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Al-Shabaab militants ban starving Somalis from accessing aid

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Islamist militants in Somalia have imposed a ban on humanitarian assistance in areas they control, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to choose between death from starvation and disease or brutal punishment.

In some towns, hungry and weak people have been ordered by extremist leaders to remain where they are to act as human shields against US airstrikes.

Somalia is suffering its worst drought in 40 years, with the effects of climatic catastrophe compounded by war and poor governance.

Interviews with villagers in the swaths of land controlled by al-Qaida-affiliate al-Shabaab, in the centre and south of the east African state, reveal a population on the brink of catastrophe, with children and older people already dying in significant numbers.

Al-Shabaab has told people they will be punished – possibly executed as spies – if they have any contact with humanitarian agencies.

Strict British and US counter-terrorism laws are also discouraging humanitarian organisations from delivering vital emergency assistance, aid agencies have said.

Although aid officials say a huge international effort and donations by Somalia’s vast diaspora have so far averted a repeat of the 2011 famine, when 250,000 people died, conditions in much of the country have continued to deteriorate in recent months.

An additional 500,000 people now need humanitarian assistance, bringing the total to 6.7 million. Almost half of these people face starvation if they do not receive help.

One reason for the high death toll six years ago was a blockade imposed by al-Shabaab on humanitarian assistance by international and local NGOs that did not meet its strict criteria.

This time, al-Shabaab appeared initially to adopt a more moderate policy, which analysts said suggested leaders were wary of being blamed once more for failing to either provide or allow help to reach needy communities.

However, its approach appears to have hardened since late June, possibly owing to internal power struggles.

Tiyeglow, a town in the Bakool region that is largely controlled by al-Shabaab, has been badly affected, according to its government-appointed mayor.

“People in Tiyeglow are starving. Al-Shabaab suddenly stopped aid agencies which were trying to reach hungry people in the town. That is why some of the residents began to flee to seek food aid,” Ibrahim Abdirahman Mohamed said.

“Children under five are particularly in a very risky situation, because the malnutrition rate is going up, and if this blockade by Al-Shabaab continues we will be witnessing more and more children dying,” Mohamed warned.

A Save the Children survey published last month showed that the number of severe acute malnutrition cases had soared in four out of nine districts it assessed in southern and central Somalia. In the district of Mataban, 9.5% of children aged under five were severely malnourished.

The survey focused on areas that are largely controlled by al-Shabaab.

Hassan Noor Saadi, Save the Children’s country director in Somalia, said any aid reaching al-Shabaab-controlled areas was “a very localised response”.

“These locations are getting perhaps 10 to 15% of what is reaching places where there is government control or the presence of humanitarian actors,” Saadi added.

More than two million people – a fifth of the population of Somalia – live in areas controlled by al-Shabaab. The extremist group has repeatedly attacked aid workers and continues to launch daily strikes against government targets.

More than 700,000 people have already fled their homes in Somalia, 200,000 over the past two months. Almost all have left al-Shabaab-controlled territory in a desperate bid to find food or medical aid.

Abdiya Barrow, a 48-year-old mother of seven who fled Tiyeglow, told the Guardian she had walked for seven days to reach the city of Baidoa, where her three youngest children were being treated by international medical teams for diarrhoea and malnutrition.

“When the drought began, al-Shabaab told us that we could accept food only from aid agencies related to Islamic organisations, but eventually they said no. Anybody found bringing food aid will be killed because of suspicion that aid agencies might be affiliated to the [Somali] government,” Barrow said.
“Life was extremely bad. There is no food and water. People were dying on a daily basis. The day I and my family left, a male neighbour and his young son starved and died.”

In some towns, al-Shabaab leaders have stopped residents leaving their homes.

Mohamed Osman, who lives in Buale, a drought-hit town in Somalia’s Middle Juba region, said the group did not allow aid workers to operate there and had warned locals they would be punished if they attempted to arrange assistance from outside.

“[Al-Shabaab] warned the residents not to move out, because they said they do not want the town to become empty, but … there is nothing to eat. A kilo of rice is nearly $4. Who can afford that? Children and women are dying,” Osman said.

One woman in Buale, who requested anonymity owing to security concerns, said her four-year-old daughter died from diarrhoea last month. “My five-year-old son is now sick. He is severely malnourished. Al-Shabaab is giving us nothing and yet they do not allow aid agencies to come to us. If you talk about the aid or call for aid, they even kill you by labelling you a spy,” she said.

