TIME Somalia

U.S. Military Attacks Al-Shabab in Somalia

Dick Olum
Ugandan Brig. General Dick Olum of African Union forces holds a flag belonging to al-Shabab after AU and Somali government forces seized the town of Bulomarer from militants in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia on Sept. 1, 2014 Tobin Jones—AMISOM/AP

U.S. drone allegedly targeted al-Shabab leader

(MOGADISHU) — A member of the Somali group al-Shabab says its leader was traveling in one of two vehicles hit Monday night in a U.S. military strike but the spokesman would not say if the leader was among the six militants who were killed.

Abu Mohammed told The Associated Press on Tuesday that six militants were killed in the attack. He said the two vehicles were heading toward the coastal town of Barawe, al-Shabab’s main base when they were hit. He said al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was in one of the vehicles.

Earlier:

U.S. military forces attacked the extremist al-Shabab network in Somalia Monday, the Pentagon said, and a witness described ground-shaking explosions in a strike that reportedly targeted the group’s leader.

Al-Shabab had attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people a year ago this month and the U.S. had targeted planners of the bloody assault. There was no immediate comment from al-Shabab and U.S. commanders were waiting to determine the attack’s outcome.

“U.S. military forces conducted an operation in Somalia today against the al-Shabaab network. We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

After the U.S. strike Monday night in a forest south of Mogadishu, masked Islamic militants in the area arrested dozens of residents they suspected of spying for the U.S. and searched nearby homes, a resident said.

“Mass arrests just started, everyone is being detained,” said Mohamed Ali, who lives in Sablale district. “They even searched nearby jungles and stopped the nomads transporting milk and grass to the towns for questioning.”

A senior Somali intelligence official said a U.S. drone targeted al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane as he left a meeting of the group’s top leaders. Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, is the group’s spiritual leader under whose direction the Somali militants forged an alliance with al-Qaida.

The Somali official, speaking on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the media, said intelligence indicated Godane “might have been killed along with other militants.” The official said the attack took place in a forest near Sablale district, 105 miles (170 kilometers) south of Mogadishu, where al-Shabab trains its fighters.

The governor of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, Abdiqadir Mohamed Nor, told The Associated Press that as government and African Union forces were heading to a town in Sablale district, they heard what sounded like an “earthquake” as the al-Shabab bases were hit.

“There was an airstrike near Sablale. We saw something,” Nor said.

The U.S. has carried out several airstrikes in Somalia in recent years.

A U.S. missile strike in January killed a high-ranking intelligence officer for al-Shabab, and last October a vehicle carrying senior members of the group was hit in a U.S. strike that killed al-Shabab’s top explosives expert.

The latest U.S. action comes after Somalia’s government forces regained control of a high-security prison in the capital that was attacked on Sunday. Seven heavily armed suspected al-Shabab members had attempted to free other extremists held there.

Somali officials said all seven attackers, three government soldiers and two civilians were killed. Mogadishu’s Godka Jilacow prison is an interrogation center for Somalia’s intelligence agency, and many suspected militants are believed to be held in underground cells there. The attack started when a suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the gate of the prison and the gunmen then fought their way into the prison.

Al-Shabab had attacked the mall in Nairobi last year in retaliation against Kenya for sending troops into Somalia against the extremists. Godane said at the time that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the West’s support for Kenya’s Somalia intervention and the “interest of their oil companies.”

Al Shabab is now mostly active in Somalia’s rural regions after being ousted from the capital by African Union forces in 2011.

Somali military officials last week launched a military operation to oust al-Shabab from its last remaining bases in the southern parts of Somalia. On Saturday the militants withdrew from the town of Bulomarer, located about 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of Mogadishu, after hours of fighting.

