The Press Release Wars

With the world constantly searching for news regarding the situation in Somalia and the international Media still ravenously rummaging for stories regarding the current food crisis, it seems that both the African Union forces and the Islamists are conscientiously attempting to sway public opinion onto their sides respectively. I have been receiving written statements from AMISOM headquarters for quite some time but Al-Shabaab, who are somewhat elusive when it comes to international media, have begun dishing out some well-written press releases.

As the battles in Mogadishu continue to escalate, as predicted, during this Holy month of Ramadan, both Al-Shabaab and AMISOM forces have their own narrative of the events that have transpired over the last four days of fighting. Local Media here in Mogadishu has reported that several Ugandan soldiers and up to 3 unidentified ‘white’ foreigners were killed during yesterday’s suicide attack on an AU base in Wardhiigley by the Islamists. Independent observers and analysts in Mogadishu have also corroborated the findings of the media. But what did the warring parties have to say?

Read more of this post

AMISOM’s Offensive Backfires


Slain Amisom Soldiers

As the unrelenting famine sweeps across the country, AMISOM forces have launched a ‘concerted offensive’ against the Islamists controlling most of Southern Somalia. The operation was, according to the Press Release I’ve received from Paddy Ankunda, the AMISOM force spokesman, to increase security for IDP camps in TFG controlled areas:

“Following a period of sustained provocation from al Shabaab, our troops have dealt with specific security threats in a short tactical offensive operation. This action will further increase security in the TFG controlled areas of Mogadishu and ensure that aid agencies can continue to operate and get vital supplies to internally displaced persons.”

But after witnessing the events of yesterday as well as the battles that raged on until this noon, the threat has not been contained or dealt with and the security situation in the IDP camps, and Mogadishu in general, still remains rather volatile and precarious. It is safe to say that the Somali government soldiers who have been implicated in a series of shootings and severe cases of systematic rape in the IDP camps alone poses the greatest danger to the famine-stricken civilians, let alone the Islamist onslaught.

AMISOM, on their part, usually furnish the media, through press releases and well-orchestrated press conferences held inside the fortified base and only through invitations, with an immaculate portrayal of events here in Mogadishu. But war, as I’ve come to learn, is not always as it is portrayed in the media. War is grim. War is bloody. War is all but nice. In the ‘concerted offensive’ they’ve launched early Thursday morning, AMISOM forces have, according to Al-Shabab, lost 7 soldiers – from the Ugandan contingent and ‘stray’ mortars are said to have accidentally killed more than 30 TFG troops. This morning the Islamists paraded the slain soldiers as well as a cache of weapons in front of the ravenous eyes of the media.

Read more of this post

Al-Shabab: 1977-78 War Veterans Recalled

 

They marched towards the battlefields – at the peak of their prime – overflowing with patriotism and driven by irredentist beliefs and territorial expansion. With guns slung around their shoulders and ardently miming the mellifluous melodies of patriotic songs, the devoted Somali soldiers had one definitive goal in mind: the annexation of Ogadenia or Western Somalia in order to create a Greater Somalia. Today, however, after more than three decades of inaction, the veterans of the 1977-78 Somali-Ethiopian war are singing a different tune and are driven by different motives.

After having survived their sanguinary adventures, the veterans now vow to fight in the name of God to fend off the traditional foe. Burning with vengeance, this time kindled by Al-Shabab’s rapidly spreading ideological beliefs that have engulfed much of Southern and central Somalia, more than 30 of the 1977-78 war veterans from the border region of Gedo have unanimously agreed to join the ranks of Al-Shabab in a move that is considered to be a huge political gain for the Islamists.

Sheikh Mukhtar ‘Abu Mansoor’ Roobow, one of the senior leaders of Al-Shabab, along with the fervent preacher, Sheikh Fu’ad Mohamed Khalaf, are said to have had extensive meetings with the veteran soldiers in Garbahaarey, Gedo’s regional capital. Urging the soldiers to participate in the battles against the Ethiopian troops along the Somali borders, Abu Mansoor called out to the thousands of people that gathered at the scene to welcome the Islamists:

Read more of this post

Mogadishu’s Media War

When Mogadishu is often described as one of the world’s most dangerous places, it is not merely an understatement. No amount of coverage or depiction would do justice to the horrors that persistently lay siege to this city’s wear population. And the assault, this time, is not only on the ground.

