Yearender: Somalia entrapped in another year of deadly insurgency
NAIROBI, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- The outgoing year of 2009 saw by far the most deadly and numerous violent attacks by radical Islamist insurgents in Somalia against the Somali government and the African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu, capital of the war-torn country, showing growing level of sophistication of insurgents' tactics.
INCREASING SUICIDE ATTACKS
Iraqi/Afghan-style suicide attacks, using car bombs and explosive vests, as well as roadside bombs and targeted assassinations of senior officials, were increasingly used by Islamist rebels in the past year.
The fragile Somali government faced the latest and so far deadliest single suicide attack on its rank on Dec. 3, when three senior ministers, as well as dozens of civilians, were killed in a suicide bomb explosion which struck a graduation ceremony at a hotel in a government-controlled area in southern Mogadishu.
Although the government lay the blame for the attack on Islamist insurgents opposed to it, both of the two main Islamist rebel groups distanced themselves from any involvement with the attack, which bore all the hallmarks of Islamist insurgent attacks.
Early this year, on Jan. 24, a suicide car bomb, apparently aimed at African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) in southern Mogadishu, killed 15 civilians and wounding thirty others.
On Feb. 22, another suicide car bomb attack targeting an AU military base in Mogadishu killed at least 11 peacekeepers from the Burundian contingent of the AU forces.
In mid March, two roadside bomb exploded as AU peacekeepers were on an early morning minesweeping operation in the south of the Somali capital, injuring one of the troops.
Another suicide attack on Sept. 17 by Islamist rebels on the headquarters of AU forces in Mogadishu left 17 peacekeepers dead while 29 others were wounded. AMISOM deputy commander Maj. Gen. Juvenal Niyonguruza, from Burundi, was among those killed while former AMISOM commander Gen. Nathan Mugisha, from Uganda, was also wounded in the blast.
Suicide attacks and roadside bombs also known as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have been increasingly used by radical groups following the ouster of an Islamist movement from power in late 2006, when two of the first suicide bombings were reported in Baidoa, where the government was based at the time.
Targeted assassinations against government officials and other high profile people, including business and religious leaders suspected of sympathizing with the government, have been employed by radical Islamists to eliminate opponents and people suspected of spying.
TRANSFER OF TACTICS FROM IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN
Al-Shabaab, the largest and most powerful of the two main insurgent movements, is considered by the Somali government and others in the international community to be a "terrorist" entity.
The secretive movement, which mainly controls and operates in the south-central part of the Horn of Africa nation, claimed or was alleged to have carried out almost all the terrorist-style attacks on the Somali government and African Union peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu.
The group, which has shown an increasing tendency of using car bombs, explosive belts and the infamous roadside bombs, was seen as transferring terror tactics and technology from foreign radical groups to local insurgents, some experts observe.
Juan Zarate, the former U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for Combating Terrorism, said that Somali rebel groups' capabilities were strengthened by the transfer of technology and the know-how from other groups with similar ideology in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"People are very concerned that technology from Iraq and Afghanistan is being transferred to Somalia," said Zarate, who is now a senior adviser at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The large swathes of territory controlled by the radical groups also makes it easy for the rebel movements, particularly Al-Shabaab, to set up training camps for their recruits, who are mainly young people and "very impressionable", willing to carry out any "gruesome act of violence" against what they perceive as "infidels" and the "puppet apostate government" imposed on their country, said Hussein Isse, an independent security analyst in Somalia.
"The recent trend for the militants has increasingly been that they recruit from the young impressionable people and giving them training to use firearms and build bombs in camps in the every expanding territory under their control, which gives them enormous potential to plan and wage sophisticated and coordinated deadly attacks on their targets," Isse told Xinhua.
NO END OF VIOLENCE IN NEAR FUTURE
The increase and prevalence of violent attacks in the south-central part of the war ravaged East African country has far reaching negative impact.
"You may know that nearly as many as 20,000 people have lost their lives, more than 100,000 others may have been injured while the UN estimates nearly 1.5 million people were displaced from their homes," Maryan Shukeh, a Somali human rights activist said.
