Category Archives: Somalia

Clearing Somalia Of al-Shabaab

Somalia Piracy 2011 03

This map, dated March of 2011, shows Mogadishu as a hostage holding location and little activity in Kismayo, three hundred miles further south.

Somalia 2012-08 Kismayo assault

Fifteen months later we find that Mogadishu’s warlords are shut down within the city. Ethiopian backed militias and African Union troops have surrounded al-Shabaab territory, and Kismayo is under

Somalia militant base of Kismayo attacked by Kenyan forces, dated September, 28th, 2012 provides a view into the chaotic situation on the ground.

I am puzzling over how to get timely, accurate intel on situations like this. Wikipedia is good enough for background – it’s freely available and entries for regions or countries are largely free of any obvious spin attempts. When the journalists of The Guardian or the BBC News publish an article they provide information that is vetted as well as one can for a place like Somalia, but this confirms the past, describes the present, and they avoid speculating about the future.

The unanswered questions I have include:

  • Will a Somali government installed by Ethiopia and Kenya be viewed as legitimate?
  • What good are anti-piracy/anti-terror efforts if the underlying problem, rooted in environment and economy, continues pushing young Somalis into such things?
  • What will happen regarding the oil fields in the north if the south does get stabilized?
  • How does instability in Yemen effect overall security in the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea?


Imperial dissolution always produces long chains of unanticipated events. This is going to be even harder for the United States, due to the epistemic closure Bruce Bartlett described in Revenge Of The Reality-Based Community. We have a political party that has literally lost touch with reality, and they control the pursue strings via their majority in the House. If we don’t move as a nation to correct this we’ll get dragged into another foreign adventure even more disastrous than Afghanistan.

Pirates Of Somalia

Somalia Piracy 2011 03

This map of Somalia from early 2011 shows the internal political divisions and the type of pirate activity associated with each part of the 4,000km (2,480 mile) coastline. This map is very large and you can see fine detail if you click through to the full sized version. The newly formed Galmudug autonomous region appears to be the destination of choice for hostage keeping. I started digging and Wikipedia has what appears to be a detailed report Somali piracy. I am curious as to the origin, but it’s solid enough that I’m going to read it closely.

Horn Of Africa Piracy 2008

While the shoreline is listed as the least troubled, the Gulf of Aden shows the highest incidence of attacks. I think this combination is attributable to easy access to a volume of passing ships, which encourages attack, and the pressure of increasing enforcement, which seeks to deny that access by limiting bases of operation.

F-15 and P3 Orion aircraft at Camp Lemonnier

F-15 and P3 Orion aircraft at Camp Lemonnier

The United States keeps a presence in Djibouti, Camp Lemonnier. I zoomed in on the base and found these. The little triangles appear to be twin engined – probably F-15 Eagles. The large four engined aircraft are likely P3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft.

Indian Ocean Piracy

The mainstream media reports on pirates of Somalia, but the problem has spread to the Arabian Sea and the western half of the Indian Ocean. I think this is thanks to increasingly tough enforcement in the Gulf of Aden and hard times continuing to push Somali fishermen into this new line of business. If you look closely you can see the contour lines from 2005 to 2011, an ever expanding radius of operation.


Combined Task Force 151 is the naval companion to the aircraft and troops at Camp Lemonnier. Per their web site, Combined Maritime Forces recently changed flagships to the TCG-492 Gemlik, a Turkish G class frigate. These are all derived from modernized U.S. frigates, and the photo here is the U.S.S. Flatley FFG-21 prior to her sale to Turkey.

The direct costs are known but the indirect costs are all over the board. Their busiest year pirates took in $238 million in ransoms, and the shipping business spent as much as $6.9 billion to count this. Somalia has hit bottom so their contribution to the problem will remain steady. But Yemen seems determined to follow them into disorder, and then neither side of the Gulf of Aden will be safe.

Earlier I wrote Middle East Straits and I didn’t include the Mandab Strait as a trouble point, but given the condition of Somalia, the declining fortunes of Yemen, the potential for already troubled Sudan to go completely out of control I think it should be on the list of troubled passages.

How Somalia Got That Way


I have been looking at a collection of maps and trying to mentally compose something about the history that led to this six year old map of feuding Somali factions. I just couldn’t make it fit … until I reversed the time order of the maps I had.

Horn of Africa right before World War II

Horn of Africa right before World War II

This was the Horn of Africa in the 1930s. The Abyssinian Empire, which later became Ethiopia, held out, while the rest of the region was colonized by the British, French, and Italians.


The Horn of Africa and the Nile watershed were both carved up into unnatural divisions by European powers, primarily Britain and Italy.


But the reason the Europeans were there was the slow motion implosion of the Ottoman Turk empire, which was known as The Sick Man of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Five hundred years of dominating the region was ending and we still see the fault lines left by their retreat in the Caucasus, the Balkans, the heart of the Mideast, the Nile basin, and the Horn of Africa.

Study this last one closely. See the little Ottoman strip between the Red Sea and the Abyssinians? That’s Muslim Eritrea today, which fought for thirty years to free itself from Orthodox Christian Ethiopia.