TIME White House

Obama Hosts 51 African Leaders Amid Grumbling Over His Record

President Barack Obama speaks to participants of the Presidential Summit for the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in Washington on July 28, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks to participants of the Presidential Summit for the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in Washington on July 28, 2014. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

Putting aside Gaza, Iraq and other distractions, Obama focuses on legacy

Barack Obama came to office representing the hopes and dreams of an entire continent. His father, after all, came to America not in the cargo hold of a slave ship hundreds of years ago, but on an academic scholarship from his native Kenya in 1954: for many on the African continent, Obama was the cousin who’d made it big in America. His election was a symbol of hope, and that maybe help was on the way.

Obama stroked those expectations and rapture with the reissuing of his book in 2005, Dreams from My Father, and with a triumphal African tour in 2006, which sparked the first speculation that he might make a bid for the White House. But in his first term in office, Obama visited Africa only once, stopping at the tail end of his first international trip in Cairo deliver his speech launching “A New Beginning” with the Arab world and spending 24-hours in Ghana where he outlined the four themes upon which, he said, the future of Africa would depend: democracy, opportunity, health and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

Those four “pillars,” as he called them, went all but neglected for the next four years as Obama’s attention swung from domestic priorities like health care reform to crises in Syria, Ukraine and Iraq. So, now, as Obama turns an eye to legacy, he is hosting 51 African leaders at the White House this week for a summit. But legacy requires achievement, and Obama has left much undone in Africa.

To be fair, Obama had a tough act to follow. His predecessor George W. Bush created the Millennium Challenge Corporation to boost foreign aid and the Presidents’ Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, where he invested $15 billion for AIDS drugs—a program universally credited for bringing down AIDS deaths in Africa. Bush also had a security vision for Africa, establishing military bases and a joint African command. He helped create an autonomous government in South Sudan in 2005 to stop the genocide in Darfur. And Bush expanded a free trade agreement created under Bill Clinton called the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.

Under Obama—or, perhaps better said, the Republican cost-cutting Congress—Millennium Challenge funding has remained flat and PEPFAR has been cut from $6.63 billion to $6.42 bullion in fiscal 2013 and is expected to face another $50 million in cuts this year. South Sudan, whose independence America celebrated in 2011, fell into civil war this year after the U.S. neglected to appoint a special envoy for more than six months. And AGOA’s renewal remains stalled before a Congress full of members who want to rewrite it, or potentially kill it, much like the Export Import Bank, which finances most U.S. business on the continent.

While Obama did help intervene with NATO in Libya and sent special forces to Uganda in 2011 to hunt down the warlord Joseph Kony, who has yet to be found, Obama has otherwise taken a hands off approach militarily in Africa. In Somalia, he sent in seal team that took out an al-shabab leader but only after that group’s terrorist attack against a high-end Nairobi shopping mall attack, which killed 67 people from 13 countries. He declined to send troops into Mali with France but provided air support, but only after a terrorist attack on a gas plant in neighboring Algeria claimed the lives of three Americans.

“There were tremendous expectations,” says Carl LeVan, an African studies professor at American University, who has just written a book on Nigeria. “There were big expectations from some of the big emerging African players on the continent. What has emerge over time is an appreciation of the American presidency as a complex organization that speaks on behalf of a big country and not just one man.”

Obama second term African record has been better. Last year, he toured the continent with hundreds of business leaders in tow, touting American investment. His second national security adviser, Susan Rice, is largely credited with the U.S. intervention in Libya and has a long history with the continent, which she views as a priority. Ahead of that tour, Obama launched Power Africa, a $7 billion program to provide power to 20 million sub-Saharan Africans. He also started the Young Leaders’ initiative, which provides scholarships for young Africans to top U.S. universities.

Obama emphasizes how America’s innovation has helped Africa skip several steps of development. He points to the broad use of smart phones across the continent as evidence of how American innovation allowed Africa to skip poles and wires and still bring, not just phone service, but online global banking and Internet connectivity to the most rural of communities. America, he argued to The Economist last week, is “better than just about anybody else” at such applications of technology.

