22.8.2022: Mogadishu, Somalia
Since the administration led by former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the Somali government and its international partners have continuously portrayed an image that the Somali Armed Forces were being trained to finally take over the security of Somalia from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), now the African Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS).
It has been thirteen years since this project began and Somalia’s security situation remains practically the same. The government is still struggling to maintain peace in the Somali capital, let alone the large swathes of territories that are currently under hostile FMS governments or Al-Shabab.
However, a question arises:
- Is that because of bad government policy from Villa Somalia and its subsidiaries or is it simply Somalia’s security apparatus remains fragile?
Before we delve into this topic, let’s take a look at recent horrific events in Mogadishu that has again shed light on the Somali capital and its security.
Hayat Hotel Attack & What we know so far
Friday, the 19th of August marks another dark day in Somali history as the nation witnessed the worst Al-Shabab siege in history as militants entrenched themselves in Hayat Hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu for nearly 30 hours – kidnapping hostages and killing civilians.
It was the first of its nature or status since the horrendous Al-Shabab car-bomb attack in December of 2019 in which 81 people were killed. Albeit, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) at the time blamed the attack on foreign entities that helped facilitate and orchestrate the attack.
So what exactly unfolded:
In the evening of the 19th, Al-Shabab fighters rammed into the hotel using two vehicles loaded with explosive devices followed by a swift assault on the hotel.
One of the car-bombs hit the barrier near the hotel and the other hit the gate of the hotel to gain entry. It is also reported that some of the militants had already setup base at the hotel weeks prior to the attack, presumably to gather intelligence on the map of the building and guests.
Once the attack began, it is reported that militants took hostages to the top floor where they also blew up the only staircase access.
The militants would eventually kill 21 civilians and wound 117 others with 15 in critical condition according to the Somali Ministry of Health. Conversely, the Al-Shabab group claimed to have killed 63 individuals during the attack.
Mohamed Abdirahman, director of Mogadishu’s Madina Hospital, said that 40 people were admitted there with wounds or injuries from the attack. While nine were sent home after getting treatment, five are in critical condition in the intensive care unit.
Speaking to the media, Chief of the Somali Police Force, General Hijaar said that the security operation in the hotel ended midnight local time Sunday. He further elucidated that 106 people were rescued from the hotel. However, the police chief refused to answer questions regarding the details and what happened to the assailants.
Despite government silence on the operational details, it is reported that various organisation participated in the operation simultaneously without much coordination.
It seems as though the basic operational procedure was not followed:
- The pre-attack investigations that would’ve identified possible attackers and locations.
- Deployment of counterterrorism units to the hotel such as Haramcad immediately.
- Post-attack operations including bomb disposal, CCTV as well as witnesses.
It is reported that NISA officers were present as well as Alpha Group, Gashaan, Somali Police and Haramcad.
It is further reported that Alpha Group was initially sent in but failed to neutralise the militants despite Haramcad being the newly improved and trained special police commandos prepared for such operations.
In fact, it is reported that NISA Chief Mahad Salad delayed the deployment of Haramcad Police Commandos for nearly 2.5 hours despite Haramcad coming under the Somali Police Chief, General Hijaar. Such exertion of power is tantamount to the influence Mahad Salad has inside Villa Somalia much like his predecessor, Fahad Yaasin.
Following this, reports surfaced that the NISA Chief ordered all security personnel to withdraw from the hotel despite Haramcad operations against the militants. This would result in Gashaan using heavy operational equipment to destroy large parts of the hotel.
One has to question the purpose of such an operation because it fails to save the civilians held hostage which should be the number one priority and the actual property which is the hotel. The likelihood of the government compensating private business owners is slim to none.
Did the militants escape?
Normally, Al-Shabab fighters that are killed, detained or wounded by the government are showcased to the public as evidence of the operations however Somali security forces have remained quiet following this particular operation with no concrete evidence as to what happened to the fighters that lay siege on the hotel.
Al-Shabab claims that some of its fighters left the hotel unharmed however this cannot be independently verified.
