So far this year al Shabaab has averaged 15-20 attacks a week in an area covering all of Somalia (including Puntland and Somaliland) and northern Kenya (along the Somali border). These attacks vary from major (headline grabbing) efforts combining one or more suicide bombers plus gunmen to kidnapping or looting raids in the countryside. There are also assassinations and ambushes of truck traffic (commercial goods or foreign aid). Especially along the Kenyan border, there are landmines planted in dirt roads and occasional ambushes by al Shabaab gunmen. About a third of the attacks are in or around Mogadishu. Most of these clashes involve peacekeepers, the army or local militias that seek to limit al Shabaab activity. Most of the attacks are rather minor and involve little actual violence. If nothing else this shows the locals that al Shabaab is around and a threat. Al Shabaab activity is most evident in central Somalia, especially the area from Mogadishu to the Ethiopian border. There are some remote areas on the Kenyan or Puntland border where there are numerous al Shabaab men who have to be careful what they do because the local security forces can come down hard on the Islamic terrorists if they locate their camps.
All this shows that the Islamic terrorists are still on the defensive but they are able to replace their losses because there is a constant supply of young men who are uneducated and seeking a job or, and this is especially the case in Somalia where young men are usually seeking something exciting and potentially profitable to do. All also provides some religious justification for all the mayhem these new recruits are encouraged to unleash. Financially al Shabaab survives through extortion, theft and some profitable smuggling. It’s murderous mayhem but it is also a business.
Independents Declare Independence
Leaders of autonomous or semi-autonomous parts of Somalia (Galmudug, Hirshabelle, Jubaland, Puntland and much of the South West) recently met in the southern port city of Kismayo and agreed to suspend all ties with the central government in Mogadishu because that government has been unable to provide security against Islamic terrorists and mayhem in general. Most of the security problems are caused by al Shabaab and a few batches of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) diehards. The semi-autonomous areas also want a larger share of foreign aid. The cause of all this is the endemic corruption which has crippled efforts to establish a functioning national government in Somalia since the British colonial government left in the 1960s. There has been an increasing number of Somali leaders trying to reduce the corruption and provide effective government but these reformers are outnumbered and regularly overwhelmed by the more “traditional” Somali leaders.
The AU peacekeeper force and some reliable army units have provided enough security to prevent al Shabaab from establishing secure base areas but there are not enough security forces to eliminate the endemic outlaw problem in Somalia. The chaotic region called Somalia remains a black hole for aid money and good intentions. The anti-piracy patrol is still operating off the coast because there are still criminal gangs in some coastal towns regularly trying to seize large ships. The increased security on the big ships and the anti-piracy patrol prevents attacks but has not eliminated the piracy problem. No large ships have been taken since 2012 but the problem remains because so do the memories of those multi-million dollar ransoms (paid in cash).
Ethiopian Assistance Evaporates
So far this year, because of unrest in neighboring Ethiopia. thousands of Ethiopian peacekeepers have left Somali towns they guarded along the border. That has allowed al Shabaab to take control of at least ten towns and villages near the border. Ethiopia says the withdrawal was because of a shortage of funds, which appears to be an effort to get some more foreign aid. The reality there has been a lot of unrest in the Ethiopian Ogaden region, which is adjacent to Somalia. In August there was another outbreak of ethnic violence in Ogaden. The governor of Ogaden was replaced (after he was arrested) and federal forces were sent in to calm things down between ethnic Somalis and other groups (particularly Christians). Unrest among ethnic Somalis next door in Ethiopia was a problem for much of 2017 but by the end of 2017, the government had restored the peace and Ethiopians displaced by the violence began returning home. The Ethiopian government returned its attention to the Somali problem in Somalia. That caused al Shabaab to lose access to many towns along the Ethiopian border.