More than one week into the intense battles that had crippled Mogadishu’s residents and the rivals’ radio stations could no longer contain their fury. Mogadishu’s battle is being fought on the airwaves. The target: The Minds of Mogadishans. With information and misinformation, scathing remarks, alarming threats and the rapid rattle of a machine-gun fire for jingles, the airwaves are waging a deadly psychological warfare in order to sculpt the minds of the residents, thereby transforming the battle’s prospects.

What I find rather staggering, however, is the how far each party is willing to go to in order update the local population about the Mogadishu battles according to their version of events. The government’s vociferous Radio Muqdisho (90 MHz) had dispatched some of its reporters to the front lines. Embedded with the AMISOM troops, the Radio Muqdisho reporters transmit their reports via a telephone. A few days into the battle and the station claimed to have built a new make-shift station ‘inside’ the Ministry of Defense compound where some AMISOM soldiers from the Burundian contingent were said to have been besieged by the Islamists.
Read more of this post

To Burundi: A Prisoner’s Message

Dear Readers,

This is a rough translation of the Burundian prisoner’s Message as broadcast on Mogadishu’s radio stations yesterday. It must be noted that I have translated the message using the ‘Somali’ translation that was broadcast on the radio stations, not from Burundian language. I will try to upload the original audio message (and a video if I get it) of the Burundian soldier so that readers can verify the translation.


My name is NZOBONANTUMYE THERENCE and I come from Burundi. My father’s name is ANDREA JEBARIKO and my mother’s name is VERONICA NDEREYIMANA. I am part of AMISOM’s SA ONZE battalion. I came to Somalia to fight Al-Shabab but ended up being their captive. I was captured on TUESDAY 22-02-2011

A colonel by name of URATUZA ordered us to go to Somalia in order to fight the Islamists. But when we came to Somalia and engaged AL-Shabab in battles, we realized that they were indeed dangerous and we could not defeat them. After our offensive against the Al-Shabab on Tuesday, the battle quickly intensified and many of our soldiers were killed and injured. In that disarray, the rest of the soldiers retreated and left me behind. And as soon as the soldiers deserted me, Al-Shabab soldiers captured me and then took me to one of their military compounds. That is where I am now

To The Burundian Soldiers in Mogadishu:

My advice to the Burundian soldiers is that you should refrain from waging war against Al-Shabab and the reason why I say this is because I am certain that you will never be able to defeat them. After we launched our offensive against Al-Shabab on Tuesday morning I would estimate that the number of Burundian soldiers killed in the battle to be about 50 in number. As for me I was captured alive by Al-Shabab and I am still alive and doing well. I warn you against waging war with Al-Shabab because you are fighting them in their own land and thus will never be able to defeat them.

I would also advice you to stop shelling the Somali population because whenever you shell populated areas, it is always the innocent civilians that become the victims of your shelling. As a result, when I fell into the hands of Al-Shabab, they transported me in a car and took me to a compound where many people were gathered and waiting for me. They wanted to kill me on the spot. They hurled all sorts of things at me but the Al-Shabab soldiers protected me from them. They were all angry with me and the reason for their anger is our constant shelling of innocent civilians.

To The Soldiers in Burundi:

I want to send this message to the soldiers in Burundi. My advice to you is that do not let your generals and seniors deceive you and lure you to fight in Somalia, because the rewards and the money that they promise you will eventually be of no value. Once you arrive in Somalia the only thing that awaits you here is death. As soon as we arrived in Somalia, we were sent into battles and I was captured in one of those battles along with many other soldiers. What we saw here in battles is gruesome, so I would advise you not to be deluded by your generals. The little provision that you receive in the safety of your homes is better that the fortune that would cost you your lives.

 

Brundian PoW

Brunundian Peacekeeper captured by Al-Shabab


These are some of the pictures of the Brundian soldier captured by Al-Shabab. The soldier is said to have sustained a minor injury on the legs and is now receiving treatment from Al-Shabab medics. His situation is thought to be stable and is being held in an undisclosed location. I have been informed that he has spoken recently, via a recorded message, to the media and I will attempt to transcribe his message and post it here shortly.

Soldier sips a drink
Speaking to the Media

It is the sixth day of intense battles in Mogadishu between the AU peacekeepers and the Al-Shabab Islamists. The latest reports are stating that dozens of Burundian peacekeepers are trapped inside the Ministry of Defense building for the second day. The Islamists have surrounded the building and blocked off all supply routes – so the soldiers are said to be without food or water for two consecutive days. There has been heavy shelling since last night in the capital. The Bakara market, the city’s largest business hub, has seen a reduced activity as the shelling continued and roads leading to the market have been blocked off because of the fighting. The battles are expected to escalate and the population here is bracing itself for more violent days to come.

