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Briefing Room

Somali, US Military Claim to Destroy an Al-Shabab Training Base

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Harun Maruf

WASHINGTON — Somali and U.S. military forces have destroyed an al-Shabab training base in Somalia’s Middle Jubba region.

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo said Sunday he authorized the country’s special forces with support from international partners to conduct a pre-dawn strike against an al-Shabab training camp near Sakow.

He said the strike destroyed a key al-Shabab command and supply hub, which will “disrupt the enemy’s ability to conduct new attacks within Somalia.”

The U.S. military confirmed it participated “as a direct response to al-Shabab actions,” including recent attacks on Somali and African Union forces. It says eight al-Shabab militants were killed in the strike.

Farmajo said Somalia has long suffered in the hands of al-Shabab, which he says is supported by global terror networks.

He did not say if any senior al-Shabab commanders were at the camp during the strike. Sakow is in the heartland of al-Shabab controlled region of Middle Jubba, ruling out ground troops involved in the attack.

In recent years U.S. drone strikes have targeted a number of key al-Shabab commanders, including former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane who was killed on September 1, 2014.

Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White says the United States is “committed to working with our Somali partners and allies to systematically dismantle al-Shabab, and help achieve stability and security throughout the region.”

A source tells VOA Somali an airstrike took place near Sakow and that it may have targeted a group of about 10 al-Shabab members, including key figures.

Al-Shabab has reportedly sealed off the area and are questioning people in an attempt to identify who may have collaborated with the operation.

“We and our international partners will take every possible precaution to protect our civilian population from harm during these operations while targeting terrorists,” Farmajo said.

The Somali president reiterated his call to al-Shabab to take advantage of his amnesty issued on April 6.

“To the members of al-Shabab, I tell you that we are bringing the fight to you. If you, however take advantage of my amnesty offer and denounce violence, we will integrate you into our reform program,” he said.

“You have no future with the terrorists, but you can still be a part of Somalia’s future; a peaceful and prosperous future.”

Briefing Room

US Defense Secretary Optimistic About Improving Somalia Accountability

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PENTAGON — U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Friday that he was optimistic about improving Somali accountability concerning the distribution of American aid to Somali armed forces, much of which was suspended because of corruption concerns.

“I’m sure we can get this thing under control, even if it’s not for the whole, but for parts of it,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.

The suspension reflected the Somali military’s repeated inability to account for aid items, such as food, fuel and weapons.

‘Pause’ in assistance

The massive “pause” in aid is being made “to ensure that U.S. assistance is being used effectively and for its intended purpose,” a State Department official said.

It will “affect the majority of U.S. logistical support and stipends assistance” to the Somali armed forces “until additional transparency and accountability measures are in place,” Marion Wohlers, the spokesperson for African affairs at the State Department, told VOA.

The Somali government has agreed to develop new accountability criteria that meet American standards, a State Department official said.

Mattis said changing a “culture of corruption” takes time, adding that Somalia had “finally got a president worth supporting.”
“We have a good relationship with President [Mohamed Abdullahi] Farmajo and his administration, but as you know, he inherited a very difficult situation,” Mattis said.

Some assistance to continue

Somali security force members who are actively fighting al-Shabab and receiving some form of mentorship from either the U.S. or a third party will continue to receive appropriate assistance, officials said.

According to documents obtained by the Reuters news agency, the Somali military has been unable to properly feed, pay or equip its soldiers, despite having received hundreds of millions of dollars of American support.

A U.S.-Somali team sent to nine Somali army bases between May and June of this year found that evidence of the arrival of food aid or its consumption by soldiers was present at only two of the bases, Reuters reported.

Plans to suspend the support will be a “big setback” to the effort by Somali security forces to fight al-Shabab, warned former Somali Defense Minister General Abdulkadir Ali Dini.

Dini, who worked closely with American officials in Somalia for many years, first as chief of the Somali national army and later as defense minister, said the decision did not come at the right time.

“If the United States suspends food, fuel and stipends, that will hamper the war and work against the enemy and terrorists,” he said. “It does not help these operations, and it damages morale.”

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Briefing Room

US orders new probe on alleged massacre in Somalia

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DAILY NATION — The head of the US Africa Command on Thursday ordered a new investigation of claims that US troops massacred 10 civilians in an August raid on a farm in central Somalia.

The move by Africom Commander Gen Thomas Waldhauser follows media reports that children were among those killed in an attack based on faulty intelligence.

“Gen Waldhauser referred the matter to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to ensure a full exploration of the facts given the gravity of the allegations,” Africom said in a statement.

It added that “Africom takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will leverage the expertise of appropriate organisations to ensure such allegations are fully and impartially investigated.”

Africom had said soon after the August 25 raid that all the dead were “armed enemy combatants.”

A pair of recent reports in the Daily Beast, a New York-based online news site, cited accounts by eyewitnesses and Somali officials of unprovoked killings of farmers in the US raid carried out in conjunction with Somali soldiers.

“These local farmers were attacked by foreign troops while looking after their crops,” Ali Nur Mohamed, deputy governor of the Lower Shabelle region where the attack occurred, had earlier told reporters in Mogadishu.

“The troops could have arrested them because they were unarmed but instead shot them one by one mercilessly,” Mr Mohamed added as 10 corpses were displayed in the Somali capital soon after the raid.

Africom’s acknowledgment that further investigation is warranted comes at a time of growing and shifting US involvement in the war against Al-Shabaab.

STRIKES

Defence Department officials have presented President Trump with a plan for less restrictive US military operations in Somalia during the next two years, the New York Times reported on December 10.

The proposed initiative would give greater discretion to US field commanders in launching strikes and rescind the State Department’s ability to pause offensive military operations in response to perceived problems, the Times said.

US forces have carried out about 30 airstrikes so far this year in Somalia — twice as many as in 2016. More than 500 US soldiers have also been dispatched to Somalia to assist in the fight against Shabaab.

Conversely, Washington is simultaneously suspending food and fuel payments to most units of the Somalia National Army (SNA) due to concerns over rampant corruption, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Only those SNA units mentored by US instructors will continue to receive the stipends, the report said.

“Documents sent from the US Mission to Somalia to the Somali government show US officials are increasingly frustrated that the military is unable to account for its aid,” Reuters said.

“The documents paint a stark picture of a military hollowed out by corruption, unable to feed, pay or arm its soldiers — despite hundreds of millions of dollars of support.”

SOLDIERS

A team of US and Somali officials who visited nine SNA bases earlier this year reported that expected consignments of food aid could not be found, Reuters revealed. The best-staffed base visited by the team had 160 SNA soldiers present out of a total officially listed at 550. Only 60 of the soldiers had weapons, Reuters said.

“The SNA is a fragile force with extremely weak command and control,” said an earlier leaked assessment by the African Union, United Nations and Somali government. “They are incapable of conducting effective operations or sustaining themselves.”

Kenyan forces have also been cited for allegedly failing to carry out assigned duties in Somalia.

A report last month by UN monitors charged that Kenyan troops operating under African Union command have failed to assist authorities in blocking illicit charcoal exports that are said to earn al-Shabaab at least $10 million a year.

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Briefing Room

Somalia Inaugurated a President, Dealt With Terrorism & Reeled From Drought in 2017

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In 2017, Somalia elected a new president as it battled severe drought and a resurgent al-Shabab. In October, the worst terror attack in the country’s history killed more than 500 people. Meanwhile, the U.S. military is ramping up its military operations as the African Union draws down its 10-year-old peacekeeping mission. From Nairobi, Jill Craig has more.

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