Somalia: Gun Argument, Lack Of Trust Impede Operation To Clear Al-Shabaab Attackers

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Somali security forces took more than 20 hours to end the siege in the heart of the capital, Mogadishu on Friday after al-Shabaab attackers car bombed and besieged buildings full of people.

The overnight attack began at 08:25 (local time) with a pair of car bombs exploding in a popular area of Mogadishu where Somalis were relaxing at restaurants and hotels Thursday evening followed by a number of al-Shabaab gunmen who stormed buildings and fought off security forces.

As usual, the counter-terror unit of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) and the U.S.-trained elite force known as Alpha Group which contains units of Gaashaan and Waran were supposed to step in within minutes after the first car bomb. But that did not happen until midday next day on Friday.

As the terrorist attackers went into their rampage killing of people inside Hillaac Restaurant and Shideye House, the first officers from NISA now dissolved into the police responded.

Police-NISA soldiers carry an injured officer before they were recalled from the Friday operation in Mogadishu’s Maka al Mukarama hotel. 

At that moment Alpha Group officers, Somalia’s best and most highly trained men, based near the Mogadishu airport and the former spy headquarter known as ‘Habar Kadija House‘ were on standby waiting for their officers’ green light to proceed.

But there was one main condition for the fearsome unit to get involve: the operation command should be under them and all other forces be recalled from the place of the attack.

“As the news of car bombing spread, we first received first call 30 minutes later indicating that gunmen entered the building. We did not step in as we did not want to involve with the NISA guys,” says Col. Omar who does not want his other names be mentioned.

Then discussions heated up with some top security officers at the Internal Security Ministry and NISA operations command demanding Alpha Group to come in as a quick-reaction force. The response was negative again from the CIA-trained balaclavas wearing men.

Somali soldiers stand guard at a destroyed building in Mogadishu, Somalia, Friday, March 1, 2019. following attacks. | PHOTO AP.
Soldiers from Police/NISA stand guard at a destroyed building in Mogadishu, Somalia, Friday, March 1, 2019. following attacks. | PHOTO AP. 

“The reason why we declined was due to our past experience with the police and other NISA soldiers. They are incompetent. There is a lack of trust among us,” Col. Omar adds.

Gun argument

On the morning of Friday, the NISA-turned-police unit led by two former al-Shabaab defector officers engaged in a gun argument with other soldiers from the rapid reinforcement force, a unit within the counter-terrorism police.

A security source familiar with the operation attributes the argument to a known culture of officers benefiting from recovered guns from eliminated terrorists.

“Every officer competes to be part of the operation to get his share of guns from killed al-Shabaab,” the security source tells Horn Globe News.

“It is a money making culture for the soldiers in the operation. They take away with the recovered weapons to sell it in black market,” the source addss.

Weapons dealers in Mogadishu who have a good connection to police and NISA officers usually purchase the guns. An AK-47 rifle is priced between USD1,000 to USD1,200 in Mogadishu, according to Mohamed Nur, a dealer in Mogadishu.

By midday on Friday, Alpha Group unit arrived at the Maka al Mukarama hotel and begun chasing the other soldiers away from the scene. All other officers including the NISA-police were recalled back to Waberi Police Station.

“The situation was a mess when we arrived,” Col. Omar tells Horn Globe News.

“We executed the operation in our own way. And after four hours we eliminated all the four attackers,” Col Omar says. “We have rescued about 35 people from the buildings.”

But that was more than 20 hours from the time of the first attack leaving nearly 30 dead and about 112 injured and perhaps more lives could have been saved if the officers staged earlier.