UAE and Bancroft Meetings in Bosaso Lead to Confusion And Distrust About Future
PMPF Training Base in Bosaso
© Somalia Report, All Rights Reserved
PMPF Training Base in Bosaso

On the day before Eid, a delegation from the United Arab Emirates and security contractor Bancroft Global completed their third meeting on the future of the land-based anti-piracy force called the Puntland Marine Police Force. Although any visit by the UAE would normally be considered a VIP event in Puntland, attendees describe the meeting as tense. The son of President Mohamad Farole even went as far as to show his position by refusing to meet the delegation at the airport.

The Private War Against Pirates

The main topic of the meeting was cash. Under the approval of Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan the UAE initially funded the program using a zakat or islamic charity fund that hid the actual monetary donations into the fund. The goal of the maritime trading nation was altruistic and simple; to help Puntland develop a security force to defeat piracy and bring stability to its shores.

Despite the deep pockets of the Nahyan family, problems with the flow of money began about half way through the project and peaked five months ago. The "secret" project was once again in the media and was also featured in the latest UN SEMG report as a private army set up to fight pirates and accountable to no one. Although the PMPF did not deploy until spring of 2012, the unnamed authors of the SEMG report editorialized on the goals of the PMPF and Puntland as being negative.

The inference was that instead of the PMPF bringing security it would bring insecurity. The irony of the UN hiring foreign mercenaries to train the foreign African soldiers of AMISOM never really sunk in. The UN also implored Somali governments and international donors called to fight back against pirates. It was this unsubtle railing against the PMPF and Puntland for creating security while the south was a war zone run by a kleptocracy that initially deflected real concerns. The UN suddenly shifted from insisting that the PMPF was just smoke and mirrors to getting serious once they read about it going operational. It was almost amusing to see how the SEMG could at the same time insist that the PMPF was ineffective and at the same time complain about how effective it was. The reality is that the PMPF rolled into pirate centers like Hafun, Bargal and Eyl and dramatically shifted the piracy paradigm in Puntland. It was that success and the realization that the PMPF may overshadow the snail-like pace of AMISOM that made the PMPF the focal point of the SEMG efforts.

Instead of the UN supporting the efforts of the PMPF against pirates the SEMG increased their efforts to shut it down recommending sanctions against the contractor but not pirates because sanctioning pirates meant that ransoms could not be paid to free hostages.

By June 6 2012, the program was shut down and funds stopped without explanation right at the apex of what seemed to be an aggressive and successful campaign to attack pirates. Mobile forces were suddenly left scattered across hostile areas of Puntland without money to buy fuel or even food. There was some sense of discontent among the PMPF when a South African trainer was gunned down by one of the PMPF members to stop them from going into town.

When the UAE money dried up and to avoid wholesale revolt, the Puntland government stepped in to provide basic supplies and wages.

The first post-shutdown meeting was held on September 4, 2012 and then another visit occurred on October 9. That meeting involved a large contingent of foreign advisors from Bancroft Global, intel and military officials from the UAE and the Puntland government.

The Private War Behind The Private War

By then, the predicament of the PMPF had been elevated to almost theatrical proportions in both the media and behind the scenes. The New York Times published an article that placed former Blackwater founder Erik Prince at the center, even insisting that Prince had visited the camps a number of times to supervise training. The article turned out to be false and was heavily corrected. The lead image of the article was lifted directly from the SEMG report and and showed a recruit who was supposed to have been tortured and later who died. The recruit in the photo and two others were very much alive. when Somalia Report investigated the newspaper's claims. It also turned out that Erik Prince has never set foot in Somalia and a Photoshopped photo of Prince on a trip to Afghanistan used without the photographer's permission. The article was later heavily edited, revised and corrected.

In addition to the hysterical media focus, there were the UAE's unpaid bills for Sterling's contractor services, there are also background squabbles over ownership of ships and helicopters potentially related to payment problems. On October 2, Lebanese based businessmen Jamal Mohammad Balassi notified the Puntland government that they were in possession of stolen property. Specifically a Cessna Super King Air B200c medevac plane with New Guinea registration but now with Puntland tail numbers. Balasi insisted in his demand letter that "we start facing a disaster mass (sic) result of losing the control on the above mentioned aircraft as a result of a fraud and misleading". It's complicated. TranServ's Balassi is a Palestinian who lives in Lebanon on an a Ukrainian pasport operating out of Rwanda, leasing an American aircraft registered in Papua New Guinea through an Armenian company to a South African to use in Puntland. The plane has no current airworthy certficate and is being flow in violation of the UN arms embargo. Balassi has also made claims on three ocean going ships and a large Antonov cargo plain purchased by the UAE and donated to Puntland.

