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Somalia security forces and IS fighters directly clash for first time

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BARTAMAHA

Somali regional forces in Puntland have clashed with pro-Islamic State militants in the country’s northeast in the first-ever military confrontation between security forces and pro-Islamic State fighters.

Local sources told VOA that today’s fighting occurred near Bashashin village, just 50km west of Qandala after the regional troops were halted by landmines.

Governor of Puntland’s Bari region Yusuf Mohamed Dhedo who is leading the offensive against Qandala confirmed the fighting to VOA Somali in an exclusive interview via satellite phone.

Dhedo said that his forces were attacked by IS fighters while they were dismantling the landmines.

“They planted a landmine in a narrow road where vehicles do not have a space to move off the road,” he said.

“We tried to remove the mines then we received gunfire, we responded killing seven militants, three of our soldiers were wounded in the firefight.”

Dhedo said his troops have custody of militants’ bodies, saying, “They are all Somalis.” He said they have not seen any foreigners so far.

Villagers reported sporadic gunfire ongoing between the troops near Bashashin and Karin villages.

Dhedo said he is “certain” that the security forces offensive will succeed and he will be in Qandala within the next 24 hours.

Pro-IS militants captured Qandala, 80kms east of Bosaso port town, without a fight on October 26 and hoisted their flag atop the historic headquarters of the district commissioner built by Italian colonists. All residents of the town have fled according to officials.

“Our plan is to liberate the town and to help the people of the town return to their homes,” he said.

Asked about the size and strength of the pro-IS militants, Dhedo replied, “We don’t have numbers but they have heavy weapons including [Russian-made] PKM machine guns, bazookas and small arms such as AK-47.”

He said his troops will pursue the militants to their training camps and hideouts in the mountains near Qandala.

He dismissed criticisms that his administration may have taken the threat from the group lightly as they recruited and trained in the mountainous area in Bari region without interference from the authorities.

“That is not true, these are guerrilla men they live in the mountains, we wanted them to gather their force in one identifiable spot. We have that today,” he said.

“We want to weaken their power, it will be meaningless if we liberate Qandala and then leave, and we have strategic military objectives.”

Pro-IS militants split from Al-Shabab in October last year. Al-Shabab eliminated IS sympathizers in the southern regions of the country but has so far failed to suppress the faction that is active in Puntland.

Source: VOA

Somali News

Somalia’s budget meets IMF terms, official says

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REUTERS — The budget approved by Somalia’s parliament this week is in line with fiscal reforms the government committed to when it entered an International Monetary Fund programme in May, an IMF official told Reuters.

Somalia is now on its second 12-month IMF staff-monitored programme after decades of war and turmoil, and adherence to the IMF’s fiscal framework opens the door for grants and concessional funding from international financial institutions.

The $274 million budget approved on Wednesday includes measures expected to boost domestic revenue collection by $20-$25 million.

They include the introduction of sales and corporate income taxes for telecommunications and the removal of income tax exemption for lawmakers, said Mohammed Elhage, who leads the IMF’s Somalia work.

“These are very important signals.”

He said that during a September visit, the IMF had been disappointed by progress by the government, which took office after elections in February.

“From September until now, we see a strong commitment to reform. The authorities are more engaged on what needs to be done.”

The budget sees the state collecting about $156 million in domestic revenue and about $118 million in grants.

The Horn of Africa nation is recovering from decades of war, and al Shabaab Islamist militants remain a threat.

The new budget is still dwarfed by contributions from donors, who last year spent about $1.5 billion on food aid, health and sanitation.

Observers say putting a proper budget into place and having parliament pass it is an important step.

“If the IMF gives the thumbs-up, that tells you that the government is starting to deliver on revenue collection,” said a Western diplomat. “If they can get debt relief, that is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

Credit from the IMF would offer the central government leverage over the federal member states, the diplomat added.

The states are at odds with Mogadishu over a range of issues, including the crisis between Qatar and other Gulf states.

Somalia’s external debt is about $5.2 billion, according to the IMF. It has not made a service or amortisation payment since civil war broke out more than 25 years ago.

The IMF said this week that economic growth is set to quicken to 2.5 percent in 2018 from 1.8 percent this year, when drought and security issues kept it below the IMF’s forecast of 2.5 percent.

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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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