The Pentagon announced that a “small, persistent US military presence” of around 500 troops is to return to Somalia, to assist ongoing operations against the Shabaab insurgents. Media commentators widely portrayed this as a policy reversal, with some incorrectly stating that Present Trump “brought the troops home” from Somalia in 2020. However, the Pentagon press release implicitly acknowledges that the so-called “withdrawal” had been largely a fiction: “The existing model of US assistance moving into and out of the country as needed…is inefficient.” The troops were never “brought home”; they were redeployed to neighboring Djibouti and Kenya, and sent back in to Somalia as mandated by contingency. Even if the announcement doesn’t mean very much, it is being met with some trepidation by rights advocates. Human Rights Watch warned against “repeating past laws of war violations.” (Photo: Patrick Crosley/USMC via CommonDreams)
At least three people are dead following an outbreak of inter-communal violence in Djibouti. Fighting erupted in several areas between members of the Afar ethnic group, which straddles Djibouti’s borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Issa, the country’s other main ethnicity, which is a sub-group of the Somali people and straddles the borders with Ethiopia and Somalia. Issa protesters blocked the rail line and road connecting Djibouti’s port to Ethiopia, a key artery for the landlocked Horn of Africa giant. The violence came in response to a deadly attack on Somali Issa civilians four days earlier within Ethiopia. Fighters from Ethiopia’s Afar region raided the town of Gedamaytu (also known as Gabraiisa) in neighboring Somali region, reportedly killing hundreds of residents. The two regions have long been at odds over three contested kebeles (districts) on their shared border, which are predominately inhabited by Issa but located within the regional boundaries of Afar. (Map: ISS Africa)
Somalia severed diplomatic ties with neighboring Kenya, accusing it of violating Somali sovereignty and meddling in its internal affairs. Although the statement cited no specific grievances, it came exactly as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was hosting in Nairobi the president of Somaliland, a breakaway region in Somalia’s northwest that declared independence in 1991. Kenyatta and Somaliland’s President Musa Bihi Abdi signed a pact on increased security and economic cooperation—which is clearly viewed by Mogadishu as a step toward formal recognition. Two weeks earlier, Somalia ordered the expulsion of Kenya’s ambassador, accusing Nairobi of interfering in the electoral process in Jubaland, an autonomous region along the Kenyan border. Kenya maintains a military force of some 3,500 troops in Jubaland, where elections last year solidified the rule of the incumbent regional president, Ahmed Madobe, who is harshly at odds with Mogadishu. (Map: African Executive)
President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all the approximately 700 US troops in Somalia by mid-January. But the troops are not coming back to the US—they will be stationed just outside Somalia’s borders, in Kenya and Djibouti, ready to go back in as circumstances mandate. Air-strikes and drone warfare are to continue. Also remaining in Somalia will be a team of Pentagon advisors and a significant force of private contractors from the DC-based firm Bancroft Global, working with a US-trained elite commando unit to fight al-Shabaab and ISIS insurgents. (Photo: Nick Kibbey/US Air Force via Military Times)
More than 60 were killed in US air-strikes that targeted "a known al-Shabaab encampment" near southern Somalia's Gandarshe town. US Africa Command asserted that no civilians were killed and that the strikes were launched to "prevent terrorists from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire, and recruit for future attacks." These were the deadliest air attacks in Somalia since November 2017 when the US said it killed 100 militants. The targeting of Shabaab increased after March 2017, when the Trump administration loosened restrictions on the US military to use force against the insurgent army. The US military has now struck Shabaab targets 45 times in 2018, compared with 31 times last year. The US has a huge military base in neighboring Djibouti, from where it launches air-raids on the militants. (Image: Lockheed Martin)
In an independence referendum that drew record numbers to the polls, voters in the South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia voted 56 to 44 percent to remain a French territory. The referendum was the fruit of a 1988 peace accord with the armed Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS). However, the referendum was repeatedly postponed amid controversies over whether only native residents or also French colonists and their descendants would get to vote. Under terms of the 1998 Noumea Accord, only French colonists and descendants already in the territory by that point would be eligible. The indigenous Kanaks now represent only 40% of the territory's population. However, the future of the archipelago is still uncertain. French law allows for a possible second or third vote if the first goes against independence. (Photo: NurPhoto/Getty via SBS News)
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. China has also gained access to facilities in Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Seychelles and Oman as part of the maritime component of its Silk Road trade and infrastructure initiative. While the Silk Road is an ostensibly civilian project, China has also established its first foreign military base at Djibouti, leading Western wonks to warn that Beijing is seeking a "string of pearls" network of bases across the Indian Ocean. (Map via CIMSEC)
Somalis who captured an oil tanker later released it with no ransom paid, and said they had seized it to protest toxic waste dumping and over-fishing in their waters.
As China establishes its first foreign military base at Djibouti, rumors have Beijing seeking a second base in Namibia—where Chinese uranium interests face labor unrest.
A drone strike targeted Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane as US-backed Ethiopian forces launched a new drive to beat back the insurgent group in Somalia.
South Sudan says Khartoum is fomenting rebellion in Jonglei state in a bid to block the South’s plans to build an oil pipeline through Ethiopia to a port in Djibouti.
Some 100 US troops have been mobilized to Niger to establish a drone base, while across the border in northern Mali French-led forces face growing jihadist resistance.