The status quo in Somalia, violence and counter-violence, has made parties to the conflict unable or unwilling to try once again the path of negotiations and dialogue, contended analysts who predict, as things stand, the trend would continue.
"There is no dialogue going on between the sides, who are stuck in their positions of trying to obliterate the other as they see no way of negotiating with one another once again, and this seems to be the case for the foreseeable future," Isse said.
U.S. SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT
The international community in particular the U.S. has been trying to help the Somali government fight local radical groups by taking limited targeted actions against "wanted" Islamist figures in the country.
The U.S. has so far carried a couple of air raids on rebel targets in southern and central Somalia, killing some top Islamist leaders and suspected terrorists.
Washington also sent dozens of tons of ammunitions to the Somali government security forces and pledged to do more to support the weak but internationally recognized government of Somalia.
After visiting victims of the recent suicide bombing in Mogadishu at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi on Dec. 7, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger to Kenya, who is also responsible for U.S. relations with Somalia, told reporters of the U.S. government's "unwavering support to the Transitional Federal Government and the people of Somalia".
"Attacks like the suicide bombing do not dissuade the United States and the international community from assisting Somalia, but rather strengthen the resolve of all who are working to help Somalia achieve peace and stability," the Ambassador emphasized.
GOVERNMENT TAKING ACTIONS
The Somali government has been bemoaning all along that it was left alone by the international community to fend for itself in its fight with a formidable and determined insurgent force which, it has been saying, gets help from foreign Jihadists who supply them with money, supplies and manpower.
But the Somali government has recently been trying to get its house in order and do its bit in fighting for its survival with a recent reshuffle of the leadership of the security forces and a plan to have some newly recruited soldiers to be trained with help from neighboring countries.
Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed recently told newly trained recruits that they should be prepared to liberate the country from what he called "misguided radicals".
"They (insurgents) claim to be fighting in the name of Allah and to love their religion but nothing could be further from the truth," President Ahmed, dressed in a military fatigue, told Somali security forces in Mogadishu.
"Their actions of cruelty against civilians are unbecoming of a good Muslim so we should be prepared to liberate the country from such misguided radicals," he said.
SUFFERING OF PEOPLE
The escalating violence in Somalia particularly in the south-central part of the country which started in 2007 following the ousting of the Islamist rulers from Mogadishu by allied Ethiopian and Somali government forces left the national state structures and economic infrastructure in ruins.
Most people in Somalia do not have the basic social services, with schools, hospitals, water, electricity, sewage and sanitation systems have all been destroyed. Roads remained potholed and covered with sand while most roads between provinces are inaccessible and dangerous.
"We are struggling for survival. We cannot think about good life with security and education for our children. We try to live the day and see what the other brings, because we see our family members or others being killed or wounded almost everyday," said Maana Geedi, a mother of seven in Elasha camps for the displaced people on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
Local people weary of the long war in the country have been polarized by the conflicting ideologies and are supportive of one group or the other while some have resigned to the fate of having to cope with daily torment of an ongoing war with no light at the end of the tunnel.
"This is what we are meant to go through and as believers in fate we must have faith that this is an experience previously ordained to us by Allah so that we should repent from our sins and be good Muslims again," said Haji Ali, a senior citizen in Mogadishu.
Most of the people in the war-wrecked nation has in one way or another been effected by the two decades long conflict with many having a family member, a distant relative, a long time neighbor been killed, injured or uprooted from their homes.
They have to cope with seeing the gruesome realities of living in a country in war, where it is almost a matter of life and death everyday.
"I cannot plan for a week because I do not know whether I will live to that long and all sensible people seem to be living their lives in accordance with that fact," Mohyadeen Barre, a teacher in Mogadishu summed up how the war in Somalia effected people's lives.
But Barre is hopeful that things could change for the better in Somalia sooner or later. "Allah says in the holy Quran 'do not lose hope of Allah's mercy', so we should be hopeful that this country will one day see peace and prosperity, brotherhood and social harmony return."