Mogadishu restricts movement of trucks, tankers after attacks

Civilians assist a man, injured from a suicide car bomb explosion, in Mogadishu on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 30 October 2017

Mogadishu restricts movement of trucks, tankers after attacks

MOGADISHU: Somali authorities imposed a daytime ban on Monday on the movement of large trucks and road tankers inside the capital Mogadishu in an attempt to improve security following a wave of devastating attacks by militants.
The move followed twin truck bombings on Oct. 15 that killed more than 350 people in the city, in the deadliest attack in the history of the Horn of Africa nation.
Though the militant group Al-Shabab did not claim responsibility for that attack, the method is one it has often used.
“Trucks and tankers cannot pass... from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. This is to ensure security and (to offer) a solution to the complaints of the public,” Tabid Abdi, the capital’s mayor, said in a statement.
“Any truck or tanker driver who does not comply will be fined $1,000.”
Further underlining the Somali capital’s security woes, at least 29 people were killed on Sunday during a 12-hour siege at a Mogadishu hotel, in an attack claimed by Al-Shabab. The government sacked two top security officials.
“They had the uniforms of security forces, even though they did not have ID cards,” Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman told Reuters.
Al-Shabab said 40 people had been killed, including three of its fighters who stormed the hotel.
Al-Shabab aims to topple the government in Mogadishu and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam. The country has been at war since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
Though it has lost large swathes of territory to African Union peacekeepers, the group’s attacks have grown in frequency and size, as a 22,000-strong peacekeeping force prepares to begin withdrawing.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said the latest attack was meant to instill fear in the thousands of Somalis who marched through Mogadishu in defiance of Al-Shabab after the earlier bombing.
Since that blast, the president has visited countries in the region to seek more support for the fight against Al-Shabab, vowing a “state of war.” He also faces the challenge of pulling together regional powers inside his long-fractured country, where the federal government is trying to assert itself beyond Mogadishu and other major cities.
The US military also has stepped up military efforts against Al-Shabab this year in Somalia, carrying out nearly 20 drone strikes.
The 22,000-member multinational African Union (AU) force in Somalia is expected to withdraw and hand over security to the Somali military by the end of 2020. US military officials and others in recent months have expressed concern that Somali forces are not ready to take over.
The defense minister and army chief of staff resigned early this month amid reports of rivalry between the two and after Al-Shabab stepped up its attacks on army bases.


Defense chief: US troops leaving Syria to go to western Iraq

Updated 5 min 14 sec ago

Defense chief: US troops leaving Syria to go to western Iraq

ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT: Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that under the current plan all US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the military will continue to conduct operations against the Daesh group to prevent its resurgence.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him to the Middle East, Esper did not rule out the idea that US forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria. But he said those details will be worked out over time.
His comments were the first to specifically lay out where American troops will go as they leave Syria and what the counter-IS fight could look like. Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.
The developments made clear that one of President Donald Trump’s rationales for withdrawing troops from Syria was not going to come to pass any time soon. “It’s time to bring our soldiers back home,” he said Wednesday. But they are not coming home.
As Esper left Washington on Saturday, US troops were continuing to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion into the border region. Reports of sporadic clashes continued between Turkish-backed fighters and the US-allied Syria Kurdish forces despite a five-day cease-fire agreement hammered out on Friday between US and Turkish leaders.
Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 US troops in Syria to withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces that Turkey considers terrorists.
The pullout largely abandons the Kurdish allies who have fought the Daesh group alongside US troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 US troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
Esper said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.
“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-Daesh mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”
The US currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an agreement between the two countries. The US pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after the Daesh group began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014. The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider US occupation during the war that began in 2003.
Esper said he will talk with other allies at a NATO meeting in the coming week to discuss the way ahead for the counter-IS mission.
Asked if US special operations forces will conduct unilateral military operations into Syria to go after IS, Esper said that is an option that will be discussed with allies over time.
He said one of his top concerns is what the next phase of the counter-IS missions looks like, “but we have to work through those details. He said that if US forces do go in, they would be protected by American aircraft.
While he acknowledged reports of intermittent fighting despite the cease-fire agreement, he said that overall it “generally seems to be holding. We see a stability of the lines, if you will, on the ground.”
He also said that, so far, the Syrian Democratic Forces that partnered with the US to fight IS have maintained control of the prisons in Syria where they are still present. The Turks, he said, have indicated they have control of the IS prisons in their areas.
“I can’t assess whether that’s true or not without having people on the ground,” said Esper.
He added that the US withdrawal will be deliberate and safe, and will take “weeks not days.”
According to a US official on Saturday, about a couple of hundred troops have left Syria so far. The US forces have been largely consolidated in one location in the west and a few locations in the east.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, said the US military is not closely monitoring the effectiveness of the cease-fire, but is aware of sporadic fighting and violations of the agreement. The official said it will still take a couple of weeks to get forces out of Syria.