As for Somalia, the British bit is largely self governing Somalialand and the northern half of the Italian portion calls itself Puntland. The ethnically mixed and environmentally stressed south is the part that so troubles the rest of the region.

Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts


Western culture has been shaped by four hundred years of English liberalism of the sort that led Thomas Paine to write Common Sense. The Muslim world, divided today between Shia and Sunni as Europeans once were between Catholic and Protestant, has very different expectations. Americans, at least until recently, instinctively recoiled and the mixing of church and state. This is entirely counter to the Muslim world, where a proper government must be guided by men doing Allah’s will.

The Union of Islamic Courts was a home grown source of law and order, but as the name implied, it was Islamist in temperament. Per this Global Security article we know the fate of the UIC and the source of al-Shabaab. I had mentioned in Deadly Fighting Erupts In Kenya that I thought the map above was a bit dated, and it turns out I was correct – the UIC was dismantled right at the beginning of 2007.

As of October 2006, the ICU controlled the majority of Southern Somalia. Semi-autonomous Somaliland and Puntland remained in control of their respective regions in the north. A concerted offensive by forces of the TFG along with Ethopian military between December 2006 and January 2007 effectively dispersed the ICU. A large militant component, known generally as al-Shabaab, continued to fight the TFG and foreign forces.

I am going down this path because I was looking for maps of the Nile basin and I found several mentions of Egypt arming the UIC for the sake of stirring trouble in Ethiopia, the source of the Blue Nile, which provides the famed annual flood. I thought that they were entirely conspiracy theories, because the first pages of search results were blog posts, but then I found two actual news sources:

Powers Stoking Somalia Conflict – BBC, November, 2006.

Iran Tried To Get Uranium By Arming Somalia – The Telegraph November, 2006.

So there were weapons flowing into Somalia and from many places, but I can find nothing credible that shows this was due to the hydropolitics of the Nile basin. I am not discarding this, mind you, because it’s very interesting if true, but I need to see solid facts from reliable sources, not a dozen partisan blogs echoing each other.

The Horn Of Africa


Deadly Tribal Fighting Erupts In Kenya caught my eye yesterday, but I hesitated to add this, because we are going to wade into the Horn of Africa. While not a part of the Horn proper, which is defined by geography, Kenya has a large Somali population, and it also shares the same climate driven food security problems. The nature of the trouble in Kenya is a conflict that has been with us for more than ten thousand years – how do farmers and herders share water and food in times of drought?


Drought is not uncommon in this already arid region, but 2011 was extreme, uprooting people from Somalia and pushing them into Ethiopia and Kenya.



The entire region is under stress, but pay attention to the speckled area. ‘Limited Humanitarian Access’. Remember Black Hawk Down?


You can move, adapt, or die when things change. When you’re in an arid land and drought hits there isn’t any adaptation – there simply isn’t enough water. You get moving or you die where you are.


Kenya’s dry northeast is ethnic Somali. The lines on the map are not as bad as the Caucasus, but there were western imperial adventures here, too. Kenya was a British holding, Somalia was French, and Ethiopia was held by Italy.


So the Darod tribe is in the dry northeast of Kenya, but aid workers can go there. They’re in Ethiopia, but their territory is deemed unsafe. Their portion of Somalia is safe. What in the world is going on here?


Somalia is a country, but that is just lines on a western map. The reality on the ground is a bit different. The largely Ishaak region of Somalialand in the northwest and mostly Darod Puntland in the northwest are not internationally recognized, but they are basically self governing. The south has been in and out of chaos and starvation for the last twenty years. I think this map is also a bit dated – UIC is the Union of Islamic Courts and the Provisional Government was ready to implode before Kenya invaded and backed them.

So what does this have to do with Kenya? I don’t typically reference blog posts, but Kenya, Reluctant Regional Power neatly summed up what I had been seeing in other places – 63% of Kenya’s GDP is the service industry, and that is dominated by tourism. They won’t tolerate any trouble in Somalia interfering with this.

As evidence of Kenya’s move towards becoming a true regional power, Kenyan forces were the first to respond against the menacing al Shabaab militants after a media frenzy erupted following high-profile kidnaps along its border with Somalia. The Kenyan Government was forced to act, worried about its reputation, its own security, and the damage such abductions might do to country’s lucrative tourism industry. Beneath these reasons, however, lies perhaps the truth: Kenya is striving to be a regional powerhouse, and in order to elevate its political standing, it decided to exercise its military might. Since October 2011, Kenya began a full-scale military operation to root out al Shabaab, not only within its borders, but in neighbouring Somalia as well. Somalia’s own army proved insufficient and inherently weak, and as such Kenyan forces felt obligated to intervene. Although since this time, Ethiopian troops as well as African Union soldiers have also entered into the fight, Kenya is clearly leading the operation.

Striking cross border to deal with a regional problem is one thing, but what happens when the conflict is domestic and driven by climate change? Not only is there the friction between farmers and herders along the Tana, but 615Mw of the countries total 1,142Mw comes from hydroelectric power. If local electric supplies stumble due to drought and the seemingly imminent European banking sector crash hobbles the usual supply of tourists, Kenya’s tenure as a regional power might be fairly short.