It was that very plane that Bancroft President Mike Stock flew up from Mogadishu to Bosaso for the October 9th meeting. That meeting ended with a clear request from Puntland for the UAE to continue funding the project with Bancroft replacing Sterling (who had replaced Saracen). The UAE has also made confusing promises to pay and threats not to pay while the mess is being sorted out.

Stock had stated in the New York Times article that he was not interested, yet a five days later Stock is on an allegedly stolen plane without an air safety certificate flown by mercenaries heading to Bosaso. It is not surprising that Bancroft is not overly enthusiastic about getting involved. But then again how often is that a someone can inherit a private air, land and sea army at a bargain basement price?

The Private War Against the PMPF

The PMPF began in January 2012 and immediately caught the attention of the group that monitors violations of the arms embargo in Somalia.

Despite being briefed to the UN, US and other entities in Nairobi, London and Washington DC the PMPF has always been targeted by the United Nations Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group as being clearly in violation of the spirit and the legal framework of the ban. Puntland was featured as an aggressor and the South African mentors as mercenaries. In the mind of the UAE this was a State commanded, donor funded, African trained force of Africans. Most other programs flew Somali's out of the country for training, flew them back in and watched them rapidly vanish or join al Shabaab.

Many of the allegations made in the 2011 and 2012 UN SEMG report turned out to be speculative or just plain fabricated. The underlying accusation that the PMPF, Puntland, the contractors and even the Somali recruits were in violation of the arms embargo was always correct but there has never been any proof put forward of the force being used against Somaliland or as a "private army'. In a place like Somalia pretty much every one is in violation of the arms embargo, It is who the UN SEMG chooses to go after that makes it a political mess.

Somalia Report reported at the time that the UN SEMG was willing to step up its efforts to shut down the program with the UAE being pointed out as a major violator. When the UN interviewed the sponsor of the program the UAE denied they were providing funding for the project. Despite the denial of involvement, there have been numerous visits by high level military and intel delegations from the UAE, massive shipments of material and humanitarian supplies from the UAE and all clearly marked “Gift of the UAE”. There was even a close call that involved a crash landing of a UAE delegation aboard a DC3 with hydraulics failure in Bosaso. A plane full of dead Emirati military would have the whole the suspicion moot. The reality is that none of this activity or support was secret and the constant need to invent secrecy and accusations may have led to the head of the SEMG being fired after the release of his 2012 report. It has yet to be fully determined what led one of the richest countries on earth to destroy the program by lack of funds and a continual refusal of the UAE to notify the UN.

When Somalia Report met with a member of the SEMG he expressed his bewilderment at why the UAE wouldn’t send a simple notification letter. There may be more to that. What Somalia Report did uncover were a series of letters showing attempts by President Farole and the then Prime Minister of Somalia to notify the UN security council but a constant refusal by the UN to delay, reroute, return or accept their notification.

In June with the pirates on shore and on the run, the PMPF program abruptly stopped. By July small pockets of police and mentors were left in Eyl, Banderbeyla, Bargal and Iskusuban. The main base in Bosaso became tense as recruits demanded to be paid.

All but a handful of expats were removed, the program then entered the worst case scenario, unpaid armed locals waiting in the blistering monsoon winds. The sudden loss of funds left a number of foreign mentors, hundreds of freshly trained armed Somali’s and millions of dollars in new equipment and weapons scattered across Puntland.

The government of Somalia kept a skeleton crew of around a dozen South African contractors and nominally made payments. Salaries to the recruits from the Puntland government stopped about two months ago. Since then reports from the camps show unrest, desertion, anger and frustration. Expats who were initially asked to stay for only a month back in July have also not been paid.

The UAE has been continuing as they did in the latest meeting to insist they will fund the program but their promises have not matched actual receipt of funds. The other political problem is the desire of the sponsor to integrate the PMPF, or its new iteration into a national police force. After the covertly trained and equipped members of the CIA-funded Puntland Intelligence Service, the PMPF are the best-trained and equipped security force in Puntland. It is doubtful that Puntland would receive any AMISOM-type benefit for providing men and equipment to a greater Somalia.

Puntland like Somaliland has been distrustful of the various foreign-installed Mogadishu based governments. Decades of bickering, theft, incompetence, self interest from a parade of officials have taught the Puntlanders to strike out on their own, while still waiting patiently for a functioning government.

Currently Puntland sees no reason to simply hand over its troops and equipment to be integrated into the Somalia National Army or to shore up a Mogadishu-based coastal police force.

Bancroft In or Out?

