It has been nine years since al Shabaab was “defeated” by a military offensive, spearheaded by foreign peacekeepers, to drive al Shabaab out of the capital Mogadishu. At that point the brief period when the Islamic terrorists controlled a lot of the country ended. Al Shabaab had been increasing the areas it controlled since it first appeared in 2006, but quickly lost control of Mogadishu and much else over the next few years. Like anyone else seeking to control all of Somalia, the number of local enemies reaches a point where the attacker is overextended and vulnerable to counterattack. Al Shabaab has been on the defensive ever since 2011 but has taken advantage of the increased economic activity. GDP has grown about three percent a year since 2017 throughout Somalia. This enabled al Shabaab to resume its extortion efforts in a big way. There is more to steal and al Shabaab wants all it can get. Unfortunately so do a lot of other armed groups.
The “follow the money” approach had some success and al Shabaab ended up with more money to fund more operations. While al Shabaab depicts itself as a patriotic organization seeking to cleanse Somalia of non-Moslems, foreigners and corruption, that effort is made possible by money and lots of it. Al Shabaab uses corrupt and criminal practices to obtain as much cash as it can because veteran al Shabaab members must be paid and new weapons and other equipment are easier to purchase than steal from militias or security forces.
The extortion is often carried out by establishing road checkpoints and demanding money to let commercial traffic and affluent passengers through. Al Shabaab will contact the businesses that depend on these routes to arrange fees their vehicles must pay to make sure the shipments get through without delay. The security forces often disrupt these checkpoint operations and al Shabaab has to demand no more “taxes” than merchants can afford. Sometimes the fees are collected in Mogadishu and the checkpoints are told to let certain shipments pass. The security forces have a hard time stopping this because banditry has been common in Somalia forever and, as local strongmen get paid off, al Shabaab can avoid many attacks by the security forces.
The national government continues to be a work-in-progress and the senior politicians devote most of their efforts to protecting or expanding their power. Too many of the competing factions are armed and will fight rather than be coerced into going along with something that will help all of Somalia at the expense of their faction. Compromise is seen as weakness, vulnerability and an excuse to be attacked. The result is something described as a failed state. That is an area that never was a unified and stable state and is still cursed with a fundamental political instability. It is generally agreed that the best examples are Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and many African states that were created by colonial rulers who underestimated the durability of tribal traditions and the difficulty of creating a civil society. Failed states tend to account for most of the lawless violence on the planet. Most of these deaths are caused by Islamic terrorism, which is a common feature in the most violent failed states.
While global Islamic terrorism-related deaths have fallen by over 50 percent since 2014 when there were 35,000 that was largely because one Islamic terror group, in particular, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) was defeated. As a result global terrorism deaths hit 19,000 by 2017 and less than 16,000 for 2018. The decline continued in 2019. This activity is most visible in the GTI (Global Terrorism Index), which counts all forms of terrorism. But Islamic terrorism is the main cause and for years ISIL was the deadliest practitioner. That led to a curious situation in Egypt which in 2018 dropped out of the top ten as they suppressed most of the ISIL activity in Sinai. In 2017 Egypt was number three but now it is at eleven.
The top ten consists of Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Yemen, Philippines, and Congo. India, Philippines, Yemen and Congo all have Islamic terrorism accounting for a minority of the deaths. Somalia is one of the areas where there have been fewer deaths in the last few years. Al Shabaab has learned that the most profitable approach is to carry out fewer dramatic, high visibility attacks and otherwise conserve your manpower and resources. Thus the emphasis on spectacular attacks in major cities like Mogadishu or against an American military base.
A major reason why al Shabaab continues to survive and thrive is the endemic corruption found in Somalia. To demonstrate this, consider that according to international surveys Somalia is, and has been for some time, the most corrupt country on the planet. Currently the ten most corrupt nations are Somalia (the worst with CPI of 10), Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, North Korea, Sudan, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan and Libya (CPI of 17). Corruption in the Transparency International surveys are expressed as the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). This is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale.
The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea/14, Yemen/14, Syria/13, South Sudan/13 and Somalia/10) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
Many foreign aid efforts in Somalia have been shut down because of the persistent, and extreme, corruption. That’s the main reason the 21,000 man peacekeeping force is going to start withdrawing in 2021. It is mainly about money and limited resources. Peacekeepers are expensive and a decade of peacekeeping in Somalia has produced meager results. There is a demand for peacekeepers in other parts of the world, often in places where peacekeepers make more of a difference. Somalia is considered a wasted effort in a world of too much demand and too little supply. This is a common situation with failed states and Somalia is the worst of the worst.