While we cannot verify the truth at this current time, it is quite odd that the government has not showcased the successful conclusion of the operation which logically it would to gain both international and Somali public support.
Instead, PM Barre stood before the Somali nation to inform them of his sorrow and how his government plans to send some of those injured for medical treatment abroad. Don’t get me wrong, of course it is a positive step to help the victims but it is not good enough. Al-Shabab continues to reek havoc across the country and this government needs a robust and stern response immediately. Currently, following numerous attacks in recent weeks, Al-Shabab feel emboldened then ever before.
Instead, we have the Interior Minister, Ahmed Fiqi pleading with Al-Shabab to show sympathy to the Somali public. We do not plead with the enemy, it demonstrates weakness.
Many Somalis, particularly residents of Mogadishu were dismayed by the silence from their government on what was unfolding at the hotel. Journalists were barred from the scene and the security officials kept their lips tightly sealed. As a result, there were conflicting reports and fake news circulating online which instilled fear amongst residents of the Somali capital.
It was for the Somali Ministry of Information, Somali National TV, Radio Muqdisho, SONNA or even the Minister of Defence to make statements that would regularly update Somali citizens about the essential information operation and attack that were within public interest.
Instead, many Somalis were forced to seek information online via social media where large scale disinformation was being peddled around. Many were misled by fake news being pushed around by groups with vested interests.
Increasing Al-Shabab attacks
Attacks have increased in recent months under the new government. It seems as though Al-Shabab is strategically taking advantage of the disarray and political battles within the upper echelons of the Somali government to make gains on the ground and demoralise the Somali public.
During the initial attack on Friday, Al-Shabab fighters also fired mortars in the Hamar Jabjab area of Mogadishu which killed 4 civilians and wounded dozens more including many children.
It was last month when Al-Shabab militants engaged in their most daring and ambitious operation in years by attempting to attack Somali Galbeed and on to Ethiopia. Over 800 Al-Shabab fighters were deployed to the battlefront and many people were killed. Despite the fact that Al-Shabab would eventually be defeated, it demonstrated their ambitious drive and willingness to engage in such large scale operations.
The group also claimed the attack in Jowhar, the regional capital of Hirshabelle State. The fighters attacked Noor Duub hotel – a popular hotel in the regional capital frequented by state government officials. Much like the attack on Hayat Hotel, the militants used the same tactics of car bombs and storming the building. 3 individuals would be killed with another 7 wounded. The Jowhar attack happened only 2 weeks prior to the failed Al-Shabab offensive in Somali Galbeed.
We have also seen Al-Shabab attacks in Hiran where the militants were reported to have burned homes and private property.
The reality is that the government is spending far too much time fighting within itself rather than focusing on unity against Al-Shabab.
Upon his election, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud conveyed to the Somali public that he will be leading a peace train comprised of various differing political factions within Somalia to form an inclusive government. Instead, we have a government which seems to be attempting to attack any individual that had any form of relations with former President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.
We can see this in many forms:
- FMS: The Federal Government is at loggerheads with Federal Member States (FMS) that had positive relations with the FGS during President Farmaajo tenure, creating unnecessary tensions.
- NISA Chief Mahad Salad has been on a witch-hunt against all employees within NISA that had relations with former chief Fahad Yaasin. In fact, Mahad Salad would order the raid on Yaasin’s home within weeks of taking office. As a result, dozens have been fired which has not only weakened NISA but also instilled fear on other staff that could lose their job.
- For the past month, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud Office has continuously released statements that the senior heads of security will be replaced, which demotivates commanders and shifts focus away from the matters at hand.
The combination of all these factors means that there is little coordination between FMS and the FGS on security matters within Somalia which is clearly visible as an Ethiopian military delegation lands in Garowe only weeks after Puntland leader Deni refused a Federal delegation led by PM Barre.
The reality is that the government is not serious enough on Al-Shabab. The group use the same tactics over and over again but you would expect the security forces in Somalia to be prepared. Instead, the government is ill-prepared.
If this government wants to make any advancements against Al-Shabab, it must address all these factors above.