Abdirahman Mohamed Hussein, the government official overseeing humanitarian aid in Jubaland, said the situation in al-Shabaab-controlled areas was likely to deteriorate in coming weeks. “The situation will turn into famine if the people in these towns do not get food very soon. We are very worried about the condition there.”

Al-Shabaab is facing a new military campaign launched by Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, the president of Somalia, and supported by the US.

Hussein said the extremists used local populations as a human shield because they wanted to ensure towns remained “safe havens for al-Shabaab militant leaders”.

“They do not want people to move out because they are worried that there could be an airstrike if the civilians leave,” he added.

A recent United Nations assessment said “Somalia is not yet out of the woods”, with other analyses suggesting that an “elevated risk of famine in 2017 persists”.

This year’s rainy season has been disappointing. Some parts of Somalia, already parched, have so far received only half of the usual rainfall.

Donald Trump, the US president, recently designated Somalia a “zone of active hostilities”, allowing commanders greater authority when launching airstrikes, broadening the range of possible targets and relaxing restrictions designed to prevent civilian casualties. He also authorised the deployment of regular US forces to Somalia for the first time since 1994.

The US in effect pulled out of Somalia after 1993, when two helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu and the bodies of American soldiers were dragged through the streets.

KENYA

Ahmed Iman alias Kimanthi flees after Al-Shabaab fallout

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Ahmed Iman alias Kimanthi, a member of Al-Shabaab, is on the run after falling out with other commanders who want him executed. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A Kenyan who rose through Al-Shabaab ranks to become the poster boy for the terrorist organisation is on the run after falling out with other commanders who want him executed.

Ahmed Iman alias Kimanthi, who appeared in numerous Al-Shabaab propaganda videos taunting Kenyan troops fighting in Somalia, the group’s stronghold, is now seeking to surrender to Kenyan forces and get amnesty, the Nation has learnt.

Until the row, he was close to the current Al-Shabaab supremo Ahmed Diriye and Mahad Karate, also known as Abdirahim Mohamed Warsame, who commanded Shabaab’s Amniyat, its intelligence wing, when gunmen stormed Garissa University College and killed 147 students in April, 2015.

VIDEO CLIPS

In the video clips, which are unavailable after they were pulled down by YouTube, Iman says the killings were carried out to avenge the killing of radical Muslim clerics.

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In those videos, he named the clerics as Aboud Rogo, Samir Khan and Sheikh Abubakar Shariff alias Makaburi.

International security sources operating in Somalia, told the Nation that Iman has been the head of a group of foreign fighters who together with him, are now on the run from the main group loyal to Diriye and Karate.

A number of Kenyans and other foreigners who joined Al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia have since been captured and executed.

On November 6, a 25-year-old Kenyan from Garissa was among four people who were publicly executed by the terrorists in Somalia.

Omar Adar Omar was killed by firing squad on accusations of spying for the Africa Union Mission in Somalia, which comprises the Kenya Defence Forces.

The fall-out is further complicated after the emergence of a faction that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Syria, while Diriye’s group maintains its formal partnership with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

DRAGNETS

The Nation has further learnt that Iman, in a bid to escape from Somalia, has evaded several dragnets to capture him.

Al-Shabaab is well known for executing militants within its own ranks whenever there is a fallout.

The latest developments are a repeat of what happened to Fazul Abdullah Mohamed, who was killed in a set up laid by Godane Ahmed Abdi Godane alias Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, who was Diriye’s predecessor.

Godane was later killed in a joint operation by US and KDF in Somalia.

Besides assuming the role of commander of foreign fighters in Somalia, Iman also has a great influence in Jaysh Ayman, another Al-Shabaab faction operating in Boni Forest which spreads across the Kenya-Somalia border in Lamu County.

Furthermore, Iman is also said to be getting foreign funding directly, further angering indigenous Somali commanders, the sources also said.

A 2016 security report published by the Nation, revealed that Iman and accomplices in Nairobi collected millions of shillings every year by renting shops and kiosks in Umoja and Majengo, and the money is smuggled to Somalia to fund terrorism activities.

LOOTED

In one Al-Shabaab propaganda video, he was seen clad in KDF uniform, holding a walkie-talkie and an M-16 rifle, which he claimed was one of the arms looted from El-Adde Forward Operating Base, which was overran by the terrorists in January 2016.

