Written by Evgeny Satanovsky; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
One of the main competition bases for external players in East Africa is Somalia. The geographical location of the country, the weakness and corruption of the regime that control the enclaves into which the territory has broken down, the influence of local policies of key tribes, the strong position of local Islamists in the interior and the pirate clans on the coast favour the strengthening there of not only the Gulf monarchies, competing for influence in this area of the Indian Ocean, but also Turkey, based on an alliance with Qatar. Troops of its African neighbours are present as well. At the same time, the US efforts to combat local Islamists bring very modest results.
On the territory of Somalia, there are about 500 American troops who are engaged in combat training of the local groups and operations against the militants of the terrorist group al-Shabaab. However, the operations of the American forces and the Somali army did not lead to a turning point in the fight against Islamists. Attempts to destroy their strongholds and leaders, which were undertaken by the Americans launched through the secret services using the CIA residence capabilities from the embassy in Nairobi, did not bring the expected results. The Islamists regrouped forces and created new suicide squads, which carried out several terrorist attacks in the capital and military facilities in the summer. This indicates that al-Shabaab has retained its funding sources.
According to experts, the main source of income of the Islamists remains the smuggling of wood charcoal from the Horn of Africa and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. The Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia, Mehdi Mohamed Gulid, called on local authorities to stop the excessive cutting of trees. The goal is to block the source of funding for al-Shabaab. Moreover, the group, with whom the United States is now trying to fight, does not reveal this income element. Its predecessors have been actively involved in the wood charcoal trade since the beginning of their activities.
Since the establishment of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in 2002, wood charcoal has been the main source of income for the al-Qaida affiliated militias of the movement. This activity was made a cottage industry by the former leader of the UIC Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and expanded by his successor, Hassan Dahir Aweys. The scale of the illegal wood charcoal trade became apparent in October 2012 when troops from AMISON (African Union Mission in Somalia) regained control of the port of Kismayo and discovered huge amounts of coal ready for export. This lucrative illicit trade is not the exclusive prerogative of al-Shabaab. Officers and soldiers of AMISOM and the Somali army are actively involved as well.
In May, an international conference was organised in Mogadishu to promote the implementation of the UN resolution banning the import and export of Somali charcoal. It was stated that the main smuggling destinations are the Gulf countries, especially Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE. The main organisers of this business are three Emirati businessmen who are based in Dubai. They are the leaders of the Sharikat al-Nujum al-Tijaria (“Start Trading Company”). This structure includes the main wood charcoal traders in Kismayo and the Gulf countries. Ships transit through Djibouti, where traders receive false documents confirming that the goods are from there. During the UAE judiciary investigation of these episodes, the Djibouti authorities refused their requests, and the country’s Ambassador to the Emirates Drar Osman refused to meet with the investigators.
The second source of al-Shabaab funds remains the arms trade, which is 70 percent going to Yemen and the Sinai. The main smuggling ports are Bossaso, Lasqoray and Belaid in Puntland. The main organisers of this smuggling are members of the Ali Saleeban/Majerteeen clan. They retain up to a third of the supply, which allows them to maintain high levels of combat readiness, as well as to replenish the Treasury through the partial resale of these weapons.
Prices for Fraternal Relations
Somalia remains one of the key points in the struggle for influence in the Horn of Africa, which Qatar is waging against the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It focuses not only on the economy, but also on security issues, hammering on participating in the construction of the national armed forces. There is a division of labour between Doha and Ankara: the first is specialising on the training of officers of the Somali security services, and the second is cadre for the army.
The chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces General Hulusi Akar (now Minister of Defence) opened Turkey’s largest foreign base near Mogadishu on September 30, 2017 in the presence of his Somali counterpart, General Ahmed Mohammed Jimale and Prime Minister Hassan Ali Haire. Formally, it has the status of a training centre for the Somali National Army (SNA). The choice of the location of the $50 million base for three thousand people was risky, given that AMISOM had to leave the country.
The Turkish military deployment has sharply exacerbated the rivalry between the two main regional competing links: on the one hand, Ankara-Doha, and Abu Dhabi-Cairo, and with reservations by Riyadh, on the other. These states are already present in Somalia and have strong influence there. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is the leading export market for Somalia in terms of the very same wood charcoal. For Egypt, the Horn of Africa is important because of the controversy in water resources with Ethiopia, and the UAE, which seeks monopoly control over the main seaports of the region, created a military base in Somalia in 2015 and where they trained several general operations forces.
