and its regional states.
The Formed Police Unit is charged with public order management, protection of facilities and support to police operations that require a concerted response.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution adopted in 2017 approved an increase to a maximum of 1,040 police officers serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)
AMISOM is committed to redoubling its efforts to train and recruit more police officers during the transition period as it prepares to hand over security responsibilities to the Somali security forces as stipulated in the Security Council Resolution.