Puntland Heavy-Handedness Makes Galka’yo A War Zone

The fighting in Galka’yo, Puntland now appears to be between mostly members of the Lelkase clan on one side and Puntland security forces on the other.

The fighting broke out when a man who was said to be from southern Somalia (the usual suspects) was about to be arrested from his store in Garsor neighbourhood (mostly inhabited by the Lelkase) on Thursday.

The Puntland forces were reportedly ambushed, losing some soldiers. Reinforcements sent by Puntland to the area appear to have escalated the situation into a full blown war.

There were unconfirmed reports on some Somali sites that the PIS commander in Galka’yo was wounded or perhaps killed in the fighting but it is still a rumour. However, the Puntland military commander for Mudug, Sool, and Ayn was reportedly killed today.

Galka’yo is a city that is nominally controlled by Puntland and to a lesser extent, Galmudug. Think of it as Mogadishu during the TNG times. While there is freedom of movement from one clan’s stronghold to the other, there is still a virtual “Green Line” laid by Abdullahi Yusuf and General Aidid during the early nineties which separates the city into a Hawiye (Galmudug) and a Darod (Puntland) side. There are more Hawiye on the Puntland side than Darod on the Galmudug side (this explains how Puntland can just round up southerners from their side and accuse them of whatever they want).

On the Puntland side, there are several Majerten neighbourhoods and a Lelkase neighbourhood. The reason clans cluster in the same neighbouhood is because the city has periodic feudal vendettas. Perhaps the Somali saying “You have to stay within your Shoes and your Clan” was coined here, where many different clans have permanent presence and lay claim to the same area.

The Puntland government claim that they are being fought by Al-Shabab and Galmudug combined forces. They explain this by the fact that they captured many people from the Galmudug clan on their side of the city. Since the Puntland security is known for rounding up people randomly based on looks and accent, it is highly unlikely that any of the people they captured are fighters. Besides, Galmudug is seen as an enemy administration by Shabab, making their alliance almost impossible.

A pro-Shabab website has claimed that the Lelkase have more supporters of “the Religion” than the rest of the Puntlanders. They have also posted a declaration of a group that calls themselves Puntland Revolutionaries and claim to have members from all parts of society – I emailed them with queries but there was no response.

It is true that the Lelkase have more Salafis in their ranks than the rest of the Galka’yo clans, but this does not mean that they are all Jihadists (Salafi != Jihadi). As has been seen the world over, repression makes Islamists move to the fold of the Jihadists. And just like the warlords in Mogadishu in the first half of the past decade, the Puntland security has been accused of kidnapping people from their homes and handing them to third parties (just like the warlords did in Mogadishu), some never to be seen again.

The pressure the warlords put on the Salafis pushed many of them to join the various groups that later fought them. It seems the same is happening in Puntland.

The Insurgents that have been killing security and government officials in various Puntland cities in the past few years have never publicly posted a claim of responsibility, like the Shabab from 2003 to 2005. While there is a high possibility that the Insurgents responsible for the security attacks in Puntland have connections with the Shabab, it is not clear whether they are part of the Shabab. The Shabab have on their part always distanced themselves from them (apparently in fear of having a stronger crackdown on the Puntland Insurgents), but have publicly praised them.  Likewise, there is nothing to prove that the Lelkase now fighting Puntland are part of the same group responsible for the insurgency in Puntland, but they seem to have the same goals of fighting Puntland and her heavy-handed security forces.

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