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Inside America’s shadow war against al-Shabab

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In May, Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed in a raid on a terrorist compound in Somalia. He was the first US service member to die in combat in the Horn of Africa nation since the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993, when 18 Americans were killed.

That disaster played a significant role in minimizing US involvement in Africa in the years that followed, affecting then-President Bill Clinton’s decision not to intervene in the Rwandan genocide. But the rise of Somalia-based terror group al-Shabab in the late 2000s has made the Horn of Africa an important front in the war on terror, and US forces are very much a presence in Somalia once again. This time, though, to look around, you wouldn’t really know it.

Decades of war have pummelled the once-stunning capital city of Mogadishu, where despite a new government and relative stability, periodic hit-and-run attacks by al-Shabab keep residents on edge.

But all that is “outside the wire,” as they say at Mogadishu International Airport, a fortified, sprawling base that is home to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), various United Nations agencies, and assorted military forces from around the world. With its scorching, sandy backdrop and rough and tumble cast of characters — a mix of grizzled British military guys, UN personnel and journalists — it feels a bit like the cantina scene in the original Star Wars.

But conspicuously missing are Americans.

In May, VICE News published a US Africa Command memo that described involvement in as many as 98 operations a day in Africa, calling it America’s “shadow war.” It’s a good description of US clandestine activities in the region — according to AFRICOM media relations officer Capt. Jennifer Dyrcz, the US mission in the region mainly consists of training and advising partners in AMISOM and the Somali National Army, and she clarified that the “98 operations a day” includes things like routine meetings and assessments.

“Due to the location of some of our advisory and training activities, SOCAFRICA’s personnel are occasionally exposed to some of the same risks as our partners and defend themselves appropriately,” she added.

Maj. Ali Dhuuh Santur Guled of the Somali National Army is responsible for training, and in this capacity, he has worked a great deal with US special forces. He says it’s largely due to US assistance that his army has dealt some major blows to al-Shabab in the last few years.

“They used to live around the presidential palace, just firing bullets,” he said. “But now they are all retreated from the city, and they live in some districts in remote areas. So they are totally weak. And nowadays they sometimes try to make guerrilla attacks, but they are really weak, compared to the past years.”

In March of this year, US President Donald Trump gave the Pentagon more authority to carry out airstrikes and raids in Somalia and in April he deployed a few dozen troops from the 101st Airborne Division on a train-and-equip mission. US special forces are now helping to train Somali soldiers at a new base called Baledogle, some 50 miles from Mogadishu, deep in al-Shabab country.

But as appreciative as the Somali army is of US assistance, Santur says they need more.

“We were expecting that when Trump came to power that he would fight against terrorist activities very powerfully,” he said. “We are still waiting.”

He calls Americans and Somalis brothers and sisters, noting that the new president of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, elected earlier this year, is an American citizen from Buffalo, New York. He is hopeful that President Trump will give them what they need. What they need, he says, is tanks and other heavy weaponry to bring a speedy end to the drawn-out conflict.

For that to happen, the arms embargo that has been in place since 1992 would need to be lifted. Somali President Mohamed Abdullah Mohamed, pleaded with the international community at a summit held in London in May to do just that.

“Al-Shabab has AK-47s and the Somali National Army has the same equipment, the same weapons. And that’s why this war has been lingering for 10 years,” he said. “If we don’t have more sophisticated and better weaponry, this war will definitely continue for another 10 years.”

The stakes for ending the conflict are high, and not only due to the ongoing attacks. The continued presence of Al Shabaab militants in remote areas of Somalia is complicating relief efforts amid a drought that is causing the worst food insecurity to hit the country since a quarter of a million people died in the famine of 2011-2012.

Minnesota

Rep. Ellison, Rep. Emmer, and Colleagues Introduce Resolution Condemning Terror Attack in Mogadishu

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WASHINGTON — On the one-month anniversary of the October 14th terror attack on Mogadishu, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), along with Reps. Steve Stivers (R-OH), Karen Bass (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), and Denny Heck (D-WA) introduced House Resolution 620, which condemns the attack, expresses sympathy for its victims and their families, and reaffirms U.S. support for Somalia.