 

 

Burundian Peacekeepers Killed in Mogadishu

 

Brundian Peacekeeper Killed by Al-Shabab

 

 

Our message to Uganda and Burundi is this: that as long as a single Somali Muslim remains alive on this soil, erase the notion from your hearts that you will be able to conquer this country – whatever might you exert. By the will of Allah this will never happen, for we are a people who will sacrifice our souls in order to defend our religion, our people and our country. We will never allow you to violate our sanctity’

These were the words of Al-Shabab’s spokesman Sheikh Ali mohamoud Rage ‘Ali Dheere’ as he delivered his speech standing beside the corpses of at least 7 Burundian peacekeeper killed by the Islamists in this morning’s deadly battle. Emphatically expressed in a vigorous tone beaming with certitude, the spokesman’s words, along with the gruesome images of blood-stained corpses of the Burundian peacekeepers, were intended to cause revebreations farther away from home. They were intended for an international audience!

In this open-air mortuary of a city, the ghastly images of the peacekeepers’ bruised and half-naked bodies drew a very large crowd as usual. Chanting slogans of ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘God is Great’ that electrified the scene, the crowd danced around the corpses in a tumultuous excitement, each person eager to kick , drag or hurl insults at the fallen soldiers. A gloomy sepulchural atmosphere overwhelmed the senses, but with such an uproarious crowd it is often easy to forget that the corpses that lay beside the puddles of blood were once soldiers who, like the thousands of their comrades in Mogadishu, believed with conviction that they were serving a just cause; that they were saviours of the Somali people.

Read more of this post

Al-Shabab: We Did It!

As broadcast by local radio stations this evening.

Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage ‘Ali Dheere’ (Al-Shabab spokesman):

Today – the 18th of Rabi’ Al-Awal 1432H which corresponds to 21st February 2011 – Allah has made it easy for Harakat Al-Shabab Al Mujahideen to carry out a blessed martyrdom operation inside the old Sarenda compound – near school-Policia in Hamar Jabab. At the time this operation was carried out, there were more than 600 of the apostate TFG militia assembled there. They were waiting for the arrival of 400 troops recently trained in Djibouti to join them so that they could attack the Mujahideen.

The apostate militias were all assembled in line and their commanders were delivering speeches when the operation took place and the truck struck them – destroying everything inside the compound including offices and adjacent buildings. And that is the blessing of Allah alone.

We ask Allah to reward and accept those heroic martyrs who carried out this blessed operation and make us of those who follow their footsteps in defending their religion.

This will certainly serve as a glad tiding to please the hearts of all Muslims around the world and misery for the enemies of Allah who are bound to meet a painful torment in this life and the hereafter.

And we want to inform the people of Mogadishu – that these infidels and apostate always try to hide their losses but you know that there were more than 600 of the apostate militia in Sarenda and you have the scale of demolition to the buildings and surrounding areas – so when the truck struck them you can imagine the level of destruction it would cause.

Explosion Rocks Mogadishu

A huge explosion rocked the capital this morning. Reports are emerging that a truck laden with explosives was detonated inside a government Police Academy at around 7:30 local time. Hundreds of newly-trained government soldiers were said to me marching inside the academy in preparation for an offensive against the Islamists when the explosion occurred. The Police academy is situated opposite the famous Police training facility School-Policia in Hamar Jajab district of Mogadishu.

Although no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it is strongly believed that Al-Shabab, the Islamists who are waging a bitter battle against the AU and TFG forces, are the likely perpetrators of an attack of such a grand scale. Al-Shabab fighters have, over the past years, carried out some brazen attacks deep inside government controlled territory, including last year’s audacious Hotel Muna attack in which more than 32 government ministers, senior officials and intelligence personnel have lost their lives and the airport attack in which dozens of AMISOM forces were said to have been killed.

Independent reports and eye witness accounts are estimating the number of deaths in the Academy to be as high as 100, but with no official reports from both the government and the Islamists, the number cannot be verified. What remains clear, however, is that this attack on the government compound is now not only another major demoralizing factor for the underpaid soldiers, but also another major setback in the TFG’s desperate efforts to reclaim the capital from the Islamists.