The only other player in the PMPF’s future seems to be Mike Stock and his US-registered charity Bancroft Global. Bancroft began as a demining concern and has grown to become the “go to” supplier of foreign advisors to Ugandan and now Kenyan troops. Their funds essentially come from the United States after being rerouted through Uganda and AMISOM. Bancroft was also given high marks by the UN for complying with arms embargo requirements and quietly stepped into some of Saracen's abandoned programs in Mogadishu. Among them a clinic paid for by the UAE and a training program for the Presidents personal security detail.

Bancroft met with the UAE to discuss programs and paid a visit to the Bosaso base to take inventory. When Mr Stock was reached for comment he was puzzled by the vast size of the base and the location of the purported helicopters, ships and other major assets. He was also not supportive of the model used to create and deploy the PMPF. The massive 1000 meter long PMPF compound just past the airport may join the rotting SOMCAN anti piracy ships in Bosaso harbor, as reminders of previous failed anti-piracy attempts in Bosaso.

Bancroft’s idea was to shut down the Bosaso base and then distribute the men and materiel to smaller coast guards that would stretch from Kismayo up to Puntland. But as Stock is careful to point out, only if it fits within the current legal structure of the AU and UN. Currently there is no agreed upon conforming structure for the PMPF and AMISOM is quite busy down south. As was shown with the AMISOM metamorphosis of the Kenyan invasion it doesn't take much to magically transform misguided military efforts into profitable peacekeeping ones.

Puntland In or Out?

The Farole administration is also not supportive of the looting of what is essentially their land based anti-piracy and maritime security arm but they know they do not have the funds to train, deploy maintain ships, vehicle fleets, aircraft and manpower. Currently Bancroft is Puntland’s only option if the UAE steps up and funds a training and mentoring program. It may just be a game of seeing who blinks first. If Puntland, and by Puntland, we mean President Farole, agrees to see his Puntland police force be deployed elsewhere, it may bring in other units from the south into Puntland. Somali politicians have good reason to be suspicious of not only each other but the intentions of the U.S, EU and other nations. Kenya is busy sawing off a large chunk of Southern Somalia to create Jubaland, Ethiopia has safety corridors into Baido, Somaliland still sits on large chunks of what should be Puntland and the Puntland Intelligence Agency has its own CIA trained and supplied army that operates independently of the government.

It is not known how AMISOM will integrate into any program or if the UAE intends to notify the security council or even if Puntland will give up control of their UAE donated equipment. A notification is a simple letter informing members of the security council that a member nation intends to support a program that technically violates the two decade old arms embargo. The archaic blanket embargo on weapons, training and support was created to shut down the flow of weapons to militias in the 90s but today criminalizes the United States, their CIA and even the UN as violators of the Arms Embargo. The UAE has consistently maintained very robust but very private program to shore up its security.

Recently as a bulwark against the arrival of Arab Spring the UAE created an 800 man army of mostly Colombian contractors at a cost of half a billion dollars. The effort in Puntland was similar in size but with local soldiers, with an additional 1000 man planed to support and guard former President Sheikh Sharif. The UAE also supported Sharif's bid for re-election but lost. The UAE's support for Puntland has been on both the humanitarian and security side but the violation of the arms embargo led to conflict between the UAE sponsors from internal security and the defense ministries which did not support the Puntland project.

Pirates In or Out?

The PMPF as a Puntland based anti-piracy force may also have lost its momentum due to the post monsoonal downturn in piracy. Although every one and their salty dog are taking credit for ending piracy the only functional and tactical assault on actual pirate gangs from inside Somalia were by the PMPF. Their units also set up posts in key coastal areas to support local villages. Most piracy actually emanates from Galmadug but is supported and financed out of major towns like Qardo, Bosaso, Haradhere and Galkayo. It remains to be seen how confident the pirates will be this season.

When the unit was operational it quickly flowed into former pirate bases and cut off lines of supply and communication. Pirate Isse Yulux was hunted down and forced to flew to remote Candala on the northern coast of Puntland. After the PMPF was shut down, Yulux offered to pay some salaries of the PMPF in a deadpan show of bravado.

With piracy on the wane (there are still over 200 men and women held hostage in Somalia) and jihadist elements moving north the urgency may vanish leaving the worst case scenario of yet another self fulfilling prophecy of the long fired head of the UN SEMG predicting that the PMPF will truly be a source of instability in Somalia. News reports claim that the PMPF was used to pressure the former Prime Minister of the TFG from campaigning in Bari region.

The need for security off the shores of Puntland have not changed, recently Puntland forces interdicted, arrested and sentenced a man smuggling weapons and explosives from Yemen to death

The UAE has left five advisors and one Bancroft employee behind to do another assessment. The UAE once again promised that funds will be released. This time they insist the long awaited money will arrive during the first week of November.

