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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.

Diaspora

The Democratic Party candidates for Senate : ‘Landlord legislator’ faces 2 challenges – Kayse Jama and Shemia Fagan

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The Democratic Party candidates for Senate District 24 visited Rockwood to discuss the issues facing their constituents and answer audience questions ahead of the May 15 primary.

Incumbent Sen. Rod Monroe was joined by his two primary challengers Kayse Jama and Shemia Fagan. The event was hosted by the Multnomah County Democrats on Wednesday night, Jan. 17, at the Rosewood Initiative, 16126 S.E. Stark St. The candidates spoke before an engaged crowd of about 60 voters, who clapped and cheered throughout the evening.

District 24 encompasses east Portland, including parts of the Centennial neighborhood, and north Clackamas County.

Monroe is a retired teacher and co-chairman of the Ways and Means Education subcommittee. His top priority is to stop teacher layoffs, reduce class sizes and improve nutrition options for students. He also is working to improve transportation safety and efficiency, and keep drivers under the influence off the roads. Monroe, who first claimed a seat in the Legislature more than 40 years ago, has championed health and safety regulations.

Jama is a community-based leader who was born in Somalia. As an immigrant to the United States, he wants to support those in achieving the “American Dream.” He is an advocate for those experiencing poverty, displaced workers, women, people of color, native people, immigrants and refugees, the LGBTQ community and those with disabilities. One of his main focuses is bringing more diversity into positions of power within the community.

Fagan is a former representative who served two terms in the Oregon House before stepping down last year to focus on her family and career as an employment lawyer. She also has served on the David Douglas School Board. Fagan has worked on sidewalk and safety improvements for East Portland streets and tenant protection legislation. Her two main goals are securing more affordable housing and protecting people’s access to healthcare.

Audience questions

The main portion of the debate consisted of the candidates addressing questions from the people who came to hear them:

How does taking financial support affect campaigns?

Jama: We need to remove money from our politics if we want a true democracy.

Monroe: I have voted for every attempt at campaign reform. I have never traded my vote for anything — ever. There are no strings attached to any dollars given to my campaign.

Fagan: Democracies function on principals of accountability. Working people and parents can’t spend half their time raising money.

What are your plans for public transit?

Monroe: We need North-South bus routes in the outer Portland area. TriMet has assured me they will put those routes in place with the funding they have received.

Fagan: Public transit is an incredible opportunity. Bigger freeways don’t solve traffic problems, so being smart and not passing the cost along to the people we are trying to help is critical.”

Jama: Transit has to be accessible and affordable for all people. It’s time for corporations to pay their fair share. One thing proposed is tolls, but that means someone displaced from Portland will now have to pay to use the roads to get to work.

How do you plan to support kids in poverty?

Jama: 60,000 kids are homeless in this state. We have to work hard to support the families struggling to pay their services and find housing.

Monroe: I have been responsible for childhood and women’s rights programs. I was the author of three major nutrition programs, because these kids get their nutrition from our schools.

Fagan: Small class sizes and after-school programs are when teachers can see when kids need more support. We also have to better fund summer programs, because that is when children in poverty fall further behind.

How would you deal with addiction treatment?

Fagan: This is a crisis in our state, and when I was in the legislature we passed the good Samaritan law so someone can stay and help a person going through an overdoes without facing charges.

Jama: We need to treat addiction as a public health issue. It’s not a criminal charge, and we need to stop treating it as one.

Monroe: Mental health addiction on opioids is a national problem, not just an Oregon one. We need more mental health facilities.

How will you engage with diversity?

Jama: This is an easy one for me. I have brought diverse communities of immigrants and people of color together to build a strong movement.

Monroe: Our neighborhoods are becoming more diverse, which I think is a great thing.

Fagan: Even the strongest among us is no replacement for proportional representation for people of color.

Why are you running?

Monroe: I am running because of experience, which makes a difference. I have a history of working across the aisle to get things done.