More information as the situation develops…

More Ugandan Soldiers Killed in Mogadishu

Ugandan Soldier Killed in Mogadishu

In the old Maslax military barracks, Al-Shabaab displayed the corpses of two Ugandan soldiers killed in Mogadishu’s street battles. The soldiers, along with their equipment, identity cards, photos, personal belongings and bibles, are believed to have been captured by Al-Shabab fighters yesterday after an intense 14-hour battle that broke out between the opposing forces in the city’s famous Makka Al-Mukarrama street.

Makka Al Mukkarama is perhaps the most important road in Mogadishu, serving as a vital artery that connects the Presidential Palace to Mogadishu airport. Being the only major road, out of Mogadishu’s four main roads, that is not directly controlled by Al-Shabaab, the African Union soldiers try to guard it very closely – for losing this central artery to Al-Shabaab would have some very unfavourable consequences for the AU soldiers as well as the Somali government. Local radio stations are reporting the deaths of more than 15 Ugandan soldiers and dozens of TFG soldiers, particularly from the regiments that were recently trained in Uganda and who have formed a cosy alliance with the UPDF soldiers in Mogadishu.

UPDF Soldier

AU insignia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more of this post

Ethiopian Involvement in Somalia’s Media War

Mogadishu is a constantly changing landscape. In the course of the battle for this ancient port city, battle lines are often drawn and erased, defence posts erected and demolished, allegiances formed and severed, and more soldiers trained to damage and destroy. But while the interminable gun battles continue to temporarily transform the territorial gains of the opposing forces on the ground, it is the battle on the airwaves that will eventually define the final outcome of the war.

The battle is now in the airwaves and words are sometimes deadlier than the bullets. Soldiers’ confessions, government rebuttals, fervent Islamist lectures, Jihadi Nasheeds, information leaks and an overdose of carefully packaged propaganda, however infelicitous it may seem at times, appears to be the order of the day. Where one particular frequency bolsters the government’s voice and demonizes the actions of the Islamists, the other plays Jihadi tunes and sermons by senior Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, glorifying Jihad and Martyrdom for the creation of an Islamic Caliphate. And as a result of the ongoing political pandemonium across the country, it has become rather difficult to find an impartial voice – detached from the political process.

Al-Shabab, the Islamists controlling majority of the country, have recently stepped up their media campaign. Al-Kataib Foundation for Media Production, the rather sophisticated Media wing of the Islamists, has recently launched a terrestrial TV channel in Mogadishu to complement their steady stream of video productions. The channel’s pilot began with the confessions of a former CIA spy recently executed by the Islamists and reaches as far as Ceelasha Biyaha and Afgooye.

The Somali government, on the other hand, having been ineffective on the ground, has recently stepped up its propaganda campaign too. News stories, on-air drama series and, well, rather implausible ‘facts’ – distinctively characterized by derision – are often reiterated on the airwaves in order to influence the opinions of the masses. But these radio broadcasts do not often appeal to all audiences in the same manner, so the race is on for the opposing sides to sway public opinion to their side. Ethiopia has now also joined the race too.

Read more of this post

UPDF Soldiers Killed in Mogadishu

One of the UPDF Soldiers killed in Mogadishu

Mogadishu’s streets never seem to be without a corpse or two. Whether it is the African Union peacekeepers’ bodies being dragged by children on the dusty roads of Mogadishu or bodies of insurgents or the heap of civilian corpses piled on top of one another after being struck by mortars in the Bakara market, the streets in this city have witnessed more horrors than can be imagined. Usually people take no notice of the bodies lying on the concrete pavements and it is often the putrid stench of blood that sharply brings the decaying bodies to one’s attention. But the stiff corpses of the African Union forces seem to attract an unusual sort of attention in Mogadishu. Many residents flocked to the Baar Ubax Street today to witness another public event: the dead body of a Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldier killed in a fire fight against the Al Shabab.

The Islamists have been parading hundreds of newly-trained fighters in the cities of Mogadishu, Baladweyne, Marka and Rabdhuure in the last few days and have vowed to step up their attacks against the African Union troops and the weak Transitional federal Government (TFG). Upon their arrival in Mogadishu, the newly-trained Islamist fighters, known as the ‘Mustafa Abu Yazid Brigade’ in tribute to the late Al Qaeda leader who was killed in an American air strike, immediately began their offensive. By midnight the Islamist fighters launched a surprise attack at one of the Amisom bases near Makka Al Mukarram street – a vital artery that connects Mogadishu’s KM 4 circle to the Presidential Palace and the airport and is also a supply line for the Amisom troops based in those areas – and caught the peacekeepers off guard. It is reported that up to 5 peacekeepers were killed in the attack and dozens more injured.