Note that the current rapprochement between the President of Somalia Farmajo and the UAE occurred just last month. In May, everything was different. In early April, Abu Dhabi officially suspended general operations forces training at its base in Mogadishu, where armed clashed between Somali soldiers took place. According to the official version, the soldiers who were trained at the base quarrelled over money, or rather, because of the inability to steal goods entering Mogadishu Airport
In reality the incident happened after the armed intervention of the Somali security services at Mogadishu Airport in a situation with the personal airplane of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, which carried about thirty soldiers of the UAE. According to MEI experts’ sources, general operations forces’ fighters seized the UAE diplomatic bag containing 9.6 million dollars allocated to the general operations forces and strengthening the army in Putland. This happened due to the fact that after the resignation of the Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Osman Javari on April 9, the UAE lost its main ally in Mogadishu, who was used by the Qatari, who organised this provocation through their agents in the Somali special services.
Doha’s plans included the rotation of not only the speaker, but also the Prime Minister, with the promotion to this position of its creature, ex-defense Minister Mohammed Mursal Abdirahman. Thus, Qatar hoped to regain control over the Somali army, which is now financed by the UAE, as well as the armed structures of the semi-state enclaves of Somaliland and Putland, where not only money is sent, but also military equipment through Ethiopia and the sea from the UAE base in Eritrea.
On September 24, in New York, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, reiterated his commitment to support the economic development in Somalia, given in May. He had a good reason: despite Doha’s initiatives and proposals, Somali President Mohammed Abdullah Mohamed Farmajo had recently taken several steps for rapprochement with Addis Ababa’s and Asmara’s position in establishing a new security system in the region, that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are actively launching in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Noting the restructuring of relations in the Horn of Africa, initiated by Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Farmajo last month accepted an invitation by his colleague from Asmara Issayas Afeworki, whose international prestige has grown, thanks to the cooperation with the member states of the GCC. At the end of his visit to the Eritrean capital, from 28 to 30 July, Farmajo made a statement in which he stressed the progress in the restoration of “fraternal ties”. Mogadishu is thus signalling that it is coordinating a political position with Addis Ababa and Asmara. Somalia has demonstrated its readiness to mediate the efforts of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, which are coordinated and implemented largely thanks to the efforts of the current head of Egyptian intelligence, General Abbas Kamel.
Frustrated by the weak economic dividends received from contacts with the Ankara-Doha axis, Farmajo now expects economic and financial benefits similar to those that Abu Dhabi has promised to Addis Ababa and Asmara. Meanwhile in order to create a new regional partnership arrangement under its patronage, the UAE is trying to further isolate Djibouti, which refuses to accept a decision of the London International Arbitration Court on the unilateral termination by the Djibouti authorities of the Emirati state company “DP World” contract to manage the container terminal in Doraleh, which is a blow to Abu Dhabi’s main task – to establish control over all the main seaports of this region of the Indian Ocean.
All this is forcing Doha to step up its influence in Somalia. AMISOM plans to leave the country by 2021 and hand it over to general operations forces. The first Somali officers trained by Turkey at the base in Mogadishu completed their training in August, while the training of the army by the Americans, British and Egyptians is on the wane. Attempts by a number of AMISOM members to extend the mandate ran into a tight funding limit on the part of the African Union and the unwillingness of the UN to lead this peacekeeping operation with the corresponding financial costs. It remains for Mogadishu to rely on its own personnel and it is these structures that are now being paid special attention by Qatar.
Dissenters from the CIA
Characteristically, a letter dated September 2 was prepared by the Deputy Director of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), Fahad Yassin Haji Dahir, and addressed to President Farmajo, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Hayar, Minister of the Interior, Abdi Farah and the Chief of Police, General Bashir Abdi Mohamed. It justifies the need to purchase a new batch of equipment for the needs of NISA, as well as the secondment of 1,728 of its agents to the police and law enforcement forces, as a result of which the Somali police will be joined by operatives with close ties to Qatar.
Fahad Yassin Haji Dahir himself has long been a correspondent of the Qatari news agency al Jazeera and a member of the Wahhabi movement al-Itihaad al-Islamiya. This group has repeatedly appeared in the UN reports in connection with sustainable contacts with al-Shabaab. The narrative is about the links of the NISA leadership from among the emissaries of this group with the Islamists. This was stated in a confidential note dated September 10, addressed to the UN Secretary General, which was prepared by his office. It contains eleven points from which it follows that NISA “has come under the control of a group of individuals with links to al-Shabaab.
In 2014, Dahir and then NISA Director Hussein Osman Hussein (in 2015) were the targets of a secret investigation by the personal security service of the President of Somalia in connection with “suspicions of their links with al-Shabaab”. In 2016, a group of independent UN experts examined the actions of Prime Minister Ali Khair of the same links, and in 2017, western intelligence agencies studied the same contacts of the head of NISA of the Banaadir region of Somalia, Sadak John. In 2017, one of the deputy directors of NISA Abdullah Abdulah was dismissed from the Agency after it turned out that his subordinates Hussein Osma and Fahad Yasin gave orders to al-Shabaab to eliminate their opponents.
The former military leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtar Robow (aka Abu Mansur), is also closely associated with NISA. For a long time he shaped and is shaping Mogadishu’s strategy of distancing the AMISOM contingent from participating in the protection of the main administrative facilities in the capital. It was he who dissuaded Farmajo of AMISOM peacekeepers from guarding the Parliament building. At the same time, he continues to live in the NISA headquarters and shapes the behaviour line in regard to Islamists. We will note that the Americans were the initiators of the story with Abu Mansur and infiltration of former Islamists in the structure of the Somali intelligence service. In this way, the CIA planned to achieve a split in the local Islamist movement.
The CIA station in Nairobi for the first time generated the idea of organising a split in the al-Shabaab after the student massacre at the Garissa University College in Kenya in April 2015, but political instability in Somalia and a change of leadership at the intelligence agencies have frozen those plans. They were reanimated two years ago. At the same time, the Kenyan residency insisted on the Abu Mansur candidacy as the “right person” for such a mission. According to the analysis of reports and materials of the American CIA residence in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, he played a central role in the Islamist movement, as he is a spiritual mentor, head of military operations and official representative of al-Shabaab.
In addition, Abu Mansur had numerous personal contradictions and engaged in skirmishes with the former head of al-Shabaab, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed as a result of a US drone strike in September 2014. There is evidence that this liquidation was organised with the direct participation of persons from the Abu Mansur environment. Today, he is a tough opponent of successors of Omar Shafik Hammami and Ibrahim al-Afghani.
Abu Mansur began to distance himself from the most radical wing of al-Shabaab in 2013. With incentives Washington removed his name from the terrorist list where the head of the “spiritual mentor” was estimated at five million dollars. In late June, opponents of Mansour in al-Shabaab sent a group to eliminate him in Gudar in the Bakool district. Mogadishu, with American participation, sent more than 300 troops to protect him. Thus far, the CIA plan did not work out completely. During the spring and summer, al-Shabaab security service managed to eliminate Abu Mansur’s supporters in its ranks.
Returning to Dahir, we will note, that he is the subject of a judicial investigation in Kenya on grounds that he paid 1.8 million dollars to Mohammed Abdullah Warsame (Warsame Karate), one of the main field commanders, to prevent al-Shabaab from carrying out attacks during the last Ramadan in Somalia and Kenya. He also destroyed the NISA counter-terrorism unit on the grounds it cooperated “with foreign agencies” (i.e. western intelligence agencies). The newly created structure by Dahir were filled allegedly with defectors from al-Shabaab.
By sending supporters to the police force, as indicated in the above-mentioned secret letter, he will gain power over the President by controlling the security system in the Somali capital. So far it was the duty of the “Mogadishu Stabilisation Forces”, but they will soon replace the “Civil Defence Forces”. This de facto unit is the “14th Battalion”, which reports to the head of the national police.
This initiative by Dahir was supported by Doha, which invited the President of Somalia to fund the training of NISA staff with Sudanese assistance. In this regard, the head of the national intelligence and security service of the Sudan, General Salah Abdullah Mohamed Saleh (Salah Gosh), travelled to Mogadishu in late August to meet with his Somali counterpart, Hussein Osman Hussein and Fahad Yassin Haji Dahir. At the same time, we note: the NISA management tries not to advertise contacts with Qatari colleagues. On September 24, the head of NISA seized and broke the camera from the assistant of the former UN representative in Somalia Michael Keating, who decided to take a picture at Mogadishu Airport of the Qatar Airways aircraft, which brought a delegation of Qatari security forces and financiers.
The Qatari and Turks do not forget about the ideological aspect of strengthening influence in Mogadishu. This includes bribery of local imams, which are financed through the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Through them, anti-Emirati sentiments among the local political elite and population are encouraged. Doha and Ankara are working to create a loyal network of Somali imams. Former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was the first to put forward the idea that local clerics should act as the main tool to ensure Ankara’s ambitions to deploy forces beyond its own borders. To this end, it involved the Ditib Association, a branch of the Turkish state religious administration Diyanet, whose activities are coordinated and directed by the Turkish intelligence organisation MIT (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati) headed by Hakan Fidan.
Qatar, through its system of financial incentives for Somali imams, ensures that they are in the orbit of the Ditib leadership. The main goal of Ditib is to provoke hostility towards the UAE. During meetings with the Somali President, the imams controlled by the Association, sharply criticised the “Emirati greed” and their “subversion” in Somali mosques.
The articles in based on materials from the MEI A. Bystrov.