Fagan: Too many of us are fighting for the stability of a normal life, and the senate has become a place where progressive ideas go to die. As a mother of two kids, I cannot wait another day for the senate to do better.

Jama: I remember trying to advocate in Salem and seeing how it is broken. I am mad as hell and want to make sure we build people’s power in this community.

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White men in bomb plot won’t get more Trump voters on jury, after judge denies request

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A judge on Wednesday said no to three Kansas residents who requested to have Trump voters on their jury as they’re tried for attempting to bomb a mosque and a Somali refugee community.

Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen were denied their request to include voters from a Trump-voting region in Kansas in their jury pool. The three men will be tried in the city of Wichita for plotting to use truck bombs in an apartment complex with a Somali refugee population and a mosque on the day after the 2016 presidential election, in Garden City, Kansas.

The jury pool will draw from Wichita and Hutchinson, more urban areas than Garden City, but Wright, Stein and Allen wanted people who “live in rural areas and are more politically conservative,” according to High Plains Public Radio.
They asked to draw from 28 counties in Dodge City, located in western Kansas. District Judge Eric Melgren said that their request did not have a legal basis, and they did not show that the current jury pool areas would discriminate against Republicans.

The men are charged with conspiracy against civil rights and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and they have pleaded not guilty. Their defense lawyers allege the men were exercising their free speech rights and right to bear arms.

The thinking behind the request, according to the lawyer, was that one area’s residents have different beliefs and would be able to understand the men’s motives. In one area, two-thirds of residents voted for Trump, and in the other area the men wanted to pool from, three-fourths of residents voted for the Republican, according to Mercury News.

The men were part of a group connected to the “Kansas Security Force,” a local militia group, prosecutors said. According to prosecutors and a wiretap transcript they obtained, Wright said he wanted the attack on Somalis in Kansas to “wake people up,” the publication added.

At the time, the government said that setting that precedent for the jury pool would “wreak havoc” and open a “dangerous door” to similar jury pool requests. The trial, which was scheduled to start in February, is set to begin on March 19 in Wichita, according to the Associated Press

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Columbus, Ohio

Judge set to sentence Ohio man who plotted US attacks

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COLUMBUS — A federal judge on Friday is scheduled to sentence an Ohio man who plotted to kill military members in the U.S. following a delay in the case when a previous judge withdrew.

Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, who was born in Somalia but came to the U.S. as a child, was arrested in 2015 and pleaded guilty to plotting those attacks after becoming radicalized in Syria. The attacks were never carried out.

The government said Mohamud became a citizen to obtain a U.S. passport. He bought a ticket to Greece with a stop in Turkey, where he disembarked before going to Syria, prosecutors said in court documents. They said he never intended to go to Greece.

Prosecutors, who are seeking a 23-year sentence, said Mohamud wanted to travel to Texas and capture three or four soldiers and execute them. They said Mohamud, now 26, was trained in Syria and tried to cover up dangerous terrorist activity.

Mohamud and his lawyer, in asking for leniency, have said Mohamud had realized “the immoral and illegal nature of terrorist ideology” and abandoned any plans to engage in terrorism.

Mohamud’s attorney, Sam Shamansky, is asking Judge Michael Watson to consider the light sentence a federal judge in Minnesota handed down in 2016 to a Minnesota man.

In that case, Abdullahi Yusuf, just 20 at the time of sentencing, was convicted of conspiring to join the Islamic State in Syria. Yusuf, who cooperated with prosecutors and testified against others, was sentenced to time served in jail of 21 months, plus two decades of supervised release.

Mohamud was originally scheduled to be sentenced in August. Judge James Graham started that hearing, but in a surprise move, he announced he was delaying it to gather more information, including Mohamud’s current state of mind.

Graham also said he wanted information about possible treatment programs for Mohamud during and after prison.

Graham ordered a psychological evaluation of Mohamud and set a new sentencing date. But in December, Graham abruptly withdrew from the case without explanation.

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