Somalia: Al Shabaab At War With Itself


April 6, 2012:  In the last year al Shabaab has lost most of the territory it controlled. Currently, they are largely confined to the coast south of Mogadishu to the Kenyan border. The anchor of this control is the port of Kismayo. Desertions, combat losses, and difficulty recruiting have left al Shabaab unable to defend all the territory it once claimed (most of central and southern Somalia). With the loss of experienced foreign al Qaeda men and battle losses in Mogadishu and against Sufi militias outside the city and Kenyan troops along the border, al Shabaab simply does not have enough gunmen to cover the large areas of central and southern Somalia that it still insists is theirs. Increasingly, al Shabaab is kidnapping teenagers, including some kids as young as ten. These young men are coerced or encouraged to join al Shabaab. Those that refuse are killed, as an example to the others. These recruits are more likely to surrender or desert and require older, and more loyal, al Shabaab fighters to supervise them. This infusion of young fighters has made al Shabaab units more brittle (liable to break apart and flee in combat). Al Shabaab is trying to gather enough forces to retake Baidoa (lost two months ago) and Mogadishu (lost eight months ago) but this is unlikely. Air reconnaissance has spotted al Shabaab fighters gathering on the outskirts of both cities. Retaking either city is unlikely, and in Mogadishu al Shabaab seems especially intent on carrying out more terror attacks.

Al Shabaab took credit for the recent terror attack on the National Theater and promised more such violence. Al Shabaab is defeated militarily and falling apart because of that and factionalism. The main surviving faction is dominated by al Qaeda members and specialists, who know how to recruit, train, equip, and use suicide bombers. The National Theater attack demoralized and enraged most Somalis. The National Theater had been damaged and closed for two decades but since al Shabaab had been driven out of Mogadishu last year, the economy has revived and construction along with reconstruction can be seen all over the city. Widespread anger against al Shabaab, for trying to halt the revival, will mean a brutal campaign to hunt down and destroy the last terrorist remnants of al Shabaab. That may take a while, as a small but determined percentage of Somalis still believe that Islamic radicalism is the cure for all that ails the country. The extremists of this group see themselves as Moslems first and Somalis second. But a larger and less fanatic group considers themselves Somalis first. This was always the larger faction, but the one that was less fanatic and most depleted by defeats and demoralization. One thing the factions have agreed on is a peace offer that demands the withdrawal of peacekeepers and the adoption of Islamic (Sharia) law. Most Somalis don't trust al Shabaab to actually make peace on these terms. The al Shabaab interpretation of Sharia is believed to include a religious dictatorship and harsh lifestyle rules. Also, al Shabaab is corrupt. Despite pledges to eliminate corruption, in areas where al Shabaab ruled for several years, corruption came back and the Islamic terrorist version was as dirty as any other. Some al Shabaab leaders openly condemn such behavior, and this is leading to an open split between factions and possibly a resumption of fighting that led to other Islamic radical groups merging into al Shabaab. The most prominent of these was Hizbul Islam, which is more nationalist and less fanatic and was forced to merge two years ago. But now Hizbul Islam men are inclined to split once more and use violence to make it happen.

April 5, 2012:  For the first time, AU (African Union) peacekeepers moved outside Mogadishu. The first (100) of 2,500 Burundi and Uganda troops arrived in the Central Somalia town of Baidoa (the third largest in Somalia and 256 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu). Al Shabaab seized Baidoa three years ago. Before that, Baidoa had been a temporary capital of the transitional government, which had moved to Mogadishu as AU peacekeepers took control of parts of the city. The peacekeepers came to Mogadishu five years ago. Baidoa was occupied by Ethiopian troops in February, and these forces will return to Ethiopia at the end of April.

April 4, 2012: In Mogadishu a female suicide bomber attacked the ceremony celebrating the reopening of the rebuilt National Theater. Six people died, including the head of the Somali Olympic Committee and Football (soccer) Federation. Over a dozen were wounded. The target of the attack was the prime minister, who escaped injury. The attacker had a police identity card.

April 1, 2012: Fighting in the northern statelet of Somaliland has left four government soldiers and one rebel dead with dozens wounded. Four months ago armed groups sought to take control of the Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn areas and form a new statelet called Khaatumo. The existing Somaliland coalition opposed this and is hunting down and killing the separatists.

March 31, 2012: Al Shabaab supporters were believed responsible for two attacks (using grenades) in Kenya (Mombasa) that wounded about two dozen people.

In Mogadishu peacekeepers and TNG (Transitional National Government) soldiers cleared al Shabaab gunmen from the last neighborhood where the Islamic terrorists could find sanctuary. This area (Daynile) also contains an airstrip, which al Shabaab uses.





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