Last Major Stronghold of al Shabaab Falls To "Operation Sledge Hammer"
Kismayo Port
© Somalia Report, All Rights Reserved
Kismayo Port

Kenya has finally made it to Kismayo. Feeling confident enough to enter the long suffering port city of 150,000 people with the invasion force, Spokesman Col Cyrus Oguna credited an air, land and sea operation called "Operation Sledgehammer" for the success of the invasion.

Oguna said this was the first time any such attack has been carried out by an African Army. What the media spokesman lacks in history knowledge he makes for in enthusiasm. South Africa, North Africa and even Mogadishu have been the scene of numerous amphibious and air assaults executed or accompanied by African troops. His excitement may be more due to the lack (so far) of any major disaster. It's not easy moving untested troops by small boat into a hostile region at night.

Somehow the Kenyans managed to coordinate air strikes by aging Northrop jets with no smart bombs, even less precise rocket strikes from helicopters and artillery strikes from aging ships. All the while offloading terrified Kenya land forces from bobbing ships onto beaches north of the city at night.

Kenyan troops now control the north boundary of the town, which includes the old airport, road junction and University grounds.

The military may not actually control Kismayo, but strategy was solid, execution well done and U.S. and ally-provided intelligence and coordination is credited with some of the success. Not to mention constant training by both US forces in Kenya and onsite foreign advisors contracted through the AU (but paid for by the UN and the US)

Anvil and Sledgehammer

The 10 pm to 2am assault required 7 ships of the Kenyan navy including the recently delivered Jasiri. An anti piracy patrol ship that finally showed up in August.

Although flummoxed at first, local Somali militias like the Ras Kamboni were hired to restart the Kenyan campaign. slowly the Kenya war machine began to make headway. Somali Army Units were also brought in to support the Kenyans. Using painfully slow clearing operations and proxy forces the Kenyas slowly cleared al Shabaabtraining camps and secured villages around Kismayo creating the anvil for which they had to yet reveal the hammer.

The arrival of the newly built 83 meter, 140 ton, 28 knot Jasiri gave the Kenyans the confidence to launch a sea going operation. The Jasiri was purchased in 2003, was built, sat without upkeep for seven years, impounded and then finally sold at a discount to the Kenyans. The other "new" ship pressed into service was the ancient P400 KNS Harambee II formerly known as "La Rieusse" from Reunion. The patrol boat was donated by France because of its 40mm cannon. This augmented the rather sparse Kenyan naval assets. Kenya is not known for naval expertise having declared a blockade and promptly blasted a group of Ras Kamboni fishermen who were returning from being out fishing at night. This time the Kenyans were blasting the right targets although children and civilians have been killed by the inaccurate naval and air shelling.

But war is an inexact matter and by all accounts the invasion was successful. There are still pockets of resistance inside the city that will be left to the militas to clear. Kismayans will awake tomorrow morning under the rule of a foreign army, giving some pause to the orignal purpose of AMISOM and the Djibouti accords which were designed to keep self interested neighbors from meddling in Somali affairs.

Running Out of Space?

It could be that Kenya has checkmated al Shabaab from their normal route of exit. Around midnight Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, spokesman for al Shabaab, admitted that the remaining fighters had been ordered to execute a "tactical retreat". Although Al Shabaab admitted they had made yet another strategic withdrawal they have been pulling out of the south since early this year. Fighters have also retreated to the islands around Kismayo. In anticipation of the final assault, Somalia Report interviewed a number of al Shabaab commanders including those in charge of suicide attacks. Back in June of this year the terrorist group gave every indication of holding the line at Kismayo. But almost exactly our years after they entered, al Shabaab has abandoned Kismayo.

It is not clear where exactly, al Shabaab is going withdraw to. Typically the foreign and experienced islamist fighters have left by skiff or dhow and moved up the coast while sending their families across land to the Ogadan region to meet them along the coastal areas in Somaliland and Puntland. From there its a short boat ride to Yemen. Many fighters have moved into the Golis mountains where they have easy access to weapons and supplies across the Gulf of Aden. Al Shabaab has historically entered areas where there are minor conflicts and then escalated those disputes into control positions. They began when the ICU was driven out of power by Ethiopia and quickly harnessed Somali anger at foreign occupiers. After fighting an inept army and ineffective leaders, al Shabaab was literally at the gates of Villa Somalia by the end of 2010.

A renewed effort using more Ugandan soldiers, in concert with Ethiopia and foreign mentors pushed the islamists back. The entry of Kenya posed more of a problem than an opportunity. Uganda had at least fought bush wars and had no long term ambitions for Somalia. Kenya clearly wanted to expand its area of control into southern Somalia, and wanted to use an untested army to do it.

