Somalia Week in Focus: Top Stories (Mar. 24, 2017)

 Week ending March 24, 2017 

42 Somali refugees killed in airstrike off Yemen

Around 42 Somali refugees were killed in an airstrike on March 16 near the Bab al Mandeb Strait, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said this week.

The UNHCR said 42 persons were killed and 39 others wounded when attack helicopters struck a boat carrying the refugees from Yemen to Sudan.

Somali Foreign Minister Abdisalam Hadliye Omar called on “our partners in the Saudi coalition to investigate” the airstrike, which he described as a “horrific attack”. 

The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting against Iran-backed Houthi Yemeni rebels, who have seized the capital Sana’a and have pressured the country’s beleaguered government to seek refuge in Yemen’s port of Aden.

The Saudi-led coalition has not claimed responsibility for the airstrike.

26 die in Somalia drought, famine ‘months away’

At least 26 persons have died of starvation in drought-affected areas of southern Somalia’s Jubaland region, the state’s interior minister announced this week.

Abdirahman Mohamed Hussein, Jubaland interior minister and chairman of the state’s drought committee, told reporters that the victims died between March 19 and 21.

Somalia’s drought has affected vast regions and displaced tens of thousands of Somalis from their homes.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced this week that Somalia and Yemen were “months away” from famine.

The UN has warned since mid-2015 that some 6.2million Somalis, or about half the country’s population, need food assistance to avert a disaster.

Somalia PM nominates 68-member Cabinet

Somalia’s new Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire has announced a 68-member Council of Ministers on March 22.

The Cabinet lineup includes a Deputy Prime Minister, 26 Ministers, 15 State Ministers, and 26 Deputy Ministers.

About 39 Cabinet ministers (or 57% ) are also Members of Parliament, and includes at least two former Somali ambassadors in high ministerial posts.

On February 8, when the Somali parliament elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, the Somali public responded with excitement and high expectations. Mr. Farmajo had previously served in 2010 as Prime Minister, when he nominated a small Cabinet of 18 Ministers (compared to today’s 26 Ministers).

Prime Minister Khaire is expected to submit his Council of Ministers to federal parliament for approval in the coming days.

Regional president says ISIS defeated in Puntland 

The president of Somalia’s Puntland state government Dr. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas has said that the ISIS militants do not pose a serious threat to Puntland.

In an interview with Bloomberg, President Gaas said that the ISIS militants in Puntland “vary from 100 to 200 to 300” in size.

A small group of militants led by Puntland-based Abdulkadir Mumin – a former Al Shabaab leader – declared allegiance to ISIS in October 2015. In October 2016, some 60 fighters loyal to Mumin seized the coastal town of Qandala, 80km east of Puntland’s port of Bossaso.

Puntland dispatched hundreds of troops and government forces recaptured Qandala in December 2016.

US Africa Command spokeswoman Robyn M. Mack wrote to Bloomberg that ISIS “probably has 250 fighters and relies significantly on Mumin’s local clan ties for recruits and safe havens”.

President Gaas also denied media reports that Puntland troops had staged mutinies over unpaid wages, and the president was adamant that, “there are no unpaid salaries”.

Puntland, located in northeastern Somalia, declared autonomy in 1998 as a federal state and has its own state government, security forces and policies.

US general wants bigger US military role in Somalia

America’s top general in Africa has requested more flexibility for US forces to engage Al Shabaab militants in Somalia.

Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told reporters on March 24 that it would be “very helpful” if the US Africa Command was granted more authority to conduct more airstrikes against Al Shabaab targets and to support local partner forces in Somalia.

A proposal for more US military engagement in Somalia has been sent to President Donald Trump for approval.

US military operations in Somalia have been largely focused on counter-terrorism, featuring airstrikes, targeted raids and training initiatives for Somali local forces.

Source: Somali Review