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Why Somalia wants a 25 -years arms embargo lifted

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The conference on Somalia held in London Thursday was replete with handshakes and backslapping as the U.K. and others praised the new Somali government and pledged to do all they could to help defeat terrorism in the Horn of Africa country.

Yet amid the genial atmosphere, there was a moment of tension as Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed broached the issue of lifting a 25-year arms embargo that he said has hampered the fight against Al-Shabab, an Islamist militant group affiliated to Al-Qaeda that has bombed and blasted the Somali military for more than a decade.

“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,” said President Farmajo at a press conference at the conclusion of the London meeting. “If we don’t have more sophisticated and better weaponry, this war will definitely continue for another 10 years.”
Besides temporarily loosening some restrictions in 2013, the international community has steadfastly refused to remove the arms embargo, as Somalia has battled to establish a stable government and retake control of territories governed by Al-Shabab, which has a presence in much of rural southern Somalia.

The embargo was put in place in 1992 as Somalia fell into civil war, wracked by clan conflicts.

The civil war saw two northern regions of Somalia effectively break away, with one claiming independence, left the country without a central government for more than two decades, and created the conditions for the rise of Al-Shabab, a militant offshoot of a group of sharia courts that seized control of the capital Mogadishu in 2006. It also saw Somalia become a byword for anarchy: The Horn of Africa country has been ranked top of the Fragile States Index seven times in the past nine years.

Farmajo, who was elected in February on a wave of optimism, said his government was working toward a full lifting of the arms embargo. But the country is not there yet, says Thomas Shannon, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the U.S. Department of State.

“He talked about creating a process that would get Somalia there. He understands that the reason that hasn’t happened yet is because Somalia still doesn’t have in place the internal control mechanism, the storage, repository and tracking mechanisms necessary to ensure that weapons stay where they are supposed to stay,” says Shannon in an exclusive meeting with Newsweek on the sidelines of the London conference.

While the original 1992 embargo banned the sale of all weapons and military equipment to all parties in Somalia, several amendments have since been made.

Somalia President Explains Why Lifting The Arms Embargos Is Important For Somalia

In 2007, the Security Council resolved that the embargo would not apply to weapons and equipment directed for the sole use of AMISOM, the 22,000-strong African Union force that has been leading the fight against Al-Shabab, and which is due to exit Somalia by 2020. Then in 2013, following the establishment of the first central Somali government since the early 1990s, the Security Council lifted the embargo on light weaponry being sold to Somali national forces for a twelve-month period, though certain heavy arms—such as surface-to-air missiles—were still banned.

The international community’s key concern is that Al-Shabab could get its hands on heavy weaponry if the embargo to Somali forces was lifted, says Omar Mahmood, an expert on Somalia at the Institute of Security Studies, an African think tank.
This could happen in a number of ways, he says: Either sympathetic elements in the SNA could smuggle weapons to the militants, or corrupt Somali forces could sell arms on the black market, potentially attracting Al-Shabab. Alternatively, the Islamist group could collect the munitions as spoils of war after overrunning Somali forces.

An example of the latter occurred when Al-Shabab overran Kenyan troops at a base in El Adde, near the border between Somalia and Kenya, in January 2016: The militants released video footage of the aftermath of the attack, in which fighters are seen looting boxes of ammunition and military vehicles.

At the London conference, President Farmajo suggested tentatively that “maybe next year, maybe in eight months,” the embargo could be lifted if Somalia could fulfil whatever criteria was demanded by the Security Council.

The comment was apparently brushed aside by British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who chaired the conference: “This is not the time to lift the arms embargo. We shouldn’t be thinking of doing it that way round.

The priority has got to be to get the Somali forces to a condition working with the regional authorities where they are able to take on Al-Shabab, and where AMISOM is finally able to discharge its obligations,” said Johnson. The British minister emphasized the training of Somali forces currently being undertaken by advisers and troops from several countries, including the U.K. and United States.

The international community still appears to have many doubts about Somalia’s capacity to keep weapons out of the clutches of Al-Shabab, which has called for attacks on the West as well as launching major incursions into Kenya and other neighboring states.

Farmajo’s government has been in place less than three months—he announced his cabinet in March—and in that time, the militant group has carried out multiple large-scale suicide bombings in Mogadishu and other attacks elsewhere. The president announced a state of war in Somalia in April, offering disillusioned jihadis a 60-day window to disarm.

