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Somalia Report Weekly Newsletter-Volume 13

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Friday August 12, 2011 - 18:21:09 in Reports by Super Admin
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    Somalia Report Weekly Newsletter-Volume 13

    Dear Readers,Issue 1, Volume 13

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Dear Readers,Issue 1, Volume 13

This week has been truly momentous, and rather surprising, as Mogadishu comes to terms with the abruptwithdrawal of militant Islamist group al-Shabaab from its major bases and strongholds, giving the government the opportunity to fully control the capital for the first time since the insurgency began in early 2007.



Government troops and African Union peacekeepers have spent the weekcautiously spreading throughout the city, taking control of Bakara Market, Mogadishu Stadium, Daynile, Yaqshid and Huriwa, although it has not been smooth sailing. Pockets of al-Shabaab fighters have remained hidden in several areas, and the advancing forces havemet resistanceon several occasions.

It is still unclear how the new reality will shape up, as there are currently more questions than answers. Al-Shabaab says it pulled out its forces to as a tactical switch to urban guerrilla warfare. Others say the real reason lies in a split between the leadership over allowing aid agencies into insurgent-controlled areas, with
Sheikh Mukhtar Robow reportedly sparking the retreat by pulling out his fighters.Senior leader Hassan Dahir Aweys on Fridaypublicly admitted to a riftwith leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, but said he hoped it could be resolved. He also admitted that al-Shabaab could not stand toe-to-toe with AMISOM, which was gaining ground, lending credence to another theory that says the retreat was the result of Friday's AMISOM offensive aimed at cutting off Bakara Market.

There is no doubt, however, that the conflict is far from over, and there are fears that the insurgent group, which has undoubtedly looked weaker by dint of its decision to quit Mogadishu, couldactually emerge stronger.

Al-Shabaab was struggling to raise funds, had low morale and plummeting popularity - as well as the internal strife. Pulling out of the capital, while hitting the group in the pocket by depriving it of taxes from the cash cow of Bakara Market, allows al-Shabaab to consolidate its forces and ammunition by stepping away from a conventional battle that was draining resources and seeing it slowly lose territory to pro-government forces. Should al-Shabaab manage to solve its internal problems, this means that there will be a lot more forces to slow down, or even reverse, government gains in areas such as Gedo, leading to a new stalemate.

However, one positive dynamic for the government in that scenario is that local communities, desperate to hold onto their meager resources in face of the drought, have increasingly been resisting al-Shabaab efforts to appropriate goods, livestock and cash. There wasanother such example
on Friday, when the business community in Jowhar, Middle Shabelle, fought an armed battle agains the insurgents. As usual, the community lost, but if such movements become a groundswell, it could prove a major headache for al-Shabaab in terms of diverting forces to garner the precious resources it needs to fund the insurgency.

The government side faces its own problems in attempts to wrest control of more ground from al-Shabaab outside the capital. While al-Shabaab could boost its forces in Gedo, Lower Juba and Middle Juba, clan-based rifts are threatening any planned advances. Transitional Federal Government forces
clashed with the pro-government Ras Kamboni militiaon Thursday over who will control the Jubas should they seize the areas from al-Shabaab.If this is what they are like now, imagine what will happen should they actually get their hands on the prize.

There are also question marks over whether the government and African Union peacekeeping force (known as AMISOM), can hold on to Mogadishu and maintain security in the face of an expected campaign of suicide bombs, ambushes and IEDs. The AMISOM chief this week
called for the force to be boostedfrom 9,000 to at least the mandated strength of 12,000, preferably more, to consolidate the gains and provide security for humanitarian agencies expected to step up aid deliveries to famine victims sheltering around the city.

The government also has to prove it has the capacity to govern effectively, but first it must get its troops in line. We had already discussed several disgusting incidents of looting of humanitarian aid before the al-Shabaab withdrawal, and this week government forces were againcaught with their hands in the till, this time ransacking businesses in Bakara Market, which has been shut down for a security sweep. Two soldiers were
sentenced to deathfor their part in the crimes as the government promises to maintain discipline.

Despite all the questions and problems that lie ahead, Mogadishu residents are happy to suddenly find themselves free of an organization that imposed strict Sharia law and also taxed them heavily, and the internally displaced sheltering around Mogadishu will no longer find themselves in the firing line. It's now up to the government and AU to take advantage of al-Shabaab's retreat and deliver on their transitional mandate.

Humanitarian

After a brief splurge of aid deliveries in previous weeks, there was little in the way of large-scale mobilization to help famine victims, although UNHCR this weekcarried out its
first airlift to Mogadishu in five years. Even though access to al-Shabaab areas is still uncertain, now that Mogadishu has opened up there should be an increasein humanitarian activity as more people are accessible for aid.

The UN's special envoy to Somalia, Augustine P Mahiga, called for a rapid response to al-Shabaab's withdrawal, and said that the UN was now looking at quickly scalingup its presence in Mogadishu, instead of the "light footprint" initially envisaged. According to the UN Political Office on Somalia, that means
24 UN staffers inMogadishu by the end of the year.

In all fairness to the slow-moving behemoth that is the UN, four to five months can be considered a pretty rapid response. However, 24 people will still leave rather a light footprint,unless they are intending on sending only chunky staff who have over-indulged in the many restaurants of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Significantly faster are foreign journalist, who have taken advantage of the new situation tobravely venture into Mogadishunow there is significantly less chance of being shot or bombed.CNN even felt confident enough to send in the big guns (now the real big guns are silent), dispatching its hip anchor Anderson Cooper.

Such high-profile coverage can only be welcome, given the other stories - such as the US debt default scare, UK phone hacking scandal and riots, and Norwegian massacre- that have eaten up column inches and pushed Somalia down the pecking order. The response in the West hasfallen far short
of donations to the earthquake in Haiti orthe Asian tsunami, and aid agencies are still lacking the money they need to effectively deal with thecrisis.

Puntland

Residents in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland are also worriedly looking at the developments to the south, and believe that al-Shabaab may seek to set up a
major base in the mountainous Galgalaregionfrom which to launch attacks. Peace talks are ongoing with Sheikh Mohamed Atam, whose Galgala-based militia is constantly linked to the insurgents, but there is concern that if these talks break down he will welcome al-Shabaab with open arms.

There were also unwelcome signs of more tension between Puntland and Somaliland over the disputed Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) region when Puntland security forces
arrested a delegation of almost two dozen Somaliland officialsin the region following a short gun battle.

Somaliland and Puntland have fought over SSC before, and any escalation in violence would be a major blow to the reputations of the two breakaway regions, which have been selling themselves as bastions of relative peace and stability in one of the world's most chaotic nations.

Piracy

The long dry spell experienced by Somali pirates continued this week, with no successful attacks. Since the seizure of the MT Gemini on May 30, only two vessels have been taken (both quickly released), neither of them high-value targets. A combination of poor weather, on-board security detachments and navy intervention has suppressed the pirates, although you can be sure they will be making a proper nuisance of themselves again once the weather improves.

For a full breakdown of piracy-related shenanigans, please see our
weekly reportfrom today.

That's it from us. We'd just like to remind you that you can follow us on
FacebookorTwitterfor all the stories as they happen.Of course, if you are a bit of a Luddite and hate social media, you can go direct to thewebsite.

Youalso get in touch with us at [email protected] with suggestions and comments. At the moment, we are looking to build a links section, so if you or your organization would like to be linked from our site, please drop us a line.

Finally, we are wondering it would be overkill to send a short daily summary of our stories throughout the week. If you think this is a good idea, or it would clog up your inbox, please let us know.

Have a great weekend.

Regards,

The Editor



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