Read more of this post

Qat – The Multi-Million Dollar Battle

Somali men fumble through the leaves

It is a busy day here at the Qat stalls located just on the outskirts of the Bakara market. Hundreds of sandalled feet scuttle towards the stalls, in tumultuous excitement, and frantically rummage through the tightly bundled leaves in the hand-woven Qat baskets in order to pick out the moist, tender shoots. Scores of young men and women visit these stalls on a regular basis to purchase Qat – a mild stimulant with a bitter taste that a large number of the Somali population – in Somalia or abroad – is highly addicted to. Under the commotion and the emotional frenzy, tensions often rise and agitated customers as well as vendors seem to always be in a combative mood. But perspiring under the heat, the wide-eyed, and almost anaemic, Qat-sellers appear to be relishing this kind of atmosphere.

‘Hurry up Waryaa! hurry up! this is the cheapest you can get. Hurry up! Qat is almost out of stock!’ screams one seller, as he wipes away the trickles of green saliva dripping down his chin with a grubby handkerchief. Behind him, dozens of young men sit on the concrete slabs, or squat on the floor, unmindful of the staccato rounds of gunfire in the distant neighbourhoods, and gnaw away at the leaves in a surrounding far less salubrious than can be appreciated. This is a very loud and unforgiving place. Bestrewn with dry twigs, discarded leaves and plastic bags, these squalid stalls, adjacent to the old Cigarettes and Match Factory, receive hundreds of customers a day, but they have now become even increasingly populated since Al-Shabab’s closure of KM 50 airport yesterday.

The KM 50 airport was, until now, the largest Qat depot in Somalia. Located in the Lower Shabeelle region, near Afgooye, the airport received an average of 7 plane loads of Qat a day, adding an estimated $1,500,000 a day to the Kenyan economy. The cargo would then distributed to all the cities in Southern/Central Somalia and to individual sellers. The Islamists’ decision to forbid the landing of Qat planes at the airport is by far the toughest verdict, in their long list of punitive measures against the stimulant, to be meted out to the Qat merchants in Somalia, and consumers alike. But how will this decision affect the people of Southern Somalia?

Read more of this post

Roobow: Relationship with Al-Shabab Still Robust

Sheikh Mukhtar Roobow ‘Abu Mansoor’

In a country where the media is as much a weapon of war as the gun, Somalia’s airwaves are rife with rumours; so the news over the last few weeks of an Al-Shabab split was sort of expected. But despite this, the news, reported by anonymous sources, rocked the country, filling the cities with gossip and the public houses with debate. The locals here were deeply divided on the issue but those attuned to the political circles in Mogadishu, however, understood that Somali politics was a messy business – labyrinths of deception and treachery – so they tend to regard every statement with some level of skepticism. I adhere to their wisdom. But as the rumour gained momentum and traveled beyond the city’s limits and into the villages, saturating the airwaves with the news, anxiety soon replaced the frivolous whispers.

If the news was true, then it meant that the predominant influence of Al-Shabab in the Southern/Central regions of Somalia was coming to a rather disgraceful end, particularly, since the Islamists were deemed to have transcended the customary commitment to tribal allegiances with their calls for the implementation of Sharia Law. It also meant that the prevailing sense of safety and stablity in the areas under Al-Shabab administration would soon be jeopardized. But was it true?

Read more of this post

Peacekeeper’s Bodies dragged in Mogadishu

Burundian Sodier dragged

The streets of Mogadishu have a long history of brutality. Here the body of a Burundian Peecekeeper, who was apparently captured alive by Al-Shabab fighters after an intense battle yesterday in the Northern districts of Mogadishu, is dragged by children in Baar Ubax, near Bakara market. I was told that he has been dragged for the entire day by children until the body was ripped apart and then finally disposed of in a ditch.

But horrific scenes like these are not as stomach-churning here in Mogadishu as they may seem to the rest of the world. Only a few days ago, dozens of government soldiers’ dead bodies were displayed across Mogadishu’s main junctions. It has become a sort of a daily spectacle, with bodies of slain soldiers often paraded around the city.

Warning! Graphic images…

Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: