Deadliest ever bombing highlights Somalia’s weakness

Somali soldiers patroling on the scene of the explosion of a truck bomb in the center of Mogadishu. Somalia's deadliest ever attack, a truck bomb in the capital Mogadishu, that killed at least 358 dead, highlights the fragility of the Somali federal government, analysts said. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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Deadliest ever bombing highlights Somalia’s weakness

NAIROBI: Last weekend’s truck bombing in Mogadishu killed at least 358 people, making it the deadliest in Somalia’s history, an attack that analysts say underscores the fragility of the internationally-backed government.
With Somalia’s security forces disorganized and riddled with corruption, and deepening suspicion between central and regional governments, the Oct. 14 blast highlights the Al-Qaeda-aligned Al-Shabab’s ability to exploit state weakness and prosecute asymmetric war to deadly effect.
Militarily, the situation has been largely static in recent months.
Evicted from the capital in 2011, the Al-Shabab has maintained its control in many rural parts of central and southern Somalia. “There have been no recent strategic gains” on either side, says Roland Marchal, a researcher at Sciences Po in Paris — neither for the Al-Shabab nor the Somali army, backed by African Union troops and an increasingly active US military.
“On the surface at least, what we see is stagnation,” says Matt Bryden, founder of the Nairobi-based Sahan Research think-tank, who points out that the Al-Shabab has proven resilient, able to replace commanders and fighters killed by US airstrikes.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), however, said Friday that Al-Shabab has recently regained control of several areas outside Mogadishu, including Barire, a strategically significant town on a major road 45 km from the capital.
“Averting attacks in Mogadishu is ever harder when surrounding districts revert back to Al-Shabab control,” the ICG says.
The Al-Shabab’s intelligence network allows it to exploit flaws and weakness in the security apparatus.
For example, the recent Al-Shabab gains around Mogadishu were, the ICG says, permitted by the withdrawal of government forces in a row over unpaid salaries.
Attempts to establish new security checkpoints at the city’s gateways have also been subverted, as happened last Saturday, when the truck, though packed with explosives, was waved through by officers.
“We know from past experience that they’ve been able to infiltrate security forces, or to put their own people in government uniforms,” says Bryden.
Also significant: The bombing last weekend came days after both the country’s defense minister and army chief resigned, without explanation. The simultaneous departure weakened President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a situation used by Al-Shabab to its advantage.
“It is not that the Al-Shabab is very strong, it is that the others are really weak,” Marchal says.
Federalism in Somalia has existed on paper since 2004, but only began to take shape five years ago. There are now five federal regional states, not including Somaliland, which claims independence and does not recognize the central government.
Relations between Mogadishu and the regions are fraught, as each struggles for a greater share of power and seeks foreign allies.
Security stakes are high because if the embryonic national army is only deployed in and around the capital, and the 22,000 AU troops secure outlying urban centers, then it is left to regional militias to fight the Al-Shabab in the bulk of the country.
Recently, the diplomatic crisis pitting the UAE and Saudi Arabia against Qatar “has aggravated such friction,” says ICG.
Some federal regional states have taken sides with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to the dismay of Mogadishu, which has sought to remain neutral in a bid to maintain the substantial it receives from both sides.
Marchal deplores the “chaos brought by the Gulf crisis, where any federal president, under the pretext of receiving funding, makes ill-judged foreign policy declarations.”
“Unless the government shifts its posture and engages with the federal member states so they become partners in fighting Al-Shabab, instead of trying to fight both Al-Shabab and the federal member states, I don’t think we’re going to see very much progress,” says Bryden.
ICG says political opponents could seek to take advantage of the latest crisis to bring down the president. It urges him to “work quickly to improve relations with federal states” and resolve quarrels over distribution of resources. Otherwise, analysts warn, the only winner will be the Al-Shabab. The worsening violence has prompted some UN officials to raise alarm over “early warning signs of genocide” in CAR, as did former UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien in late August.
Adama Dieng — the UN’s special adviser for the prevention of genocide who visited the country in early October — denied the country was in a “pre-genocide situation” but said the situation there is “serious.”
There are still “indicators” that could result “in crimes of genocide” if they are not tackled, he said.
Touadera, whose election with the full support of the UN and France sparked a wave of hope, also pushed back on the warnings, saying “talk about genocide at this stage... is not justified.”
Guterres previously said there was “ethnic cleansing” in many parts of the country, but he will invariably be asked to comment about genocide.
To the displaced population, a visit from Guterres is a welcome relief.
“The peacekeepers must help us more and be more visible,” said Regis, who was forced to flee from the east of the country to Bangui. “It is imperative that the UN chief make them understand that.”