Although Kenya considers Al Shabaab surrounded, Al Shabaab may consider having 17,000 foreign troops locked down in fixed positions a victory. Maintaining an operational army requires a lot more money than networks of cels who blow themselves up or attack strategic targets. A fan site run by a British Somalia called HSM Press has been tweeting comments that range from the boastful Sept 28th tweet: The Kuffar invaders are about to learn that we are an Ummah that has never been defeated, and the coming days will bear testimony to that." to waking up the next morning with a much meeker approach to the invasion. "Last night, after more than 5 years the Islamic administration in #Kismayo closed its offices. to the less than confident " Last night, after more than 5 years the Islamic administration in #Kismayo closed its offices."

A good anti insurgency campaign requires a vigilant, supportive population and a benign occupier. Somali's are adept at quickly reshaping social structures and ousting malcontents. It remains to be seen how benign the KDF, new Somali government and their proxies will be to the lucrative port city.

As the second and more difficult phase begins. Kenyans and AMISOM must support a new government and maintain fixed positions ideal for attack by terrorist tactics. For now there will be calm as Kenyan troops and Somali militias begin mopping up.

It must be remembered that al Shabaab successfully pulled its entire force out of Bakara market right under the noses of AMISOM. They did it in one August night leaving behind a small group to guard their retreat. Al Shabaab has not been seen grouping in large formations but has carried out a number of devastating attacks on politicians, journalists and security forces.

Residents said fighters were seen leaving early this morning heading out of town. Somalia Report has been notified that al Shabaab leaders have been spotted in Jilib, Bu'ale and Diinsor making preparations to defend their 2006 and 2009-era strongholds. They also complained that al Shabaab had urged them to head towards the port and found themselves in the path of the oncoming Kenyans. Al Shabaab knows how to retreat and more importantly let armies and administrations settle in before attacking again.

The Second Act Is the Hardest

As the Kenyans are welcomed to Kismayo they know that al Shabaab sympathizers have stayed behind waiting to strike. Thankfully local residents have long since tired of al Shabaab. They might exactly find a devastated desperate place.

The port has been humming because prices have been kept strategically lower than Mogadishu's port. the Somali government may shift those prices causing a drop in dock jobs as more goods head back up to the main port. The administration has not been selected but historically Kismayo has been a contentious price due to the lucrative taxation the port generates.

Al Shabaab survived off charcoal exports and the taxes on those 7 million sacks of charcoal shipped to the UAE and Saudia Arabia are supposed to have kept al Shabaab flush. The UN estimates that al Shabaab or at least the al Shabaab governor made an estimated $25M in taxes in 2011.

The reality is that al Shabaab has always survived by taxation, extortion or simple theft. They have always been their own worst enemy, declaring Somalia for Somalis but bringing in foreign fighters and an less than Somali interpretation of islamic sharia. Somali's have been adept at harnessing the more mediative xeer when needed as well as sharia and western legal systems. As a port, Kismayo will need a forward thinking administration that shares the economic benefits of an open port.

The local population has been under the control of al Shabaab since August of 2008. The people have suffered under al Shabaab, not prospered. Western aid has been restricted, NGO's have feared to work here, there will be a surge of money jobs and goodwill. Until the bombing and attacks start.

Many Somali's hope this is Kenya's last act and they have gone out with a bang. A Hollywood-style beach landing with no casualties that will stir the home country and allow them to hand over control of Kismayo to locals. Over the last year of fighting, Kenya insists it has killed over 700 insurgents and only sustained less than three dozen casualties. That low casualty figure actually says more about Kenya's real tactics of letting the proxy miitias fight while they provide the armored backup. It is doubtful the mostly Christian army of Kenya will have much to do once Kismayo is locked down. It is equally doubtful that Kenya will simply turn their aircraft and armored vehicles and head back across the 682km long Somali/Kenyan border.

A Long Way To KIsmayo

What should have been a short drive from the border to Kismayo on October 16, 2011 appears to have become a yearlong slog for the Kenyans. It is not the goal of getting control of Kismayo goes back to the Ajuuraan State in the middle ages. The region was once controlled by the Sultan of Oman, Britain, Italy, warlords, Ethiopia, the ICU, al Shabaab and now AMISOM acting on behalf of the new Somali government. The Kenyan push to control the region using Ogadanis began in 2010, but the Ethiopians are not blind to the strategic importance of an avenue to the ocean controlled by elements hostile to their fight against Somali Ogadani insurgent elements.

It is not clear where the Kenyans go from here. The Kenyans, like the Ugandans, make money having their troops stationed inside Somalia. The Somali government seems to sleep better at night in Villa Somalia being guarded by western-trained guards and Ugandan soldiers.

There is also the embarrassing matter of contested off shore oil blocks off the Somali/Kenyan border There is economic benefit in controlling the port and the border Speculation would be premature but a quick review of the unexpected invasion shows that something other than national security has driven this expedition.