Besides Kenya, whose soldiers are operating in southern Somalia, Al-Shabaab is also being fought by the US and other countries in Amisom, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.
100 fighters killed

On Tuesday, 100 Al-Shabaab fighters were killed in an air strike by the US.

“In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, US forces conducted an air strike in Somalia against an Al-Shabaab camp at approximately 10.30 local Somalia time, killing more than 100 militants.

The operation occurred 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu,” said a statement by US Africa Command.

The Statement added: “US forces will continue to use all authorised and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats.

This includes partnering with Amisom and Somali National Security Forces in targeting terrorists, their training camps and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world.”

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Briefing Room

Somalia says it requested U.S. air strike which killed 100 militants

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Somalia’s government said on Wednesday it had requested the U.S. air strike which killed more than 100 suspected militants on the previous day to help pave the way for an upcoming ground offensive against Islamist militant group al Shabaab.

The United States military’s Africa Command said on Tuesday it had killed more than 100 of the al Qaeda-linked insurgents in an air strike on a camp 125 miles (200 km) northwest of the capital Mogadishu.

“Those militants were preparing explosives and attacks. Operations against al Shabaab have been stepped up,” Abdirahman Omar Oman, the Somali minister, told Reuters.

“We have asked the U.S. to help us from the air to make our readied ground offensive more successful.”

The United States has ramped up operations in Somalia this year after President Donald Trump loosened the rules of engagement in March.

Africom reported eight U.S. air strikes from May to August this year, compared to 13 for the whole of 2016. Including Tuesday’s air strike, it has reported five strikes in Somalia this month alone.

The Pentagon said the U.S. military would continue to target militants in strikes in coordination with the Somali government.

A Navy Seal was killed in a raid in May and U.S. forces were present at a controversial raid on the town of Bariire in August, in which 10 people were killed.

Al Shabaab has lost control of most of Somalia’s cities and towns since African Union peacekeepers supporting Somali troops pushed the insurgency out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011. But it retains a strong presence in parts of the south and center.

Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a dual U.S.-Somali citizen, has taken a harder line than his predecessors against the insurgency since he was sworn in earlier this year.

But his plans have been repeatedly thwarted by the poor state of the Somali military and political infighting.

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Briefing Room

U.S. airstrikes kill more than 100 militants in Somalia

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WASHINGTON — Reflecting stepped-up targeting of extremists in Africa, the U.S. military said airstrikes killed more than 100 militants in Somalia on Tuesday and hit Islamic State fighters in Libya days earlier.

U.S. Africa Command, which manages U.S. military operations on the continent, said the airstrike in Somalia targeted an al-Shabab camp about 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, killing more than 100. That is the largest number of reported deaths from a single U.S. airstrike in Somalia since the Trump administration approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab, which is allied with al-Qaida.

Al-Shabab is blamed for last month’s truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.

It’s largest number of reported deaths from a single U.S. airstrike in Somalia since the Trump administration approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab.

A Somali intelligence official said U.S. drone aircraft fired at least eight missiles at al-Shabab bases and training camps in Bur-Eylada, a village situated between the towns of Dinsor and Burhakaba in the Bay region. The official, who was not authorized to speak to reporters on the record and discussed the matter on condition of anonymity, said senior al-Shabab commanders were among the dead.

The U.S. this month also began targeting a small but growing IS presence in northern Somalia.

Separately, Africa Command said it conducted two airstrikes near Fuqaha in central Libya against Islamic State group militants — one Nov. 17 and another two days later. It made no mention of casualties and did not identify the specific targets. It said the strikes were done in coordination with Libya’s interim government, known as the Government of National Accord.

The Trump administration has committed to preventing the Islamic State group from regrouping after losing its grip on significant territory in Iraq and Syria.

AFRICOM STATEMENT

In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Somalia against an al-Shabaab camp on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at approximately 10:30 a.m. local Somalia time, killing more than 100 militants.

The operation occurred 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.

Al-Shabaab has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and is dedicated to providing safe haven for terrorist attacks throughout the world. Al-Shabaab has publicly committed to planning and conducting attacks against the U.S. and our partners in the region.

U.S. forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats. This includes partnering with AMISOM and Somali National Security Forces (SNSF); targeting terrorists, their training camps and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world.

Our political and security goals in Somalia are the same: a reconstituted Somali state at peace internally and able to address all threats within its territory.

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