Latest sex accusation against Trump lands with a thud

Updated 1 min ago
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Latest sex accusation against Trump lands with a thud

  • Carroll, a feature writer and Elle advice columnist, revealed her accusation against Trump in an excerpt to an upcoming book
  • Trump and her allies have responded by casting Carroll aside as an opportunist
Nearly a week after the latest sexual misconduct accusation against President Donald Trump, the story has largely landed with a thud.
Some see the muted response to author E. Jean Carroll’s allegation of Trump assaulting her in a department store dressing room more than two decades ago as yet another example of the divisive Politics of Trump: Those who support him dismiss it as fake news. Those against him see it as confirmation of what they knew all along.
“Essentially, you’re either for him or against him, and if you’re for him, it doesn’t matter what he’s done,” said Larry Sabato, who directs the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It really is remarkable. He simply is exempt from the rules everyone else must obey.”
It’s a cycle that’s been repeated before. After more than a dozen women came forward during Trump’s 2016 campaign with allegations of sexual misconduct years earlier, Trump called them “liars” who sought to harm his campaign with “100-percent fabricated” stories. When the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged weeks before the election of him bragging about grabbing women by the genitals, he dismissed it as “locker room talk.”
In the case of Carroll, a feature writer and longtime Elle advice columnist, her accusation was revealed in an excerpt to an upcoming book, leading Trump and others to cast her aside as an opportunist. Her book, “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal,” describes what she calls a lifetime of encounters with predatory men, starting with her early years as an Indiana cheerleader and pageant winner.
She said that Trump, in the mid-1990s, followed her into a dressing room after a chance encounter at the high-end New York department store Bergdorf Goodman and proceeded to pull down her tights and sexually assault her. Trump, in denying the account on Monday, said she’s “not my type,” a stunning remark from a US president that briefly breathed life into the story.
But even ranking Democrats such as Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois were resigned to how it would all play out. “I wouldn’t dismiss it,” he told The Washington Post, “but let’s be honest, he’s going to deny it and little is going to come of it.”
Lawyer Debra Katz, who represented Christine Blasey Ford in her Senate testimony on her alleged high school assault by then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, concurred.
“The electorate knew this about him. This is nothing new about his character or his behavior — at this point there have been, what, 13 credible accusers?” Katz said. “People have become inure to it. And it’s disgraceful.”
Carroll, who did not return messages left on her cell phone from The Associated Press this week, stopped short in various television interviews of calling what happened to her rape and described the experience as a “three-minute” ordeal that did not change her life. Carroll has said she doesn’t plan to seek criminal charges and it appears the statute of limitations has run out.
“I’m a mature woman. I can handle it,” she said on MSNBC. “My life has gone on. I’m a happy woman.”
It didn’t help that Carroll’s book excerpt dropped late last Friday and was largely drowned out by events of the week: the refugee crisis at the border, the US brinkmanship with Iran and the regular onslaught of news about the environment, the economy and the 2020 election.
“We are trauma-fatigued by the volume of despairing issues seemingly beyond our personal control,” said Carrie Goldberg, a New York lawyer who represents victims of sexual assault and revenge porn. “When a solution feels beyond grasp, it can be impossible to muster an appropriate emotional reaction.”
Sen. Mazie Hirnono, a Hawaii Democrat, called it a sad day when a rape accusation against the president leaves the country numb.
“With this president you have the Iran situation going on, you have North Korea going on, you have the border crisis going on,” she said. “So after a while you just practically throw up your hands.”