A car bombing in Somalia on Saturday has resulted in at least 16 deaths and more than 20 injuries, The Guardian reports. The bombing occurred outside the Presidential Palace in Mogadishu, and resulted in the deaths of three members of the Universal TV channel and a prominent journalist. The deputy mayor of Mogadishu and a Member of Parliament were also wounded in the blast. The attack is one of many examples of intensified violence by extremist group Al-Shabaab this year in the war-torn country.
Al-Shabaab means “The Youth” in Arabic. It is reported that the group emerged as radical youths from the former Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia began advocating for a Wahhabi version of Islam and a strict form of Sharia law. They have links to Boko Haram, and have previously pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda. The group is responsible for persistent turmoil in Somalia, especially this year as levels of violence have increased. Its members took responsibility for multiple violent events in 2018, including an attack in June which killed an American soldier and a bombing in November in Mogadishu which killed 39 people. Their influence in Somalia shows no sign of waning; in fact, their violence seems to have escalated in the face of increased military presence under the new American administration.
United States involvement in Somalia began with a military intervention in 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed and 73 were injured. The operation largely failed and consequently the U.S. withdrew their forces, resulting in further destabilization and a rise in extremist groups. The Obama administration re-increased U.S. presence in Somalia after a 2013 attack in Nairobi caused the deaths of 67 people, including 19 foreigners. Obama set rules in May 2013 that readdressed counter-terrorism operations in an attempt to reduce drone strikes. The strikes were believed to be causing too many civilian casualties, and actually increasing terrorism recruitment rather than reducing it. Former U.S. National Security officials urged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in 2017 to uphold the Obama principles to maintain order within the conflict zone. Trump has largely ignored these calls and announced the suspension of the limits in March 2017. New America reports that drone strikes have increased from 13 in 2016 to 42 in 2018. Casualties in Somalia due to these strikes have risen to a record high of 377 people in 2018.
Somalia is ranked 7th worst in the world in the Freedom House Index. Human Rights Watch estimates that more than half of Somalians are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, and more than 2.1 million people are internally displaced. This includes hundreds of refugees forced to return from their asylum in Kenya due to overcrowding and lack of resources. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that Somalia has been the recipient of $842.4 million of humanitarian aid to date. The U.S is the top contributor of aid, funding nearly half of the total amount.
The level of violence in Somalia today mirrors that found after failed interventions in the 1990s. The Trump administration and its choice to increase military presence has not resulted in any real political improvement. The Atlantic’s Christina Goldbaum highlighted that while air strikes and ground offensives may temporarily ward off Al-Shabaab, they do not help build sustainable institutions. In a nation that has seen more than 25 years of American involvement, the focus must shift from militaristic to diplomatic interventions in order to return Somalia to stability.
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