But America is no long Africa’s largest patron. As the U.S. is pivoting to Asia, Asia is pivoting to Africa. China’s investments in Africa surpassed those of the U.S. in 2010 and are now five times as big—$15 billion to U.S.’s $3 billion. China’s investment in the raw-resource laden continent is expected to reach as high as $400 billion over the next half century. While, Obama says “the more the merrier,” as he told The Economist, “my advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they’re hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don’t just lead from the mine, to the port to Shanghai.”

To that end, Obama has a distinctly American message for African leaders. He has seized upon the conference to underline the power of democracy for emerging nations. It is not by accident that he invited so many former African leaders: a message to Africa’s many aging dictators that it’s okay to step aside and give someone else a chance. Obama has proven that he isn’t Africa’s savior, and there’s only so much he can do. “If there is any lesson regarding development and stability that has been consistent since the end of World War II and the colonial era,” says Anthony Cordesman, a top conflict analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “it is that we can only really help those states that are helping themselves.”

TIME Uganda

U.S. Embassy Warns of Attack at Uganda’s International Airport

Airport Departure Lounge
Yongyuan Dai—Getty Images

"According to intelligence sources there is a specific threat to attack Entebbe International Airport by an unknown terrorist group today."

The U.S. Embassy in Uganda warned of a “specific threat to attack” the country’s only international airport Thursday evening.

The warning, posted to the Embassy website, says the Ugandan Police Force provided the embassy with information about a possible attack by an “unknown terrorist group” planned for between 9 and 11 p.m. local time at Entebbe International Airport, about 20 miles from the capital of Kampala.

“Individuals planning travel through the airport this evening may want to review their plans in light of this information,” the statement says.

Uganda is one of several countries, including neighboring Kenya, that have sent troops to bolster the government in Somalia. That’s put it in the sights of the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab, which opposes the military presence in Somalia. In 2010, an attack orchestrated by al-Shabab in Kampala killed at least 74 people. Last year, Shaaab militants stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, killing 67 people.

The statement from the Embassy also warned of the overarching terrorist threat in Uganda.

“U.S. Embassy Kampala wishes to remind U.S. citizens of the continued threat of potential terrorist attacks in the country,” the statement said. “The targets for these attacks could include hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, diplomatic missions, transportation hubs, religious institutions, government offices, or public transportation.”

TIME

Kenya Faces Homegrown Threat From Al-Shabab

Recent attacks have highlighted the growing internal threat from terrorists allied with the Somali militant group

+ READ ARTICLE

Kenya is under attack from within. Over the past two weeks, suspected al-Shabab militants have massacred 60 people in a Kenyan coastal town, marking the country’s worst terrorist violence since the Westgate mall siege that left at least 67 people dead last year. Eyewitnesses said the attackers stormed the town of Mpeketoni in minivans flying the black al-Shabab flag, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest). Speaking in Somali and Swahili, an official language in Kenya, the gunmen asked if the residents were Muslim. If not, they fired, according to reports.

The attacks underscore the increasing homegrown al-Shabab threat in Kenya, once seen as a stable ally of the United States in East Africa, a popular destination for American tourists to go on safari and sunbathe on the beach of the Indian Ocean. Yet Kenya, with its porous borders, political corruption, and high density of Western targets is now being described as a breeding ground for al-Shabab, a terrorist group with origins in Somalia and links to al-Qaeda, that is actively targeting U.S. citizens and businesses in Kenya and possibly abroad. The oppressive Kenyan response is not helping. Today, critics say Kenya’s latest anti-terror campaign, described by human rights groups as indiscriminate persecution of Somali refugees and Kenyan Muslims, is backfiring, with the anti-Muslim sentiment being used by al-Shabab to whip up support inside the country.

