The U.S. military is sending dozens of regular troops to Somalia in the largest such deployment to the Horn of Africa country in roughly two decades.
The United States pulled out of Somalia after 1993, when two helicopters were shot down in the capital, Mogadishu, and bodies of Americans were dragged through the streets. Even now, Somalia’s fragile central government is struggling to assert itself after the nationwide chaos that began with the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991.
The U.S. Africa Command on Friday said this deployment is for logistics training of Somalia’s army, which is battling the extremist group al-Shabab that emerged from the country’s years of warlord-led conflict. About 40 troops are taking part.
The U.S. in recent years has sent a small number of special operations forces and counter-terror advisers to Somalia, and President Donald Trump recently approved an expanded military role there. It includes carrying out more aggressive airstrikes against al-Shabab and considering parts of southern Somalia areas of active hostilities.
The country’s new Somali-American president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, last week declared a new offensive against the extremist group, which is based in Somalia but has claimed responsibility for major attacks in East Africa, including the Garissa University attack in neighboring Kenya in April 2015 that killed 148 people.
Al-Shabab also caused alarm in February 2016 when it claimed responsibility for the bombing of an airliner that made an emergency landing with a gaping hole in the fuselage shortly after taking off from Mogadishu.
The extremist group this week announced that its recent escalation of deadly attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere is in “doubled response” to Trump’s approval of expanded U.S. military efforts. On Sunday, Somalia’s new military chief survived a suicide car bomb attack following his swearing-in, while 13 people were killed. A day later, a suicide bombing at a military academy in Mogadishu killed at least five soldiers.
Al-Shabab was chased out of Mogadishu several years ago by national and African Union multinational forces but still controls some rural areas. Meanwhile, fighters pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group have emerged in the northern part of the country.
Pressure is growing on Somalia’s army to assume full security for the country as the 22,000-strong African Union force plans to leave by the end of 2020. Last month, the head of the AU mission said Somalia’s army has been unable to take charge as expected.
The AU force will begin withdrawing in 2018, “and if this departure begins prior to Somalia having capable security forces, large portions of Somalia are at risk of returning to al-Shabab control or potentially allowing ISIS to gain a stronger foothold in the country,” the head of the U.S. Africa Command, Commander General Thomas Waldhauser, said last month.
Kansas Trio Convicted in Plot to Bomb Somali Immigrants
WICHITA, Kan. — A federal jury on Wednesday convicted three men of plotting to bomb an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and worshiped in Garden City, Kan., giving prosecutors a victory at a time when threats against religious and racial minorities are rising nationally.
“These defendants conspired to build a bomb, blow up a building and murder every single man, woman and child inside,” Tony Mattivi, a federal prosecutor, told jurors during closing statements.
The men, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein, all of whom are white, appeared stoic as the verdicts were read. They face up to life in prison when they are sentenced in June.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for about seven hours over two days.
Defense lawyers tried to convince jurors that their clients were manipulated by the F.B.I., and had been unfairly targeted for exercising their rights to own guns and speak freely.
“He was a member of a militia. He loved his guns. This was a lifestyle,” Melody Brannon, a lawyer for Mr. Allen, told the mostly white jury. “The government tried to criminalize that lifestyle.”
The trial, which played out over about a month in Wichita, focused on a period before the 2016 presidential election when a paid F.B.I. informant infiltrated a militia group that prosecutors said included the three men. Prosecutors, who built much of their case around secret recordings that the informant made of the men talking, said that they planned to carry out the bombing on Nov. 9 of that year, a day after voters selected a president.
“They wanted to send a message to the people living there that they’re not welcome in Garden City, they’re not welcome in southwest Kansas, they’re not welcome in the United States,” Mr. Mattivi said.
The men, who called themselves “the Crusaders,” were arrested about four weeks before Election Day and charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against rights, which the Justice Department considers a hate crime. Mr. Wright was also charged with lying to the F.B.I. The three men were found guilty on all counts against them.
The trial came amid a national escalation in threats against religious and racial minorities, especially Muslims, according to the F.B.I. and organizations that monitor hate crimes.