But even if, against the prevailing mood, the arms embargo were to be lifted, it would not have a determinative effect in Somalia’s war on Al-Shabab, says Mahmoo, pointing out that AMISOM has been excused from the arms embargo for the past 10 years. While the African Union force has made significant gains against Al-Shabab—pushing it out of Mogadishu and most other urban areas—the militant group still holds around 10 percent of territory in the country and appears to conduct attacks at will.

“Al-Shabab has been very good at undertaking asymmetric attacks,” says Mahmood, “so it’s no guarantee that if we have heavier weapons going to Somalia, Al-Shabab is going to be eliminated. AMISOM’s struggle pertinently demonstrates that.”

DOCUMENTARY FILMS

Aamir Khan: The snake charmer – Witness

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Aamir Khan is one of the most popular and influential Bollywood actors in India today. He became a star of Hindi cinema in the 1980s, and his greatest commercial successes have been the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time.

Yet in 2012, Khan’s career took an unexpected turn. Together with a childhood friend, he created a TV series called Satyamev Jayate which became the first prime time TV show in India to expose the country’s most critical social issues – from rape to female foeticide and dowry killings.

Aamir Khan was used to portraying macho men on a quest for vengeance and belongs to an industry accused of denigrating women and encouraging sexual violence.

But now, the 48 year old actor with Peter Pan charm risks his career by challenging men to re-examine their attitudes and behavior towards women, confronting the spiraling wave of gender-based violence in India and defying age-old stereotypes.

The snake charmer follows Khan on a journey through India’s TV and Bollywood film industry, as he attempts to change the way Indians perceive and treat women.

From the set of Satyamev Jayate, the film follows Aamir Khan backstage to his new Bollywood blockbuster Dangal.

Khan’s quest ultimately opens a window into a country in crisis and into the changes it is undergoing.

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Somali News

Under Trump, The Pentagon Has Been Quietly Escalating Its Presence In Somalia

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Like Niger, the increase in US troops deployed to Somalia has gone largely unnoticed.

BUZZFEED — The Trump administration has been quietly but rapidly escalating its campaign against al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, launching almost daily drone strikes in recent days and increasing the number of US troops deployed there almost tenfold since May.

Like Niger, where a growing US military presence was widely recognized only after four US troops were killed last month, the expansion in Somalia has been largely unnoticed. But this week, the Pentagon acknowledged that the number of US troops in Somalia had grown to 500 from 50 in the spring and that US aircraft had struck targets of the al-Shabaab terrorist group six days in a row.

The growing Somalia presence now rivals the US presence in Syria, where defense officials say 503 US troops currently are operating.

Still, US officials deny that the US is ramping up its involvement in Somalia 24 years after 18 US soldiers died in conflict, as memorialized in the movie Black Hawk Down.

“I would not associate that with a buildup,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters on Thursday. “I think it’s just the flow of forces in and out as different organizations come in that might be sized a little differently.”

A series of five US air strikes in Somalia killed 40 al-Shabaab and ISIS fighters between Nov. 9 and 12, according to the Pentagon. A sixth strike killed “several” more on Wednesday. The US military has carried out 28 drone strikes in the country this year, with 15 of those happening in the last three months, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks the strikes.

There were 15 strikes against al-Shabaab in all of 2016. Even so, defense officials denied that this was an escalation.

“I certainly don’t think there’s a ramp-up of attacks,” McKenzie said. “There’s no particular rhythm to (striking targets), except that as they become available and as we’re able to process them and vet them, we strike.”

This month, the US also conducted the first strikes against ISIS targets in Somalia. Pentagon officials say the US is keeping a close eye on the movement of foreign fighters out of Iraq and Syria as ISIS is pushed back there, but gave no details on whether they might be trekking into Somalia.

“US forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats,” US Africa Command said Wednesday in a statement on the strikes.

While al-Shabaab has called for attacks on the US and the West, and even featured comments by President Donald Trump about Muslims in a 2016 recruitment video, it has not carried out any attacks outside the region. The insurgents, who seek to impose their strict version of Islam on the country, have been fighting to recapture territory they’ve lost to African Union peacekeepers and topple Somalia’s Western-backed government.

Last month, al-Shabaab was blamed for the deadliest terrorist attack in Somalia’s history, a truck bomb that killed more than 350 people when it detonated at a busy intersection in Mogadishu, the country’s capital. Al-Shabaab also has been blamed for many other attacks, including the September 2013 siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that left at least 67 dead. It also has stepped up the sophistication of its attacks, nearly succeeding in bringing down a Somali commercial aircraft in February by hiding a bomb in a laptop computer.

