Somalia: National Movement Against al Shabaab


October 26, 2022: The Somali government has achieved a level of stability that is making foreign investors confident to invest, or increase existing investments. This is largely because Somalia finally has a stable democratic government. Fourteen months ago, the elected parliament finally approved a new 75-member cabinet. There was something for everyone, including a senior job for one of the founders of al Shabaab in the religious affairs department. During the proceedings there were several al Shabaab mortar shells landing near the Parliament compound. There were no casualties. It’s been a long and tedious process to get this far. The parliament met in June 2021 and approved the new prime minister selected by the president. This formation of a new government came after several years of efforts to overcome clan and warlord objections to democracy in general. The elections were held and results certified in May 2021, producing a parliament and new president. The prime minister was the one who actually f0rms a government by filling dozens of key jobs with candidates that will not cause disputes in parliament over who got what. Somalia is still dominated by the power of the clans and the blind loyalty to clan even when it harms national unity. Overcoming this factionalism in a democracy is often very difficult. So far it appears that a majority of Somali leaders are willing to give a clean government a chance to work in Somalia. The key test was forming the new government successfully.

In the last year there has been a lot more progress against al Shabaab. The clans feel confident enough about the government that are cooperating with it in reducing and eventually eliminating al Shabaab in areas where the Islamic terror group still survives.

One battle ground with al Shabaab involves their success at “taxing” local business. In return these firms no longer have to fear al Shabaab attacks. Reducing and eliminating this extortion income is more likely when the clans and central government cooperate. A key source of income and information for al Shabaab is extortion activities.

Widespread cell phone use in Somalia initially made it more difficult for al Shabaab to operate because people who opposed them could alert the security forces, or local militia, when al Shabaab activity was spotted. Shutting down the cell phone systems was a common tactics for Islamic terrorists but al Shabaab saw opportunities. Cell towers and other cell phone assets were only attacked if the cell phone companies would not pay a “tax” to operate in an area where al Shabaab was active and able to make good on threats. With control of the cell phone service providers, al Shabaab was able to communicate, especially with their informants. Al Shabaab paid for useful information and becoming an al Shabaab informant was a good way to make some extra cash, as well as stay off the al Shabaab hit list. Al Shabaab wasn’t the only group in Somalia that uses cell phones like this. Powerful clans maintain armed militias and an informant network among clan members. This is why the media regularly report the government or peacekeepers “consulting clan elders”, negotiating with al Shabaab (or another clan). Often al Shabaab will have to deal with the clan elders because al Shabaab has found that making an enemy of a powerful clan is bad for business. An example occurs in the south, on the Kenyan border, where al Shabaab has found its operations disrupted because of disputes with the powerful Marehan clan. Most situations where al Shabaab has problems doing business is because they have run afoul of a powerful (and usually heavily armed) clan. Al Shabaab tries to intimidate clans into cooperating but failing that al Shabaab must either fight, make a deal or move somewhere else. Somalia is a patchwork of areas which al Shabaab tries to avoid because of the powerful clan organizations. These clans are usually the ones with “clan elders” who can negotiate with al Shabaab.

With a stable and representative government in the capital, the clans are now more aggressive against al Shabaab and its extortion efforts. In the last year that has demonstrated that while al Shabaab is powerful, it is not omnipotent. They can be hurt by things you rarely hear about, like feuds with powerful clans. More visible things that hurt al Shabaab are American UAV missile strikes and the American intelligence gathering effort that provides the location of targets for the missile strikes. These missile attacks concentrate on doing major damage to al Shabaab leadership or operations. The peacekeeper force is another problem. The government security forces (army and police) are easier to deal with (via intimidation or bribes).

Another diminished al Shabaab asset is corruption in the Somali government which means too many officials for sale or rent. That is less the case now. This is monitored by an Americans local intelligence network that is deliberately separate from anything the Somali government is doing in that area. The Americans share some intel with the Somali government or the peacekeeper force. Some of this intel gets back to al Shabaab and the usual result is al Shabaab itself is impressed and intimidated at how much the Americans know. Most of the American intel comes from UAV video and electronic (of communications) surveillance.

October 25, 2022: Britain warned its citizens not to visit Somalia, except for three areas in Somaliland where travel is possible if it is essential and you are willing to deal with some risk of violence. Britain regularly issues these travel advisories which are often used by travelers from other nations.