The October 14th terror attack killed more than 350 people, including three American citizens, and injured another 200—making it the single deadliest in Somalia’s history.

“It’s been a month since the terrible and cowardly attack on Mogadishu, and my heart still breaks for the people of Somalia and their families and friends here in the United States,” Ellison said. “The people of Somalia have shown incredible resilience— coming together not only as part of an inspiring effort to recover from this attack, but also to rebuild their nation in the spirit of peace and prosperity. I am proud to stand with my colleagues to express solidarity with the people of Somalia by strongly condemning the senseless violence, extending our condolences to all those affected by the attack, and reaffirming continued U.S. support for Somalia.”

“Just over a month ago, Mogadishu experienced a horrific and tragic terrorist attack,” said Emmer. “This attack hit close to home with three of our fellow Americans – including one Minnesotan – among the more than 350 men, women and children who lost their lives far too soon. I stand with my colleagues and the Somali community to condemn last month’s attack. I am proud to work with my colleagues to offer condolences and lend support as Somalia works to rebuild itself and its communities in the wake of this recent tragedy. Today, and every day, we stand against terror and join together to rid this world of evil.”
The full text of the resolution reads as follows:

“Strongly condemning the terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 2017, and expressing condolences and sympathies to the victims of the attack and their families.

Whereas on October 14, 2017, a truck bomb filled with military grade and homemade explosives detonated at a busy intersection in the center of Mogadishu, Somalia, and took the lives of more than 350 people and injured more than 200 additional people;

Whereas at least three Americans, Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, Mohamoud Elmi, and Abukar Dahie, were killed in the attack;

Whereas the Somali Government believes that Al-Shabaab was responsible for the attack, although no official claims of responsibility have yet been made;

Whereas Al-Shabaab has previously avoided claiming responsibility for Al Shabaab operations when it believes the operation may significantly damage its public image among Somalis;

Whereas the Department of State condemned ‘‘in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that killed and injured hundreds in Mogadishu on October 14’’;

Whereas the Department of State stated that ‘‘the United States will continue to stand with the Somali government, its people, and our international allies to combat terrorism and support their efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity’’;

Whereas according to the Department of State’s Country Report on Terrorism for 2016, Al-Shabaab is the most potent threat to regional stability in East Africa;

Whereas the United States continues to support counterterrorism efforts in coordination with the Government of Somalia, international partners, and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mainly through capacity building programs, advise and assist missions, and intelligence support;

Whereas Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, declared three days of national mourning in response to the attack;

Whereas the vibrant, bustling district of Mogadishu where the attack occurred is characteristic of the city’s revitalization, and the solidarity and efforts by the city’s residents to rebuild already are a testament to their resilience; and

Whereas Somalia has been a strong partner to the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 2017;

(2) expresses its heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies for the victims of the attack and their families;

(3) honors the memories of Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, Mohamoud Elmi, and Abukar Dahie, who were murdered in the horrific terrorist attack;

(4) recognizes the significant efforts to combat terrorism by the Government of Somalia, the countries contributing troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia, and United States forces in Somalia;

(5) reaffirms United States support for the Government of Somalia’s efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity and combat terrorism in Somalia; and

(6) renews the solidarity of the people and Government of the United States with the people and Government of Somalia.”

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Canada

Somali youth project update (Project TooSoo)

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CBC —  For the past year, a group of young Somalis in Toronto has been learning how to re-claim the stories told about their community.

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Sports

Looking back on my Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace | Mo Farah

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I recently had the honour of being knighted by Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace. When I came to the UK from Somalia aged 8, not speaking any English, who would have thought that my running would eventually lead me here? This was another very special gold medal for me and I am so honoured to have received it. Here’s a little glimpse of how the day went for me.

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