In early 2018 the situation began to change in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian problem was not about violence against Somalia but between ethnic Somalis in eastern Ethiopia and the non-Somali Oromo people who live to the west. The Ethiopian province of Ogaden, which comprises most of eastern Ethiopia contains a largely ethnic Somali population. To the west of Ogaden is Oromia, where the largest minority in Ethiopia (the Oromo) predominate. There have long been territorial disputes along the Ogaden-Oromia border and these have flared up again in 2017 and took a while for the government and armed forces (many withdrawn from Somalia) to deal with.
Many Somalis believe Ogaden belongs to Somalia. Islamic radicals in Somalia have long sought to conquer Ogaden but the Ethiopians have been defeating these efforts for generations. That is not going to change, especially since oil and gas has been discovered in Ogaden, and drilling is underway. In 2015 Somalia and Ethiopia signed an agreement to not provide rebels from the other nations with sanctuary.
Earlier in 2018 Kenya hosted another round of peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front). This was part of a larger effort to bring peace to Somalis throughout the region (mainly Somalia but also Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti). Somalia is playing a role in trying to make peace between Ethiopia and its Somali minority. For example, in August 2017 Somalia arrested Abdikarin Sheikh Muse, an ethnic Somali who was an Ethiopian rebel leader hiding out in Somalia. Muse was taken to the Ethiopian border and turned over to Ethiopia, which had requested this. That, as expected, caused some protest demonstrations by Somalis who believe Ogaden belongs to Somalia. The newly elected Somali president survived this and remains popular. Most Somalis have mixed feelings about Ogaden. The Ethiopians have been defeating Somali efforts to seize Ogaden for generations. That is not going to change, especially since oil and gas have been discovered in Ogaden, and drilling is underway. Abdikarin Sheikh Muse is a leader in the ONLF and Somalia has long been a convenient refuge. In 2015 Somalia and Ethiopia signed an agreement to not provide rebels from the other nations with sanctuary. Meanwhile, Ethiopia is having problems in Oromia, the region east of the Ogaden, which is populated by Moslems who are hostile the Christian Ethiopians who run the country and the Somalis in neighboring Ogaden. That is another issue that Ethiopia has to handle on its own but solutions never seem to last long.
September 4, 2018: In Mogadishu al Shabaab carried out two attacks using firearms, killing four soldiers in a drive-by attack and in another part of the city al Shabaab gunmen killed an army commander and his bodyguard.
September 3, 2018: In the north (Galmudug) al Shabaab kidnapped over fifty clan elders in an effort to intimidate local civilians.
September 2, 2018: In Mogadishu, an al Shabaab suicide car bomb left eight people dead. The bomb went off next to a government building.
August 28, 2018: Some 40 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu an American airstrike killed three al Shabaab men. This was in conjunction with Somali ground forces. This was the third known American airstrike in Somalia this month. Most of these attacks involve UAVs, not manned aircraft. So far in 2018 the U.S. has carried out at least 21 of these air attacks in Somalia compared to 31 for all of 2017 and 15 for 2016. These air attacks are often a side effect of intel agencies (like the CIA) collecting intelligence (aerial surveillance and electronic monitoring) on Islamic terrorist activity in the region.
In the south (Lamu, across the border in Kenya) five Kenyan soldiers were killed and ten wounded when their truck hit an al Shabaab landmine. Kenyan police believe the mine was planted by al Shabaab men hiding out in the nearby Boni Forest, which has long been a refuge for outlaws because the thinly populated woodlands are on both sides of the border.
August 21, 2018: In the south (outside the port city of Kismayo) an American airstrike killed two al Shabaab men. This was in conjunction with Somali ground forces.
August 17, 2018: In the north (Puntland) local security forces drove al Shabaab out of the town of Urur again. The Islamic terrorists had taken control in late July because the garrison left before its replacements arrived and al Shabaab took advantage of that to do some looting. Taking Af Urur can be dangerous because in mid-2017 Puntland executed seven al Shabaab men who had been captured after they attacked both the military base and adjacent village of Af Urur and killed about fifty people. The village and base are near the coast and a main road south (connecting Garowe, Bosaso and Mogadishu) so the government fights to keep control.