TRACWatch Newsletter 12/21/2022



Weekly Analyst Review

21 December 2022

Bottom Line Up Front

Contrary to popular belief, Somalia's capital Mogadishu is not the most lucrative location for al-Shabaab in the country. The Kismayo – Dhobley road is in fact the most lucrative smuggling and taxation route for the group, no doubt because Dhobley sits on the border with Kenya and is used to move essential goods, like sugar, between the two countries with the majority going to the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. The camp has developed into an expansive commercial hub connecting north-eastern Kenya and southern Somalia.

Al-Shabaab runs 3 major taxation checkpoints along the Kismayo-Dhobley road: Labikuus, Janay Abdullah and Berhani. Shabaab is notorious for its Zakat and taxation over the areas it controls. In 2020, the estimated income for Shabaab in taxes alone was in the Sh3Billion.

Surprisingly, the local people who have to cross Somalia’s vast expanses prefer to use Shabaab-controlled roads, because the taxation is regulated, compared to the government's 4 payments of varying amounts for a single journey that offers no protection from al-Shabaab or other unsafe driving conditions.

While al-Shabaab's overall taxation scheme allows them to bring in a steady income, it also allows them to establish themselves as a shadow-state inside Somalia. Illicit sugar remains the main product smuggled by al-Shabaab and the sugar is distributed both within its territories and across the border in Kenya. It is estimated that Shabaab makes around $800,000 USD in the illicit sugar trade every year, but that figure is likely much larger due to the difficulty in determining exactly how much of it passes into Kenya every year.

The sugar comes into the sea port of Kismayo, which has easy access to international waters. Kenya has implemented high sugar tariffs in an attempt to compete with the illegal internal sugar producers and traders, but all this does is alienate the consumers desperate to save even a few cents due to the immense poverty in the country, that they would rather buy sugar for much less Shabaab.

The sugar smuggled into Kenya is produced in Brazil and imported into Kismayo via Dubai from where it gets taken to Dhobley and then on into Kenya.

Other Developments

TRAC Video Insight:

Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) Releases Drone Footage of Battle With Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS)

Between Haroum and Tadjalalt, Menaka, Gao Region, Mali 

Image: Screenshot from drone footage that was taken

Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) used a drone video to film the recent clashes between them and the Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS). The released video of the drone footage revealed and confirmed the location of the 06-08 December battles as 10 km South of Tisi, between Haroum and Tadjalalt, Menaka, Gao Region, Mali. The footage also showed the spoils collected after the battle.

ISGS, due to their superior military strategy, knowledge and sheer manpower in the form of support from Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) reinforcements from Nigeria, easily out matches JNIM on the battlefield, as proven half dozen times in the past four months. However, JNIM now having access to drones could offer a slight advantage over ISGS by controlling the air. JNIM is now able to carry out surveillance of ISGS positions and possibly carry out, though highly unlikely, aerial assaults. That said, ISGS also has at least one drone in its own arsenal so the advantage remains unclear.

TRAC Incident Report:

Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Blast Derailed a Cargo Train

and Damaged the Mawlamyine-Yangon Railroad, Thaton, Myanmar

Image:  Cargo train derailed by an IED

On 13 December 2022, at 7:30 p.m. local time, an explosive charge detonated causing the derailment of a cargo train and causing severe damage to the railroad, between Kali Kyung and Tadar-U villages near Thaton.

Following the incident, the train services along the said line were suspended pending reparations and as of 18 December, Myanmar Railways temporarily canceled the Mawlamyine-Yangon night train due to security concerns.

No casualties were reported. The attack was not claimed by any group.

This is not the first time that the Mawlamyine-Yangon Railroad has been damaged by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) attacks. Since the 01 February 2020 military coup, frequent military checkpoints have been imposed due to shooting attacks that regularly occur along the roadways. It appears that the military Junta tends to encourage the use of train services by increasing the number of passenger trains, to which militant groups responded by carry out sabotage acts on the railway lines, especially along Mawlamyine-Yangon.

TRAC Incident Report:

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Detainees Overpowered the Guards & Took Control of the Prison in Bannu,

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Image: Snapshot of statement by Muhammad Khurasani, Spokesperson for TTP

On 19 December 2022, approximately 30 Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) detainees overpowered the prison guards and took control of the prison center in Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Armed with stolen police equipment, hostages were taken, and the facility was taken over by the militants, quickly turning the event into a standoff.

One prison officer was killed during the insurgents’ capture of the prison, likely the officer featured in a video released by the TTP inmates, along with their demands.

Despite the military’s hasty deployment of troops and special forces to the area, the hostage crisis was still ongoing 12 hours later. There may have been up to 10 hostages taken during the invasion, which featured at least 30 Taliban gunmen.

The TTP fighters demanded safe passage to either North or South Waziristan, TTP stronghold territories. In the video message, the hostage-takers demanded that they be airlifted to Afghanistan, but Mohammad Khurasani, a TTP spokesperson, said that the demand to be airlifted to Afghanistan was unnecessary and had been made accidentally because the inmates held in Bannu had been held so long they were unaware that TTP now "enjoys control in some" areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, close to the Afghan border.

On Our Radar:

TRAC Incident Report: Security Forces Captured Antonio Oseguera Cervantes, Alias 'Tony Montana', Brother of 'Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG)' Leader Nemesio, Known as 'El Mencho', in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Jalisco, Mexico 

TRAC Incident Report: Wanted Naxal, Rupesh Killed in Encounter in Balaghat District, Madhya Pradesh, India


 The United States Forces Central Command Conducts Three Helicopter Raids, Detaining Six Islamic State (IS) Operatives, in Eastern Syria



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