Al-Shabab's rough week

It has been a particularly rough week for al-Shabab. The al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militia that has been battling for control of Somalia for the past few years has suffered three major setbacks in the course of a few days.

Just last month,  prominent al-Shabab-affiliated cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo was fingered in a leaked UN report on Somalia as a key recruiter for the group in East Africa with strong ties to al Qaeda. On the morning of Aug. 27, he was shot in his car along with several members of his family as they drove through Mombasa, Kenya.

No assailants have been identified, but crowds of thousands of Rogo's outraged supporters have taken in the streets of Mombasa to protest his death.  At least one person has been reported dead so far and two churches have been vandalized by mobs, Jeune Afrique reported.

According to the U.N. report, Rogo was a key figure in the leadership of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) -- also known as Al-Hijra -- one of al-Shabab's main support networks in Kenya:

"The MYC relies heavily on the ideological guidance of prominent Kenyan Islamist extremists including Sheikh Aboud Rogo, a radical cleric based in Mombasa, Kenya, known associate of member of Al-Qaida East Africa and advocate of the violent overthrow of the Kenyan government. In consultation with Rogo, MYC has not only changed its name, but reorganized its membership and finances in order to permit its organization, the Pumwani Riyadha Mosque Committee (PRMC) in Nairobi, to continue funding Al Shabab."

Only a few days before Rogo's death, the U.N. Security Council announced that it was implementing targeted sanctions against Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, another Mombasa-based Kenyan national with deep links to al-Shabab.  Ahmed has been in prison for over two years in Kenya for his involvement in a grenade attack on a Nairobi bus depot that killed three.

According to the Security Council resolution, Ahmed has six known aliases and is "a close associate of Aboud Rogo." Rogo's name is the only one mentioned in the Security Council resolution condemning Ahmed. Both men were placed under sanctions by the U.S. at the same time on July 5, 2012.

Also on the morning of Aug. 27, the AFP reported that African Union AMISOM troops captured the coastal al-Shabab stronghold of Marka:

"The loss of Marka, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu, is another major blow for the insurgents, who have been on the back foot for several months."

Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, last year and has suffered number of further defeats over the past several months. However, they still maintain control of the two port cities of Barawe and Kismayo, their main stronghold.

Whether these events represent different strands of a coordinated regional crackdown on al-Shabab activities or whether the group is encountering a rather startling wave bad luck remains unclear.







India gets special treatment in GOP platform

We've already taken a look at the 10 most divisive foreign-policy issues in the 2012 Republican platform, which will be publicly released shortly at the GOP convention in Tampa.

But there's one passage that has flown under the radar so far. Take a close look at the draft platform that Politico discovered on the Republican National Committee's  website on Friday, and you'll see that the Republican party arguably lavishes more praise on India than on any country mentioned in the document except Israel and Taiwan. The plan reads: 

We welcome a stronger relationship with the world's largest democracy, India, both economic and cultural, as well as in terms of national security. We hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner. We encourage India to permit greater foreign investment and trade. We urge protection for adherents of all India's religions. Both as Republicans and as Americans, we note with pride the contributions to this country that are being made by our fellow citizens of Indian ancestry. 

The passage particularly stands out when compared with the more businesslike language employed in the GOP's 2008 platform (the 2008 Democratic platform, for its part, praised India as a "natural strategic all[y]"):

We welcome America's new relationship with India, including the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Accord. Our common security concerns and shared commitment to political freedom and representative government can be the foundation for an enduring partnership.

Why the change in wording? According to the Indian news portal Rediff, Gopal T.K. Krishna, an Indian-American convention delegate from the battleground state of Iowa, worked with GOP staffer Neil Bradley to craft the "unprecedented" platform language.

Krishna initially sent Bradley a 282-word proposal that included an affirmation of the "special relationship" between the two countries, a call for the "free movement of intellectuals" between India and the United States, a reflection on the recent shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a pledge to help India establish nuclear power plants, and an endorsement of bilateral trade, including the import of "beef, pork, corn, soybeans and wheat" from the States (rather detailed language for a statement of party principles). Bradley, Rediff explains, got back to him with a counteroffer:

Bradley then got back to Krishna saying, "I wanted to raise three potential issues. Immigration is being handled by another subcmte so I worry about including immigration specific language here. The specificity of the trade language could also give rise to each of our country specific sections getting caught up in discussions about emphasising some exports over others."

"Finally, I worry about addressing the Wisconsin shooting here and the possibility that we inadvertently do not address the other recent shootings elsewhere," he said. "I took the liberty of addressing these items while attempting to incorporate your points into style being used for the larger draft. Do you think this might work?" 

Krishna then submitted three amendments to this draft which included the all-important language that "we hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner."

Not only does the passage highlight the give-and-take behind the compromise language we'll see in the final platform this week, but it also highlights the growing importance of Indian-Americans as a political bloc. A record number of Indian-Americans competed for U.S. House seats in 2010, and Indian-American leaders such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and California Attorney General Kamala Harris will speak at the Republican and Democratic conventions, respectively. As the Times of India explains, Indian-Americans, who overwhelmingly support Barack Obama, wield more political influence than their numbers might suggest:

Assuming a higher turnout than the usual 40% or so for the general population, only around 500,000 Indian-Americans are expected to vote nationwide in the November election, and in no state or district are they in sufficiently high numbers to influence the outcome.

But what they lack in numbers they contribute in some measure in money and activism. No other ethnic group outside white, African-Americans, and Latinos - including Chinese-American and Filipino-Americans who are numerically larger groups than Indians - have as many political heavyweights.

The Rediff article touches on this very point:

Krishna had informed Bradley that "if the whole platform contains only bland language, it would be disappointing to myself and others like me, who are looking for courageous commitments, faithful friendships and specific statements from the campaign," and added, 'We hope our trips to Tampa will not turn out to be a total waste."

Krishna may have already suffered a setback now that Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's Indian-American governor, has announced that he won't be speaking at the convention as planned so that he can focus on preparing for Tropical Storm Isaac. But if the language Krishna crafted makes it into the final platform, flying to Tampa will have been well worth the effort.

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images