"Operation Linda Nchi" began on a trumped up premise. The need to pursue kidnappers who had snatched tourists and aid workers from Kenya's northern borders. "Shiftas" of Somali bandits were neither new nor that critical to Kenya's security.

The kidnap and murder of an elderly French woman, the murder and abduction of British tourist and the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers from the Dadaab refugee camp.

The timing for the invasion was terrible. The rainy season quickly impeded any rapid movement. Coordination, training, funding and political will began to wane. The TFG was caught unprepared and vociferously rejected yet another foreign invader. A day or so of behind the scenes schooling and everybody seemed thrilled that yet another neighbor was blundering around the bushland chasing al Shabaab. But despite a rosy face painted on the punitive expedition, Linda Nchi seemed to be a disaster.

Worse according to the Kenyan government the operation was costing them $2.8M in personnel costs against a $3.1 billion dollar national deficit.

Finally choosing pragmatism over optimism the U.S. began supporting the invasion and AMISOM welcomed Kenya as fellow journeymen mercenaries earning their $1028 dollars a month while drowning in ammunition and weapons. The $5 million a month for the 5000 Kenyan troops was also bolstered with funds and training. The blundering blitzkrieg was "rehatted" , funded and absorbed into AMISOM. Kenya is seeking $164 million dollars from the UN to reimburse the cost of the invasion.

Jubaland or Somalia?

An agressor had become a peacekeeper even though their stated mission was to seize control of Kismayo. Kenya's real goal was to control the southern part of Somalia with a Kenyan friendly administration. Over the next few weeks the real battle will shape up as citizens of Kismayo see their government being shaped for them. As Somalia Report reported on last year, a hodgepodge of potential contenders await.

President Hassan was on message in the local and congratulated Somali forces first, then "local forces" followed by "AMISOM" forces.But he also made it clear that he wants locals to form a government and is quite wary of the negotiations ongoing in Nairobi to form a government. If history is indication (ex- President Sharif had no idea Kenya was invading and lashed out at them) Kenya along with the UN will have their say and not the new President. The Jubaland initiative has an ugly history of being force fed to Somali. They were neither invited or consulted Back in January of 2010 the Kenyans had lobbied the U.S. on the invasion to install a proxy government. This is the quiet battle that should be paid attention to rather then the booming and small arms fire of Kenyans clearing al Shabaab from Kismayo.

At press time two Spanish aid workers last known to be held in Kismayo are still being held captive.

Breaking News
Small Port Was Once Captured By Islamist Sheik Sharif In 2008
Merka (Marka, Merkah)
Merka (Marka, Merkah)

The liberation of Merka by foreign paid, trained and supported troops was inevitable. Proxy forces now numbering over 17,000 hired guns and militias like the Ras Kamboni, rehatted forces like the Kenyan Defence Force, religious and ethnic groups like ASWJ and even U.S intelligence providers are providing overwhelming force albeit in cautious steps.

Merka is a minor port and home to around 100,000 people in hard times and up to 300,000 people in good. The strategic value is that it is a day south of Mogadishu and yet another stepping stone towards Kismayo. Historically Somalia's coastal cities have had much different influences than the arid interior. Merka has as much connection with seafarers, the Swahili culture, Islamic missionaries and the Gulf as the interior. Control of Merka also controls the commerce that tends to flow from inland out to the ocean rather than by land. Although the strategy of AMISOM is to march down the coast to "trap" al-Shabaab in Kismayo, the reality is that al-Shabaab has flowed out of the seaports and into the population. Leaving a disturbing calm and a sense of "impending showdown". The reality will be after the demise of the group as a controlling militia there will be a slow escalation in violence against the fledging government. Attempts to oust those who supported al Shabaab will create new dynamics of violence. New imports of violence can flow into Merka as easily as they flowed out.

There is no word of Merka's most famous resident, American Omar Hammammi aka "al Amriki". Most of the al Shabaab leadership moved south to Merka a year ago as their hold on Mogadishu began to crumble. In January, Somalia Report, began to receive numerous reports of foreign and senior fighters leaving Merka northward along the coast. A recent U.S. airstrike in Puntland's Northeast town of Qandala and the movement of pirate militias may portend a new coalition and a new battleground as the Islamists accept the inevitable. Other than the fierce fighting in Mogadishy, al-Shabaab has yet to directly confront AMISOM forces. Choosing to pull back in very organized, overnight moves, leaving a token force to provide cover.

Despite their claims of easy victory. AMISOM has been taking their sweet time and despite their soldiers being paid by the month. The last major victory was the clearing out of Laanta Buuro, the site of an al Shabaab training camp, just west of Mogadishu. That was over a month ago and only 18 miles from Merka. Even back in July most al-Shabaab fighters were heading towards Barawe away from Merka.

