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

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.”

Afghanistan cease-fire push in focus in US-Taliban talks

Updated 18 December 2018

Afghanistan cease-fire push in focus in US-Taliban talks

  • On Monday, the delegation met officials from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE ahead of their meeting with Khalilzad
  • Taliban officials were resisting the cease-fire proposal as they felt it would damage their cause and help US and Afghan forces

KABUL, PESHAWAR: US and Taliban officials have discussed proposals for a six-month cease-fire in Afghanistan and a future withdrawal of foreign troops as talks aimed at setting up peace negotiations went into a second day, Taliban sources said.

The three-day meeting in Abu Dhabi is at least the third time that US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met Taliban representatives as diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war have intensified this year.

An Afghan government delegation traveled to the city and met Khalilzad.

However, despite US insistence that any peace settlement must be agreed between Afghans, the Taliban have refused to talk directly with officials from the Kabul government, which they consider an illegitimate, foreign-appointed regime.

“Discussions are taking place with the representatives of the United States about ending the occupation, a matter that does not concern the Kabul administration whatsoever,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

“The entire agenda is focused on issues concerning the occupiers and talks will exclusively be held with them.”

The Taliban delegation was led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, head of the movement’s political office in Qatar and included members of the leadership group based in Quetta, Pakistan and the chief of staff of Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

“It’s a well coordinated meeting where members from the political commissions and Quetta shura are both participating for the first time,” said one peace activist in close contact with the Taliban side at the meeting.

The presence in the delegation of senior officials close to the Taliban leader underscored the importance of the talks, which are shaping up as the most serious attempt to open negotiations since at least 2015.

On Monday, the delegation met officials from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE ahead of their meeting with Khalilzad, who was appointed to oversee Washington’s peace effort in September. There was no immediate comment from the US Embassy in Kabul.

Taliban officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US delegation was pressing for a six-month cease-fire as well as an agreement to name Taliban representatives to a future caretaker government.

For their part, Taliban priorities included the release of Taliban prisoners and a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

However, Taliban officials were resisting the cease-fire proposal as they felt it would damage their cause and help US and Afghan forces.

The latest round of diplomacy comes about a year after the US sent thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan and stepped up air strikes to record levels, with the aim of pushing the Taliban to accept talks.

An Afghan government team traveled to Abu Dhabi “to begin proximity dialogue with the Taliban delegation and to prepare for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides,” government spokesman Haroon Chakansuri said in a statement.

But there was no sign from the Taliban they were ready to accept talks with the government and the Kabul delegation were based in an Abu Dhabi hotel away from the location of the talks. The US says the aim of the talks is to facilitate an Afghan-led process and the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan in the talks reflects a US desire to bring in countries with an interest in Afghanistan.