January 5, 2020: In the south (Lamu County, across the border in Kenya), al Shabaab attacked the Manda Bay airfield before dawn. The facility is used by Kenyan and American forces to fly reconnaissance missions along the border. Three Americans were killed (one military and two contractors) and two were wounded. Two turboprop aircraft and two helicopters were destroyed along with several vehicles. The attackers lost five dead as they were driven out of the base. Other al Shabaab casualties were unknown. There were 150 Americans stationed at the base, most of whom provided training for Kenyan troops. Al Shabaab frequently carries out attacks in Lamu country because the Islamic terrorist group has been operating from camps in the nearby Boni Forest, which has long been a refuge for outlaws because of the thinly populated woodlands are on both sides of the border. Inside Somalia American aircraft and UAVs operate out of the Baledogle airbase which is 85 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu. This is also a training base for Somali Special Forces and commandos, which makes it a less desirable target for al Shabaab. The Somali commandos are often supported by American UAVs, which perform surveillance and reconnaissance for the commandos and an occasional airstrike. Africom (U.S. Africa Command) runs the Balendogle base as well as American operations at the Kenyan Manda Bay base. Since early 2017, when Africom increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia there have been 110 UAV airstrikes that have killed over 800 al Shabaab and ISIL members. Striking back at those air operations has long been an al Shabaab goal.
January 3, 2020: About 45 kilometers west of Mogadishu an American UAV used missiles to kill three al Shabaab men. This was in support of Somali special operations forces that were operating in the area and had chased al Shabaab out of several towns and villages, killing twenty Islamic terrorists as they did so.
January 2, 2020: In the south (Lamu Country, across the border in Kenya), several gunmen fired on a bus traveling north on the coast road. Three people on the bus were killed. Al Shabaab was suspected.
December 29, 2019: In the southeast (Lower Shabelle region), American UAVs attacked two al Shabaab targets, killing four of the Islamic terrorists.
December 28, 2019: In Mogadishu, an al Shabaab truck bomb went off at a busy checkpoint killing 81 people and wounded 125. Al Shabaab did not take credit for this initially because the bomb had not reached its intended target (a Turkish road construction site) and instead just killed a lot of civilians. This angers most Somalis so al Shabaab tries to pretend they had nothing to do with it. Since al Shabaab is responsible for nearly all the terror attacks in Mogadishu they get the blame anyway. They don’t get the additional scorn for boasting about it. In this case, al Shabaab admitted, two days later, that the bomb was indeed theirs and apologized for the large number of civilian casualties.
December 16, 2019: In the south (Dujuuma, 350 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu), an American UAV missile attack killed one al Shabaab man.
December 11, 2019: Outside Mogadishu, six people, including four nearby civilians and a soldier, died after an al Shabaab attack on an army base was repulsed. The attackers rushed the base while aboard pickup trucks. This led to heavy fire from the base and the trucks turned around and fled.
December 10, 2019: In Mogadishu, five al Shabaab gunmen attacked the presidential compound, were repulsed with three killed. The two survivors tried to retreat to a nearby hotel but were killed in a nearby parking lot.
December 6, 2019: In the south (Mandera Country, across the border in Kenya), al Shabaab gunmen stopped a bus and let the 45 ethnic Somali passengers go while the eleven non-Somalis (all Christians) were murdered.
November 25, 2019: Somalia Libya are the two most dangerous areas for foreign aid workers to visit and work in. Foreign aid groups, especially those that send foreign medical specialists in to provide care for desperate locals, have organized “International SOS” to collect and compile safety data on countries where foreign medical specialists or foreign aid workers, in general, might be called on to help. This ranks potential aid destinations from safest to most dangerous. A bit less dangerous are Afghanistan and Venezuela followed by Iraq and a lot of African nations. Risks measured include general safety (infrastructure and prevalence of diseases), crime rates and the attitude of locals towards foreign aid workers. In both Libya and Somalia foreign aid workers face not one threat but dozens of gangs, militias and semi-official armed groups. A few areas are somewhat safer but there are large rural areas in Somalia and Libya where there is often no one responsible for public safety.