The Worst Best Choice or Best Worst Choice?

Abandoned by al-Shabaab and little resistance to the Ugandans and Somali militias, Merkah has yet to fully embrace their new masters.

The government of Somalia is yet a few days old and it's ability to replace "the youth" with sage experience has yet to be demonstrated. For example the election of president to negate the nattering nabobs in parliament has yet to appear. One of the people who wants to run Somalia is Sheikh Sharif who has an interesting history with Merka.

In November of 2008 experts cast dire warnings that have been turned around with American bought weapons, training and equipment. It is hard for most to beleive that the insurgent group that was literally hammering at the walls of the TFG have become elusive ghosts. Much like the feared Taliban in Afghanistan who vanished in 2002 only to regroup in stronger and stronger waves.

The liberation or occupation or Merka depending on the point of view carries with it an interesting political foot note. In mid November of 2008 The leader of Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), a cerain Chairman Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed took control of Merka in the name of the Islamic Court Union (ICU). At the time Merka's primarily population felt they were being occupied by the Habr Gedr and Ayr froces of General Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siyad "Indha-Adde." The former warlord made a show of support to the TFG back in late 2011. and has kept a fairly low profile other than being a "spolier" in the constitutional debate.

Al-Shabaab compared to cleric turned warlord Indha Adde was a welcome relief when their technicals rollin on November 12, 2008. However since 2008 al Shabaab became increasingly tiresome to the population, forcing residents to grow beards, attend executions be denied life saving aid and even subjecting them to the terror of drone and air attacks by virtue of their high level leaders being present.

AMISOM said there was little fighting and that al-Shabaab had fled. They had plenty of time to prepare. AMISOM Contingent Commander Brigadier Paul Lokech told the media on June 4, 2012, “We are planning to move to Merka which is 90 kilometres from Mogadishu. How will you evacuate causalities in that distance if you do not have helicopters?”

“Having them would be force multiplier. Our mission will continue but it will be slowed down because we have to be more cautious,” he added. At that time AMISOM had no air support for casevac or cover.

The "surprise" appearance of Mi-24 gunships was revealed in headlines as on August 12, 2012, three out of the four recently refitted gunships crashed into Mount Kenya on their way to support the AMISOM mission to retake Kismayo via Merka. Any Uganda combat casualties would be flown to the hospital at the airport to be stabilized before repatriation. Kenyan military forces have been using helicopter transport and smaller gunships since their invasion of Somalia. Kenyan politician George Saitoti was killed in a helicopter crash west of Nairobi in a nonS-omali related flight. Mi 24s are big heavy and fast and can be used to remove battle field casualties but is more likely that smaller transport aircraft are on their way from a donor nation.

It would be expected that northern based forces of primarily Ugandan soldiers will continue down the coast through Barawe to form up to the "hammer" to the north of Kismayo while the less experienced Kenyan and hired militias under warlord Madobe will create the southern half of the anvil. Naval and air forces were to decimate and scatter fighters up until four Hind gunships were plowed by their untested pilots into Mount Kenya. A measure of Uganda's preparations for the fight is that the first rescuer on the crash scene was a charter helicopter with a news crew. AMISOM has gone from jungle fighters, to urban street brawlers to liberators on the march. They are not equipped for it and the helicopter disaster and the Ugandan and Kenyan killings of civilians are a perfect example of what happens when outside forces rapidly ramp up and retask military units. The Somali trained units operate at a lower level of efficiency and competence and usually unrelated to the regions they enter and hold.

There is also the minor but very important problem of desperate al-Shabaab recruits cut off from funds and their superiors. Somalia Report has been tracking the location of the two Spanish MSF hostages who were last reported in Merka in July. A new video has been made and we will be make it available if appropriate.

For now the residents of Merka are happy to see AMISOM and the Somali Army; whether they welcome the new government is yet to be seen.

President Sharif Visits Balad in Middle Shabelle Region
By TA 08/01/2012
AMISOM Soldiers (File Photo)
©Somalia Report
AMISOM Soldiers (File Photo)

Some of the heaviest fighting between the hardline Islamist militia of al-Shabaab and forces from Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) backed by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) broke out in Fafahdun district of Gedo region late yesterday afternoon when al-Shabaab fighters attacked the allied forces.

During the three hour firefight, the strongest that occurred in the region in recent months according to residents, the al-Shabaab militia entered the town.

“The war started 6:00 pm and went on through the evening. The fiercest fighting lasted until 9:00pm, but the bullets still didn’t stop until midnight. Nobody was aware of what was happening until the situation cooled down and al-Shabaab vehicles were sighted in the town," said Barre Gab, a resident.

