One reason for the resurgence of al Shabaab is the revival of the economy. GDP is growing at about three percent a year and that growth has been constant for several years now. This provides al Shabaab with more to steal. That means there are more al Shabaab camps and convoys of al Shabaab gunmen on the road traveling to or from an operation. So far this year there have been at least twenty of American airstrikes which have killed about 200 Islamic terrorists. This is not a major factor in the war against al Shabaab but it does inhibit the group's freedom of movement and increase their paranoia about internal spies. That’s because many of these airstrikes kill key al Shabaab personnel (tech experts and leaders). Most of the American air activity is not about airstrikes but about reconnaissance and surveillance which provides the peacekeepers and army with a much better view of where al Shabaab is and what they are doing.
Since 2016 al Shabaab related deaths have more than doubled from a few hundred a year to between 500 and 900. Islamic terrorists suffer about the same number of deaths and security forces about 50 percent fewer deaths. Al Shabaab is believed to have about 4,000 active armed members in Somalia and these men spend most of their times terrorizing local civilians and looting or extorting for operating funds. Some items, like weapons and bomb components, have to be paid for. Often cash bribes are required when intimidation won’t work. In addition to the security forces al Shabaab also has to fight other al Shabaab factions and clan militias in some parts of the country. As part of the intimidation and extortion campaign al Shabaab attacks focus on prominent targets (that are more likely to get heavy play in the media) and death squads that assassinate troublesome military commanders and politicians. Rival al Shabaab leaders are sometimes targeted as well. There are also a few hundred ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members in the far north, who spend much of their time fighting nearby al Shabaab factions as well as local security forces and clan militias.
There are over 40,000 soldiers, police and peacekeepers in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. About 500 Americans are stationed outside Mogadishu to support the air campaign and train Somali special operations troops. Most of the airstrikes come from a major French-American base in neighboring Djibouti.
Cell Phone Superiority
Somalia has the best cell phone service in Africa and that has had an enormous impact on the economy, politics and counterterrorism efforts. Because cell phone operations began in Somalia before a national government could establish control over most of the country that service developed without much government interference. Thus local clans or warlords had the resources and authority to allow entrepreneurs to establish cell phone service. By 2005 the major local cell phone operations agreed to an interconnectivity deal that was the beginning of national cell phone service. There were still several major suppliers of cell phone services and they competed on price and new services.
By 2012 the TNG (Transitional National Government) was in control of enough of the country to legalize the national cell phone network. At that point, Somalia had the most advanced, affordable and full-featured cell phone service in Africa. It handled banking as well as communications and also made it possible for Islamic terrorists to keep in touch with each other as well a Islamic terror groups around the world. As always the cell phone companies paid whoever was the local power for protection and the cell phone service was so popular that attacks on the signal towers and other facilities were a sure way to get most of the locals to hate you and since most Somalis had firearms, such opposition discouraged serious damage to cell phone operations.
The arrival of cell phone service also had an impact on al Shabaab operations. In many parts of Somalia, a pattern developed in which al Shabaab groups moved around, seeking areas where there was little organized resistance (from government forces or local clan militias) and then establish a presence. Because of the arrival of cell phone networks after 2000 al Shabaab has a hard time hiding their presence even in the most remote areas. Eventually, the government and the American UAVs find out and it is time to move to avoid getting attacked.
The cell phone is itself a key player in the two decades of civil war in Somalia. By 2000 clan militias and warlords had created enough stability to enable growth in commercial activity. For example, by 2004 three cell phone companies competed to provide service ($10 a month for free local calls, 50 cents a minute for international calls and 50 cents an hour to get on the Internet.) Each new cell phone transmitter installed required that the local clan chief or warlord get a payment. Everyone recognized the value of the new phone service, after having gone without for years after the old government-run landline phone company was looted and destroyed. As a result, phone company equipment really is protected by the clans and warlords, who do not want to lose their dial tone. The new phone service is cheaper and more reliable than the old government-owned landline phone network. This is because there is competition, no government bureaucracy and no taxes (other than the necessary bribes and security payments).
There was some fear that when the new national government (the TNG) got established well enough regulations and taxes would greatly increase the cost of service, and reduce reliability. So far that has not happened because Somalis know that Somalia has better, and cheaper, phone service than any of the other nations in the region. Even al Shabaab had to respect the cell phone network, even though they tried to shut down cell towers some of the time to avoid detection. Al Shabaab lost that battle. Cell phone service became one of the things nearly all Somalis would fight for and has been a major reason for the GDP growth despite rampant corruption and lawlessness (which al Shabaab is only a part of).
March 4, 2019: Kenya and Somalia are once more arguing over decades old dispute over how their land border should extend into the Indian Ocean. What it comes down to is both nations claiming a 100,000 square kilometers offshore area that may contain oil and gas deposits and definitely contains valuable fishing areas. Kenya has withdrawn its ambassador from Somalia and expelled the Somali ambassador in Kenya. Once more threats of violence are being made.
March 1, 2019: The Somali army has taken over management of the Jaalle Siyaad Military Academy which, for over a decade, was run by peacekeepers (mainly from Africa) mainly as a base for supporting the fight against Al Shabaab. At the end of 2018, the peacekeepers spent several months restoring the academy so that it could undertake its original purpose; the education of military officers and senior civil servants.
February 28, 2019: In Mogadishu, al Shabaab attacked a heavily guarded hotel compound with two suicide car bombs and several gunmen. At least 30 people were killed (including all the attackers) and the hotel suffered heavy damage from the explosion. The fighting went on for 22 hours as some of the gunmen were besieged in buildings.
In Hiran (a region 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu), Al Shabaab lost 26 men to an American UAV missile strike on their camp. Over the last week, there have been similar airstrikes in the same area that have left over fifty al Shabaab dead. These airstrikes are in support of ground operations by soldiers and peacekeepers to shut down al Shabaab camps in the area.
February 26, 2019: Near a refugee camp 20 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu, al Shabaab gunmen fired on a group of refugees hired to clear away garbage and debris that had collected along roads and outside villages. Nine of the refugees were killed by the Islamic terrorist attack.
February 11, 2019: Some 65 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu, American airstrikes supported army and peacekeeper ground operations against local al Shabaab factions. The airstrikes killed at least twelve Islamic terrorists while the ground operations claimed more than twice that number.
February 8, 2019: In the south (outside the port of Kismayo), an American airstrikes killed eight al Shabaab men while supporting army and peacekeeper ground operations against local al Shabaab groups trying to establish themselves in the area. Kismayo is a major port and roads into the port are full of traffic coming and going with stuff to steal or drivers able to pay a bribe to avoid attack.