Somali troops clashed with forces from the country’s semi-autonomous Jubaland region in a flare-up of violence that is raising tensions with neighboring countries and may play into the hands of the militant group al-Shabab. Tensions have been rising since August, when Jubaland’s incumbent president, Ahmed Madobe, won regional elections that Mogadishu described as “not free and fair.” The central government wanted a loyalist candidate to win, as it seeks greater control over Somalia’s regions ahead of upcoming national elections. Kenya, which has troops deployed as part of an African Union peace enforcement operation, is on the side of Madobe, who it sees as an ally against al-Shabab, while Ethiopia has aligned with Mogadishu. Kenya accused Somali troops of encroaching on its territory and destroying property during the new violence, while the US said that the clashes are a distraction in efforts against al-Shabab. An estimated 56,000 people have been uprooted by the recent fighting. according to the UN. (Map: African Executive)
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit began hearing oral arguments in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration’s travel bans. The plaintiffs argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their case is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban, while the administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation. (Photo: Syria Solidarity NYC)
Almas Elman, a prominent Somali rights activist, was killed in Mogadishu, struck by a bullet while riding in a car. She was apparently heading to the airport after attending a meeting at the Elman Peace Centre, which was founded by her mother Fartuun Adan in 1990. Elman came from a long line of activists. She was the sister of aid worker Ilwad Elman who was recently short-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her father was the respected Somali activist Elman Ali Ahmed, who was himself assassinated in Mogadishu in 1996. In recent years, the Elman Peace Centre has documented rights abuses in Somalia by government troops, Islamist insurgents, Ethiopian occupation forces, rival clan militias, (Photo: RTN-TV via OkayAfrica)
Judge Victoria Roberts of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that a lawsuit by the Arab American Civil Rights League against the Trump administration’s third iteration of his “travel ban,” which restricts travel from seven countries, can move forward. The administration sought to have the lawsuit dismissed based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, in which the court held that the Immigration and Nationality Act grants the president broad discretion to decide “whether and when to suspend entry, whose entry to suspend, for how long, and on what conditions.” Roberts held in the present case that “although the Proclamation is facially neutral, its impact falls predominantly on Muslims.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Jurist)
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)
Seeking to legitimize his regime now that he’s reconquered most of Syria (with massive Russian military help), Bashar Assad has just welcomed the first Arab League leader to Damascus since the war began in 2011—none other than President Omar Bashir of Sudan, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. The Assad regime’s official news agency SANA said the two dictators discussed the “situations and crises faced by many Arab countries,” stressing the need to build “new principles for inter-Arab relations based on the respect of the sovereignty of countries and non-interference in internal affairs.” The Assad regime is itself now credibly accused of genocide, with a mass extermination of detainees amply documented, not to mention serial use of chemical weapons and massive bombardment of civilian populations. Assad and his generals may yet face war crimes charges before the ICC. (Photos: Pinterest, BashirWatch)
Following peace talks hosted by Eritrea, the government of Ethiopia announced a peace deal with the Oromo Liberation Front rebels. The deal guarantees rebel leaders the right to participate in Ethiopia's political process in exchange for laying down arms. The OLF has long been backed by Eritrea, and the pact comes one month after a formal end was declared to the two-decade state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with Ethiopia ceding its claim to the contested border town of Badme. This points to a softening of positions under Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. The Badme deal was also said to have been quietly brokered by the United Arab Emirates, which has emerged as politically isolated Eritrea's most significant foreign patron, part of an apparent design to encircle Yemen. (Photo: Yassin Juma)
The US Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 in Trump v. Hawaii that President Donald Trump's proclamation restricting entry from particular Muslim-majority countries was "squarely within the scope of presidential authority" under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The court also found that plaintiffs challenging the proclamation were unlikely to succeed on their claim that the ban violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The ruling overturns a preliminary injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which blocked the policy from taking effect. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower courts for "further proceedings." (Photo of protest at Foley Square, Manhattan, by Syria Solidarity NYC)
The United Arab Emirates announced that it is ending its military training program in Somalia, as the governments of Abu Dhabi and Mogadishu trade charges back and forth. Tensions between the two governments have been on the rise over Emirati plans to build a military base in Somaliland, the self-declared republic that is effectively independent from Mogadishu. The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 for the weak and fractious Mogadishu government. But Mogadishu sees establishment of a foreign base at Somaliland's port of Berbera as a move toward recognition of the breakaway republic, calling it a "clear violation of international law." (Map: Somalia Country Profile)
The unrecognized but de facto independent republic of Somaliland made rare headlines when its parliament voted to instate criminal penalties for rape—actually a groundbreaking move in the region. The "official" government of Somalia still has no law against rape. And while Somaliland just elected a new president by popular vote, Somalila's president was chosen by parliament. Regular elections are impossible in Somalia due to the fact that the government has no effective control of its own territory—despite military support of an Ethiopia-led "peacekeeping" force.
The US Supreme Court agreed to review the Trump administration's travel ban, partially lifting the temporary injunction that had blocked the ban's enforcement.
Qatar's diplomatic isolation by the other Gulf states, accused of supporting terrorism in the region, heightens contradictions for the Pentagon's use of the critical al-Udeid Air Base.