“Probably the greatest misunderstanding of al-Shabab is that people underestimate the degree that al-Shabab has become a Kenyan problem,” says Matt Bryden, the head of Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based Horn of Africa think-tank. al-Hijra, a Kenyan associate of al-Shabab, has mobilized its Kenyan followers through extremist Muslim preachers, targeting youth in mosques and through jihad propaganda; online videos featuring the organization’s leaders and an online magazine, Gaidi Mtaani. Al-Hijra members, estimated by Bryden to number over 700, have battlefield training, having crossed the border to fight in Somalia. Meanwhile, their charismatic leader, Kenyan Ahmed Iman Ali, is at large. “The tempo of attacks and the scale of attacks suggest that al-Shabab and al-Hijra have taken the initiative,” he says, “what observers are looking for is a sign that the Kenyan government has taken the initiative back.”

That sign has not come. The latest terrorist attacks were met with confusion. After first declaring al-Shabab responsible for the massacre, the Kenyan government later blamed the violence on longstanding ethnic devisions, putting the attack squarely on the opposition’s soldiers. The claim was met with skepticism.

Usually, Kenyan leaders cast terrorism as a foreign threat, a Somali problem. But in response to the quickening tempo of al-Shabab bombings, the Kenyan government announced “Operation Usalama Watch,” a crackdown on Somali immigrants and refugees in Kenya. Under the campaign, which means “Operation Safety Watch” in Swahili, over 4,000 Somalis and Muslim Kenyans were detained at the MOI International Sports Center in Kasarani, a suburb of Nairobi. The sports grounds were used as a mass jail, before people were either cleared and released by police, sent to impoverished refugee camps, or deported back to war-torn Somalia. In May, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs, expressed “strong concerns” about the operation, questioning its rectitude after Human Rights Watch reported people dying during brutal round-ups, children becoming estranged from their parents, and police officers beating people and soliciting hundred-dollar bribes. “It’s a lazy, knee jerk response to a deeply serious problem of violent extremism that Kenyans are facing,” says Jonathan Horowitz, a legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York-based non-profit. “Abuses—extrajudicial killings, torture, disappearances—are propaganda and recruitment tools.”

For the United States, the potential radicalization of Kenyan youth is a worst-case scenario. “You’ve just rounded up a group of men, and you’ve set them in a place to get up to either mischief or find another avenue, which could be al-Shabab,” says Lauren Ploch Blanchard, African affairs specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington. Huge resources have been spent to prevent Kenyan radicalization. Kenya is the fourth largest recipient of U.S. aid for civilian counterterrorism operations, with $43 million earmarked over the past four years, and an additional $117 million for counterterrorism and border security programs. “Some of this is difficult and frustrating, yet we need to be there to help them so that we don’t have to come in and do it all ourselves,” says U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry, speaking from his office in Washington. “There’s been a greater effort to gather information about what al-Shabab is doing, what they plan to do,” said Thornberry, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, “but the primary responsibility within Kenya is obviously up to the Kenyan government.”

Beginning in April, the Kenyan government’s anti-terror campaign saw 6,000 Kenyan police descend on Eastleigh, a bustling, gritty suburb of Nairobi, home to thousands of Somali refugees and Kenyan Muslims. Visiting Eastleigh, I met Ahmed Mohamed, the secretary general of the Eastleigh Business Community, at the Nomad Palace Hotel, a hotel in luxury Mogadishu style with velvet sofas studded with fake diamonds and coffee cups decorated with golden camels. Over a lemon tea with honey, Mohamed described Operation Usalama Watch as a nightmare. “At first they came in and started knocking down doors and flushing out people, it was really, really terrible,” says the 36-year-old, “they were rounding up everyone and taking them to Kasarani stadium, which was later called a concentration camp.”

Today the controversial operation is still going. At the Kasarani stadium, where a billboard proudly displays a champion long distance runner with the slogan “Home of Heroes,” troops in fatigues and maroon berets patrol the grounds with guns slung over their shoulder. Four men were walking from the stadium, just released after four days inside. “I’ve never understood the objective of these police operations, was it to take out illegal immigrants or was it to fight terrorism? Because if it was to fight terrorism they’re going about it the wrong way,” says Mohamed, a Kenyan Muslim. “When you knock down a door at 2 am in the morning, and wake up the elderly grandmother, with her children, what do you expect a teenager to think at that very moment? It will only create animosity in him.”

To the young, al-Shabab promises not only revenge, but fortune and adventure. “Al-Shabab, they even recruit our youth, they tell them we’ll pay you money,” says Benson Sekwa, a burly 38-year-old taxi driver in Nairobi who says a 22-year-old friend of his was recruited by the group. Sekwa’s friend went to Somalia to train and was arrested upon his return to Kenya. “You could tell him don’t do that, but he can’t hear you,” says Sekwa, “he’s after the money.”

As long as the Kenyan government is heavy-handed, observers say al-Shabab and al-Hijra will continue to capitalize on the anti-Muslim sentiment to rally Kenyan youngsters to wage jihad. “The worst case scenario is if the government continues to rely on the hammer, on the security sector, exclusively, to deal with the threat,” says Bryden. “For the moment, we haven’t seen a sign of the government using soft power as a way of undermining jihadist groups,” he says. “If they rely solely on military policing then I’m afraid the threat will endure.”

TIME Somalia

U.S. Will Appoint First Ambassador to Somalia in Over 20 Years

ETHIOPIA-US-AFRICA-SOMALIA-DIPLOMACY-KERRY
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud shake hands prior to a meeting at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport on May 3, 2014. SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

The appointment will end a vacancy of more than two decades for Mogadishu, capital of the war-torn country in East Africa, though the State Department hasn't yet confirmed it will open an embassy in the city

The State Department announced that it will “soon” name an ambassador to Somalia for the first time in over 20 years as a sign of growing confidence in the fledgling government.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in a Tuesday speech that the decision marks a sign of “faith that better times are ahead.”

Relations between Washington and Mogadishu have warmed since the 2012 presidential election of civil activist Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The new president has attempted to build a governing coalition that might secure an end to the country’s civil strife, and U.S. diplomats have shuttled into and out of the region from neighboring Kenya.

“Somalis should know, if they choose to continue to come together, they will have enthusiastic and substantial international support,” Sherman said.

Sherman did not acknowledge immediate plans to open a U.S. embassy in Mogadishu, which is still subject to bombing attacks from al-Qaeda splinter group, al-Shabab. The embassy closed its doors in 1995 as civil war engulfed the country in violence and famine.

TIME Kenya

Four Killed in Kenya Car Bomb

A general view shows the scene of an explosion outside the Pangani police station in the capital Nairobi
A car exploded outside the Pangani police station in Kenya's capital Nairobi on April 23, 2014, killing four people. © Thomas Mukoya—Reuters

Chief of Kenya's police vows war on terrorism after car bomb explodes in a northeastern suburb of the capital Nairobi

Four people, including two police officers, were killed when a car bomb exploded in Kenya’s capital Nairobi Wednesday night, the Interior Ministry said on its Twitter account.

The two officers stopped a car for a traffic violation and escorted the vehicle to a police station in the Pangani district of Nairobi where it exploded, killing the two occupants and the police officers.

“I mourn the loss of the the two gallant officers who’ve died in their line of duty as they were defending and protecting our beloved country,” David Kimayo, the Inspector General of Kenya’s national police, wrote on his Twitter account.

He stressed that the vehicle could have caused “huge damage” had it exploded somewhere else.

Kimayo suggested that terrorists were responsible and said “I fully declare war” on terrorism.

In recent years Kenya has been the target of terrorist attacks conducted by the Somalian terrorist group al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya’s involvement in Somalia. Last September, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an attack on a Nairobi shopping mall that resulted in 67 deaths, with dozens wounded.

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