Somalia hotel attack: When is enough, enough?

The latest attack yesterday in Mogadishu at the SYL Hotel near the compound of the Presidential Palace, just weeks after the attempt to bring down an aircraft which had just left Mogadishu for Djibouti, has cost at least another 14 lives – 9 civilians to be mourned and 5 militants dispatched to hell.

Somalia remains a sore in the side of Eastern African countries as well as those in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia included.

Nearly ten years down the line after the first foreign intervention by Ethiopia, aimed to create a forward security buffer against constant terrorist and militant aggression, the African Union force was deployed in Somalia, at best a questionable record when it comes to driving Al Shabab into the ocean.

First to deploy troops in March 2007 were Uganda and Burundi, and both suffered a heavy price.

While Uganda took the hardest hit when Al Shabab sympathizers bombed 2 venues during the 2010 World Cup Final, killing dozens of innocent people, both countries saw countless soldiers killed in action in a mission aimed to improve security for the entire region. An Iljushin 76 supply aircraft crash out of Entebbe into Lake Victoria in 2009 and the loss of 3 helicopters of the Ugandan army in 2012 which crashed in Kenya enroute to Somalia, added to these losses.

After Kenya was drawn into the conflict in 2011, following a wave of cross border attacks by Al Shabab targeting both locals and tourism establishments between Lamu and the Somali border, Al Shabab again vented their anger by attacking soft targets in Kenya. The most notable and deadly incidents were Westgate in Nairobi, Mpeketoni in Lamu District, and the attack on a Garissa university campus. More recently, Al Shabab fighters hit Kenyan troops based at the town of El Adde, where anywhere between 150 and 200 Kenyan servicemen lost their lives.

Attacks on restaurants and hotels in the capital Mogadishu are frequent, as are needle prick strikes on government buildings.

Three out of more than 20 individuals known by this correspondent who work in Somalia subsequently got in touch, expressing, on condition of anonymity their concerns over these constant failures in security.

Wrote one: “How long can it take to recapture Al Shabab held territory in Somalia. Large tracts of land are still controlled by these murderous b******s and what are the AU troops doing about it? When they attacked the Kenyans at El Adde there were a few airstrikes and now it is quiet again. Does the world even realise what snake pits they allow to exist here? If Somalia cannot be liberated from these terror groups the entire region is in danger. Why can Mogadishu not be better secured. If needed put several security cordons around the city to control access and then conduct thorough searches in the city to smoke out the terrorists hiding here. But these regular attacks on hotels and restaurants and even the attempt to bomb the Daallo flight to Djibouti are scary and have shaken my confidence in existing security arrangements. The hotel attack was followed by another bomb at a popular city park and from what I hear dozens of injured people are now in hospitals. Please highlight the need for more troops and better security in Mogadishu,” while another wrote, “The money I make here is good but I cannot put a price on my life. When my contract ends I will not renew it. The frequency of attacks is very alarming. I don’t think enough is done to prevent this and for sure is not enough done out in the country side to defeat Al Shabab. Sitting in garrisons like El Adde is not the solution nor is it apparently safe. Instead of doing charcoal business the troops need to go after Al Shabab bases and finish them off. These guys still control way too much territory in Somalia and after so many years this is just not excusable any longer.”

Understandable sentiments, to some extent also echoed from within Kenya where security remains on high alert to prevent Al Shabab sympathizers and cadres from restarting their campaign.

Ten years and counting is a very long time to bring peace to a country and rout the forces of evil. While by and large Somalia’s ocean terrorists have been defeated after denying them their safe havens and port facilities, Al Shabab still operates with some impunity. Time to take stock and redouble efforts to finish the job.