October 23, 2022: In the south (the port city of Kismayo), four al Shabaab men attacked the popular, and well-guarded Tawakal hotel, intent on taking hostages among the Somalis or foreigners staying there. Al Shabaab keeps trying this sort of thing but it rarely succeeds. Today’s attack began with one of the al Shabaab attackers acting as a suicide bomber at the heavily guarded entrance to the hotel compound. It took seven hours for security forces to rescue the guests and kill the three al Shabaab gunmen who failed to take control of the hotel. Nine people died, including all four attackers as well as some soldiers and civilians. Later the same day the government made a scheduled announcement about a new anti-extortion effort. Paying Islamic terrorists has always been illegal but the new program involves two hotlines where Somalis can report al Shabaab extortion demands anonymously, confident that the government will go after the al Shabaab faction making the demands. This sort of thing has been tried before but the degree of corruption in unelected governments made it possible for al Shabaab to bribe key officials to reveal who was trying to turn them in. This new effort will either work or it won’t and that will be known soon.

October 22, 2022: In the north (Hiran, a region 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) an American UAV used a missile to kill two al Shabaab gunmen who were part of a group attacking Somali soldiers. This was the second such air strike since American forces returned to Somalia in May. A new (since January 2021) American government ordered a halt to the American use of UAVs over Somalia. After that al Shabaab gunmen were moving around confident that they were not making themselves vulnerable. Since early 2017, when Africom (U.S. Africa Command) increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia, there have been about 170 UAV airstrikes that have killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL members. In 2020 there were fifty of these UAV airstrikes and 275 in Somalia in the last decade. For 2021 there have been seven UAV airstrikes, the last one on January 29th. American forces, and airstrikes, returned t0 Somali in this year. This was prompted by the formation of a new Somali government. Since May there have been at least six American airstrikes, all at the request of the Somali government.

October 21, 2022: An American oil exploration firm (Coastline Exploration) agreed to act on its successful oil exploration efforts off the Somali coast. Coastline already has several successful oil development and production efforts in East Africa but was wary about investing the huge sums required to develop production. Without a stable government that would have been too risky. Coastline believes they can extract up to half a million barrels a day. The government received a $7 million dollar advance on oil royalties once the contracts were signed.

October 19, 2022: In the north (Hiran State) al Shabaab carried out two separate suicide bombing attacks that left 21 dead.

October 17, 2022: In the north (Hiran, a region 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) the regional governor offered cash rewards for any one who can kill known al Shabaab leaders. This means a $25,000 reward for the death of the main al Shabaab leader in the region. His known lieutenants are worth $10,000 each and $5,000 for lesser leaders. The governor also encouraged killing the wives and children of notorious al Shabaab members. This is an ancient practice in this part of the world but frowned upon by the UN and foreign aid groups.

The U.S. government announced put five al Shabaab leaders on its Global Terrorists list. That means these men will have difficulty traveling outside of Somalia because of the American efforts to get such travelers arrested and extradited back to the United States for trial. In addition, the U.S. named nine known al Shabaab fund raisers and ordered the seizure of their assets outside Somalia.

October 14, 2022: In Middle Shabelle, Hiran and Galmudug regions, multiple clan-based campaigns against al Shabaab have started. Some are coordinated with other clans, some are not. The Islamic terrorists have not faced a threat like this in since 2011, when a UN backed (and paid for) AU (African Union) peacekeeping force drove al Shabaab out of Mogadishu and other urban areas the Islamic terror group had taken control of. Al Shabaab had itself started with good intentions. The tribal/clan rivalries that were tearing the country apart since 1991 resulted in some clan and religious leaders organizing a "clean government" coalition (the Islamic Courts) after 2001. In 2003 the Islamic Courts formed a militia that pacified some areas, but their goal of installing a religious dictatorship was taken over by al Qaeda-backed Islamic terrorists and by 2008 turned into another warlord group called al Shabaab. Al Shabaab still wants to establish a religious dictatorship and use sharia law to govern. Few Somalis want that and this is one more reason for the growing armed opposition to al Shabaab.

October 1, 2022: In the south (Middle Juba) an American airstrike killed Abdullahi Yare, a wanted al Shabaab leader which the U.S. had offered a $3 million reward for. Nearby Somali forces identified the body. Middle Juba is an al Shabaab stronghold and the biggest threat they face is the American UAV surveillance and attacks.

September 14, 2022: Ukraine has sent 28,000 tons of grain to Somalia, enough to feed 1.5 million people for a month. Somalia faces its second major famine since 2011. That one killed at least 250,000 people. The 2022 famine threatens over seven million people, is worse than the 2011 famine and the worst since the 1980s. This time at least a million potential famine victim on living in al Shabaab controlled areas where the Islamic terrorists demand cash to allow aid to reach those who need it.




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