“It is now approaching the level of hate violence against the same communities that we saw in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT: South Asian Americans Leading Together, a national advocacy organization.
Prosecutors portrayed the Kansas defendants as aspiring domestic terrorists who joined a militia and decided to bomb the Somali apartments after considering other attacks — on elected officials, churches that helped refugees and landlords who rented to immigrants.
Defense lawyers, who criticized the F.B.I.’s investigation throughout the trial as government overreach, suggested that their clients had merely engaged in idle talk inspired partly by the 2016 election. Expletive-filled recordings of the men played before the jury contained repugnant, bigoted language, the defense lawyers said, but not evidence of a federal crime.
“It is not morally right to hold such hate, but it is not legally wrong,” said James Pratt, a lawyer for Mr. Stein, who acknowledged that his client referred to Muslims as “cockroaches.” Mr. Stein referred to himself, the recordings showed, as an “Orkin man,” referencing the pest extermination company.
“We all have the right to hate,” Mr. Pratt added.
A bombing never took place, and no one was physically injured in Garden City, a point defense lawyers emphasized to jurors. They said the men lacked the ability or commitment to carry out such an attack, and that the F.B.I.’s paid informant helped steer the plot and suggested targeting the apartments.
Garden City is a racially diverse place about 200 miles west of Wichita with around 27,000 residents. Many Somalis and other immigrants have moved to the area in recent years to work at a nearby meatpacking plant.
The apartment complex that prosecutors say was targeted is a center of Somali life in Garden City. Many refugee families live in units of the complex; others come to pray in a makeshift mosque inside one unit.
Moussa Elbayoumy, who chairs the board of the Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the verdict affirmed his faith in the justice system.
Many Muslims he talked to in Garden City had not followed the trial closely, Mr. Elbayoumy said, but had hoped for convictions.
“The instance was troubling, was concerning. People were afraid,” Mr. Elbayoumy said in a phone interview. “But after that, they put this behind them and moved on with their lives.”
What’s triggering tension between Somalia and the UAE? | Inside Story
Somalia has been in conflict for much of the past 25 years. But the horn of Africa nation has been showing signs of recovery.
And that’s provoked interest from many regional countries including the United Arab Emirates.
The Gulf nation has been conducting a military training programme and running a hospital in the capital Mogadishu.
But, the UAE’s government has now abruptly ended its involvement on both those fronts after a series of recent diplomatic disagreements.
So, why are the UAE and other regional countries interested in Somalia?
AMISOM asks for more police officers in Somalia
DAILY MONITOR — KISMAYO- The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has asked partners states to contribute more police officers to expand its operations in the war-torn country.
The call was made on Tuesday by Ms Christine Alalo, the acting AMISOM police commissioner while receiving 145 police officers from Sierra Leone.
The deployment of the force from Sierra Leone brings to 160 the number of police officers from Sierra Leone.
“We expect other police contributing countries to do the same because we are expanding our operations. We are moving away from Mogadishu,” Ms Alalo said.
Apart from Sierra Leone, other police contributing countries in Somalia are; Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Ghana.
Early this month, over 500 Ugandan Police Officers sat for interviews that would see successful ones join police operations in Somalia.
Ms Alalo said since police operations will be extended to other federal states and districts, it is inevitable to increase the number of police units.
Between 2015 and 2016, AMISOM trained 600 Somali officers in Jubbaland, but Ms Alalo said that number has to be reinforced.
Meanwhile, the AMISOM Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mustafa Solomon Kambeh, said the police officers would be deployed in Jubbaland and Kismayo.
Mr Kambeh doubles as the Contingent Commander of the Sierra Leonean FPU in Mogadishu urged the forces to stick to the AMISOM mandate of pacifying Somalia and its regional states.
The Formed Police Unit is charged with public order management, protection of facilities and support to police operations that require a concerted response.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution adopted in 2017 approved an increase to a maximum of 1,040 police officers serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)
AMISOM is committed to redoubling its efforts to train and recruit more police officers during the transition period as it prepares to hand over security responsibilities to the Somali security forces as stipulated in the Security Council Resolution.