A small number of US forces have been in Somalia on so-called advise-and-assist missions since 2013, working with the country’s military to plan and support raids against al-Shabaab. One such raid, targeting a terrorist compound in May, led to the first US combat fatality in Somalia since the Black Hawk Down attack in 1993. A Navy SEAL was killed and two other US service members were wounded.

The recently intensified campaign comes after the Trump administration in March gave the military broader authority to carry out counterterrorism strikes in Somalia, relaxing rules meant to avoid civilian deaths. Two months earlier, the White House had made a similar move in Yemen, giving the military more freedom to target al-Qaeda militants.

“It’s very important and very helpful for us to have little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of the decision-making process,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who oversees US troops in Africa, explained in March. “It allows us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion.”

Under the previous restrictions imposed by President Barack Obama in 2013, raids and air strikes were vetted by multiple agencies, and targets could be struck only if they posed a threat to Americans and could be hit without killing civilians.

The loosened rules have led to some “very disturbing” incidents where civilians have died, setting off a furious debate among leaders of the fragile central government, said Roland Marchal, an expert on al-Shabaab at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, known as Sciences Po, who had just returned from Mogadishu when he spoke to BuzzFeed News on Friday.

In one incident, 10 civilians, including three children, were killed in a US-backed raid in August in the village of Barire. The wrapped bodies of the victims were displayed in the capital to garner media attention, as the deputy governor of the region described how unarmed farmers had been killed “one by one.”

US Africa Command confirmed that US troops had participated in the raid and that it was “aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Barire.” It said it would conduct an assessment but didn’t respond to a request for comment about the inquiry.

“This was a really bad moment for the government, a lot of infighting and turmoil with people saying contradictory things, they had to pay the families blood money, and at the end of the day nothing has improved on the ground,” said Marchal. “The US [efforts] are not becoming any more popular.”

Faulty intelligence has also hampered some previous US strikes. A September 2016 strike in Galcayo, a city more than 350 miles northeast of Mogadishu, killed local militia forces allied with the US, not al-Shabaab fighters as the Pentagon had thought.

Simply increasing the body count of al-Shabaab militants is unlikely to significantly change the group’s hold in the region, Marchal said.

“You may be counting the corpses of militants and make wonderful statements of victory, but politically you’re losing,” he said. “People have to be aware that this overwhelming military approach is dysfunctional. … On the ground there’s a situation where you may be killing important figures, but it’s difficult to believe that this will significantly harm al-Shabaab because it’s a widespread organization and the Americans are targeting military commanders who could be replaced.”

In May, Mattis attended a conference on Somalia in London, where he had a private meeting with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

“I came away from that heartened,” he told reporters returning from the trip.

Mattis said international partners were working on “a reconciliation program designed to pull the fence-sitters and the middle-of-the-roaders away from al-Shabaab.”

US operations in Africa have been under scrutiny since the Oct. 4 ambush in Niger that killed four US soldiers, which drew attention to the little-known US involvement on the African continent. Lawmakers admitted they had no idea that the Pentagon had deployed more than 800 troops to that country.

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Somali News

Somali Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry finds the rendition of Qalbi Dhagah was “illegal”.

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The rendition of Abdikarim Muse Qalbi Dhagax, ONLF commander and former Somali military officer to Ethiopian was illegal, a report by parliamentary committee said.

The report endorsed by Somali parliament on Saturday has also dismissed outlawing ONLF as a terrorist organization.

The parliamentary commission formed mid-September to probe the circumstances under which Qalbi Dhagah was extradited, blamed Somalia’s Intelligence agency for providing misinformation about the victim.

“Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency had provided the government leaders with wrong information and subsequently hid the case of Qalbi Dhagah from the justice department,” reads the report submitted to the House this morning.

The 15 member committee probed and reviewed the previous so-called Security agreement between Somalia and Ethiopian in relation to this matter.

“The government should mull over the previous deals and should keep away all matters that can lead insecurity,”  the committee urged the government in its report which overwhelmingly got 152 votes out 161 of  today’s session.

Qalbi Dhagah was handed over to Ethiopia on 28th August this year following a raid by Somali force on his hotel in Galkayo, central Somalia.

Days after the extradition, Somali cabinet had defended the rendition labeling as ONLF outlawed terrorist group.

The government of Ethiopia confirmed the handing over, citing a security partnership treaty between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu.

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