Although the number of casualties remains unknown, the residents said they had seen a number of bodies from both sides throughout the town.

“It is hard to know the exact number of casualties as the war continued through the night and was difficult for the people to move out of their homes," another resident who asked not to be named told Somalia Report. The town remains tense now and residents fear another attack could happen at any time.

“Al-Shabaab attacked the town, but they were prevented from capturing the town. Now the town is in the hands of the TFG and the AMISOM forces," Ahmey, a resident from Fafahdun, told Somalia Report.

One Twitter account called ASWJ Murideen @yahyarmy2010, offered this insight during the fighting and the role of the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF), which are part of AMISOM:

"BREAKING NEWS :might b the biggest casualties ever encurred by KEBAABS since hosingo beatings FAFADUN attacks so far more than 100 killed!!"

"Several shabaab reportedly killed in FAFADUN following blind attacks on KDF mutually defended localities ITS AMAZING how KDF PERFORMING!"

Al-Shabaab officials claimed their forces entered Fafahdun and briefly controlled it while TFG and AMISOM officials have yet to comment on the offensive.

At the beginning of the month of Ramadan al-Shabaab pledged to increase attacks on TFG and AMISOM in Somalia. During the weekend, al-Shabaab launched two planned attacks on the government forces in Tulo Barwaqo in Gedo region after attacking the TFG forces that were moving from Dolow to Garboharey districts. TFG forces were able to defend themselves.

The weekend attacks left at least 10 fighters from both sides dead.

President Sharif Visits Balad

Pres Sharif in Balad
©Somalia Report
Pres Sharif in Balad

Meanwhile Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed today visited the town of Balad in Middle Shabelle region for the second time since the TFG and the AMISOM forces ousted al-Shabaab fighters from the town in late June after the militants controlled it for almost three years.

The president left Mogadishu this morning with government ministers and other TFG officials, accompanied by TFG and AMISOM forces during his visit.

While in Balad, the president met with the Balad administration at the clothing factory. Many residents also attended the meeting in order to listen to the president who urged them to double their efforts to ensure security in the region.

After the meeting with the officials, the president also spoke with elders and the elites of Balad and urged them to assist the administration in restoring peace and stability in the region. President Sharif said it could only be achieved if the locals worked with the security forces.

The president also sent his heart-felt condolences to the Somali nation and the family members of the famous Somali comedian Marshale who was shot by two armed men yesterday afternoon in Mogadishu. He also condemned those who were behind the attack.

TFG and AMISOM Seize Dani, Surrounding Farm Areas Without a Fight
By HAMZA DHORE 07/27/2012
TFG Soldier (File Photo)
©Somalia Report
TFG Soldier (File Photo)

Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers, aided by troops from the African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) today seized new areas of Somalia's Middle Shabelle region, including Dani town and surrounding large farming areas that were controlled by the insurgent group of al-Shabaab. Dani is located between Bal’ad town that was seized the allied forces last month and Jowhar town which remains under the control of al-Shabaab.

Ahmed Abdi, a senior TFG official on the frontlines, told Somalia Report the allied forces captured the town and local areas without a fight after the insurgents withdrew before the TFG and AMISOM forces arrived.

“Our soldiers reached Dani without any resistance from the enemy. The enemy knows our strength is much stronger than theirs. They depend on the young people they abducted from schools and madrasas," explained the official.

"The plan to capture Dani town was part of a bigger plan that we set up to capture Jowhar and the rest of the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions, which are under control of the al-Qaeda linked group of al-Shabab. We are going to continue the massive operation against them. We are ready to liberate the people of Jowhar, which is our next target. We want Jowhar to be headquarters of Middle Shabelle. We vow that the rest of the Lower and the Middle Shabelle will be under the control of the TFG before the elections on August 20," he added.

African Union Tank (File Photo)
©Somalia Report
African Union Tank (File Photo)

A Dani resident who asked not be named for fear of retribution told Somalia Report locals were pleased to see Somali soldiers in the town early today when they woke up.

“We are very happy to see Somali soldiers to come our town. We are grateful al-Shabaab's oppression of this town and its people has been lifted. This morning we saw many well equipped soldiers flooding the town. At first the residents were scared thinking that al-Shabaab brought in reinforcements, but a few minutes later we noticed 'AU' was written on the back and sides of the tanks so we knew it was AMISOM. They were well disciplined told the resident to go about their normal business. There was no looting which is what normally happens when any group captures the town," said the resident.

"The forces moved from the town into the direction of Jowhar and they settled roughly two kilometers from the town," he added.

Gerey added the insurgent fled the town yesterday with all their equipment in anticipation of the allied advance.