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‘We’re Finding It Difficult to Hold’ Territory in Somalia: Senator

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DEFENSE ONE — Not much has changed about Somalia’s prospects for long-term stability, says Sen. Jack Reed, since he first visited the streets of Mogadishu almost 25 years ago. Reed, now the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, visited the country anew last week. He found that although the 500 U.S.troops there are effectively disrupting the extremist group al Shabaab, he said, the Somali government is still struggling to hold territory, even with the help of international partners.

“Our doctrine is…to disrupt, clear, hold. We’re finding it difficult to hold,” the Rhode Island senator said. “We have specialized units who are very good at disrupting al Shabaab together with our special operators, but we’re certainly not at the ‘clear and hold phase,’ we’re at the phase of disrupting al Shabaab, keeping them off balance.”

The Pentagon says American troops are in the country to foster a secure environment and deter groups like al-Shabaab and the smaller Islamic State contingent.

So the U.S. ramped up its air war in Somalia last year, after President Donald Trump gave commanders more latitude to call in air strikes “within a geographically-defined area of active hostilities in support of partner forces.” In 2017, U.S. Africa Command conducted more than 30 strikes in Somalia, more than four times the average over the previous seven years.
Reed said al Shabaab was being undermined by various factors, including those strikes and other direct actions, which have removed “key leaders and external plotters from the battlefield.” But the extremist group still conducts suicide bombings and mortar attacks in and around the capital city daily. A particularly horrific truck bombing, which no group has yet claimed, killed 500 people in October.

“In terms of building a stable entity, a country that can take care of its own forces, that’s a long way off,” Reed said.

Two main challenges: The Somali national government, dogged by corruption and beset by political tension with the states, is largely unsupported by the population and lacks an army trained well enough to hold territory outside the cities. AFRICOMestimates that 3,000 to 6,000 Al Shabaab fighters and a couple hundred Islamic State fighters operate in the country.

“Outside of Mogadishu, there’s not a real presence of the federal government,” Reed said. “The government is perceived by many people as corrupt and not serving their ends.”

Meanwhile, the international group of African forces that helped recapture Mogadishu and maintain the modicum of stability since, the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, has been less active since a string of deadly brushes with al Shabaab, Reed said.

“We’re finding it difficult to hold because the AMISOM countries have pulled back a bit, they’re more located on forward-operating-bases, they’re not going out a lot,” he said. “They seem to have reached the point where they’re not going to take on any additional roles and al Shabaab has kind of rebounded.”

AMISOM also started withdrawing troops, aiming to shift security responsibilities to the Somali army by 2020. That hasn’t generally affected U.S. operations, a Pentagon spokesperson said, but trying to do so too soon could.

“The long-term stability in the country will depend on how a withdrawal of AMISOM is conducted and highlights the importance of a well-thought out, conditions-based hand-off between Somali National Security Forces and AMISOM,” said Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Sheryll Klinkel.

Leaders from the AMISOM nations met in Uganda Friday to discuss the transition and security strategies during it. One key question: Are the Somali National Armed Forces ready to be in the lead?

“Right now there’s an effort to build up a Somali National Army, but it’s involved in the political fight between the federal government and states,” Reed said. Plus, there’s other questions about their caliber: “It’s who’s training them? When I was there I was told the Turks had come and trained two battalions of the Somali National Army, but to what standards?”

If AMISOM does pull out, could that role inevitably fall to the U.S., of train, advise, and assist fame? Reed says that’s not something he sees an appetite for.

“We train some specialized units, but I think the notion of going in, like what was done in Afghanistan, to try to train a national army that will fully replace — I don’t think that’s on the table,” he said. “That has to be done, but maybe it could be done by somebody else, maybe we could participate in doing it, but taking that on as we did in Afghanistan or as we did in Iraq?”

And like Afghanistan, building a capable military in Somalia is only just one necessary step within a larger stabilization effort. After decades of instability and limited governance, the Somali government “faces significant work ahead to help Somalia recover,” Klinkell said.

“Twenty-five years ago getting off the airplane in Mogadishu, it was a complicated situation and even back then, we said, ‘Well the real key here is developing governance — the capacity to govern, to generate a sense of internal support by the people for their government. That is probably the best way to defeat any type of terrorist movement,’” Reed said. “We’re still trying to find that.”

Briefing Room

Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies

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AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.

Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.

One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.

“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.

A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.

The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.

“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.

The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.

“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.

In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.

Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.

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Somalia’s Puntland region asks UAE to stay as Gulf split deepens

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BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) – Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region urged the United Arab Emirates not to close its security operations in the country after a dispute with the central government, saying the Gulf power was a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants.

The dispute goes to the heart of an increasingly troubled relationship between Gulf states – divided by their own disputes – and fractured Somalia, whose coastline sits close to key shipping routes and across the water from Yemen.

Analysts have said the complex standoff risks exacerbating an already explosive security situation on both sides of the Gulf of Aden, where militant groups launch regular attacks.

The central Somali government said on Wednesday it was taking over a military training program run by the UAE.

Days later the UAE announced it was pulling out, accusing Mogadishu of seizing millions of dollars from a plane, money it said was meant to pay soldiers.

“We ask our UAE friends, not only to stay, but to redouble their efforts in helping Somalia stand on its feet,” said the office of the president of Puntland, a territory that sits on the tip of the Horn of Africa looking out over the Gulf of Aden.

Ending UAE support, “will only help our enemy, particularly Al Shabaab and ISIS (Islamic State),” it added late on Monday.

SUSPICION, RESENTMENT

The UAE is one of a number of Gulf powers that have opened bases along the coast of the Horn of Africa and promised investment and donations as they compete for influence in the insecure but strategically important region.

That competition has been exacerbated by a diplomatic rift between Qatar and a bloc including the UAE. In turn, those splits have worsened divisions in Somalia.

Puntland, which has said it wants independence, has sought to woo the UAE which runs an anti-piracy training center there and is developing the main port. The central government in Mogadishu last year criticized Puntland for taking sides in the Gulf dispute. Qatar’s ally Turkey is one of Somalia’s biggest investors.

One Somali government official said last week Mogadishu had decided to take over the UAE operation because the Gulf state’s contract to run it had expired. Another official said the government was investigating the money taken from the plane.

The competition among Gulf states in Somalia has fueled accusations of foreign interference and resentment in many corners of Somali society.

The loss of the UAE program could have a destabilizing effect, said one security analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The value of the UAE trained forces was two-fold – they were relatively well trained but, most importantly, they were paid on time,” unlike other parts of the security forces, the analyst told Reuters.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991.

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Puntland President calls UAE continue its mission in Somalia

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