Somalia: Decline and Fall


September 22, 2023: Al Shabaab forces are on the defensive and unable to withstand the growing army efforts to drive al Shabaab forces out of towns and villages. Al Shabaab depends on those towns and villages for food and other supplies. The army and peacekeepers take advantage of that by keeping al Shabaab away from these supply sources. This causes al Shabaab to lose men to desertion. Without supplies al Shabaab cannot feed their men and many of those men simply desert and go home. Defeating an enemy force by depriving them of supplies is an ancient tactic that still works. Government and peacekeeper forces face a complex situation because there are more villages in the countryside than the troops can protect with garrisons. What the Somali forces can do is keep al Shabaab forces on the move, which is something al Shabaab is not used to and cannot sustain without vehicles and fuel. The army destroys these vehicles whenever they can go after local merchants who supply al Shabaab with fuel and other supplies. Al Shabaab can afford to pay because the looting also involves gathering any money they can find.

The violence in Somalia is not decreasing. There are about eight violent incidents a day, most of them involving al Shabaab and rapidly depleting al Shabaab manpower through casualties and desertions. In the last two months al Shabaab has suffered over 500 fatal casualties and even more losses through desertion. It is becoming more difficult to recruit new members because the government has been working with local forces, usually long-standing clan militias, to prevent al Shabaab recruiters from getting near prospects. At one time al Shabaab offered attractive and low risk employment for young men with few job opportunities. This strategic approach to reducing al Shabaab strength and capabilities is working.

The Somali army will miss the departing peacekeepers. There were many reasons for withdrawing the peacekeepers and one was that it was very dangerous to be a peacekeeper in Somalia. Peacekeeper duty in Somalia was much more dangerous than anywhere else. At least 3,500 peacekeepers have been killed in Somalia over the past 16 years. The EU (European Union) and United States pay for the peacekeeping force and nearly $200 million has been disbursed for death and disability benefits during that period. That’s in addition to the $200 million a year cost of operating the peacekeeper force. That is provided by the UN via contributions by the U.S. and EU (European Union). The UN approves the size and duration of the peacekeeper force annually. The peacekeepers have been in Somalia since 2007 at a cost of over three billion dollars. So far about 3,500 peacekeepers have been killed and at least as many permanently disabled from their wounds. The African Union (AU) pays for medical care, including long term care for some of the wounded. For years the AU played down the high casualty rates in Somalia, reporting less than a third of the actual deaths. The growing number of corruption scandals involving missing death benefits and other compensation led to the actual loss statistics being revealed. There are sometimes problems with soldiers not being paid during peacetime in their home countries. Too much of this sometimes sparks a rebellion or insurrection over missing pay and other grievances. Despite this there was never a problem obtaining peacekeepers for duty in Somalia, paid for by the AU and a long list of African and Western donors. Somalia is the most dangerous peacekeeping duty in the world. About 300,000 men served as peacekeepers in Somalia, receiving an average annual compensation of $9,100 each. Officers, NCOs and privates all receive different amounts and peacekeeping duty pays better than their regular pay when back home. In most countries, peacekeeping duty is relatively safe. This was not the case in Somalia, where about three percent of peacekeepers were killed or badly (disabled) wounded.

While the peacekeepers are leaving, American forces belonging to AFRICOM (U.S. Africa Command) are still available to provide some assistance in the form of aerial surveillance, airstrikes and training for Somali forces. There are only 7,500 American troops in Africa and their theater (AFRICOM) headquarters in Germany. Since early 2017, when AFRICOM increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia, there have been about 172 UAV airstrikes that have killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members. In 2020 there were fifty of these UAV airstrikes and 280 in Somalia in the last decade. In 2021 there were seven UAV airstrikes and fifteen in 2022. American forces, and airstrikes, returned t0 Somali in 2022. This was prompted by the formation of a new Somali government. All American airstrikes are at the request of the Somali government.

Somalia sends thousands of its soldiers to Eritrea, Uganda, Ethiopia and Egypt for training. This is all part of the effort to have 24,000 Somali soldiers trained and ready for operations once all the peacekeepers are gone. Remote support from AFRICOM will continue using UAVs based in nearby African countries.

That al Shabaab controls any territory is mainly because of another problem; corruption. The government forces suffer from it while al Shabaab does not, or at least has much less of it. The inability of the government to ensure that their security forces are supplied and paid regularly, even though foreign aid provides the needed cash, means the Somali army remains unreliable and unable to control areas that al Shabaab has been driven out of. This is the case even when peacekeepers or pro-government militias did the work. It’s another case of greed overwhelming common sense and common interests. This is not unusual for Somalia, which has been rated the most corrupt nation in the world for a decade. One of the side effects of that degree of corruption is the inability to maintain reliable security forces.

Yet al Shabaab also lacks access to foreign aid and provides far fewer amenities for recruits than Somali soldiers or foreign peacekeepers enjoy. Al Shabaab continues to operate despite heavy attrition from combat, disease and desertion. At one point Al Shabaab maintained its strength in rural areas by stealing children in addition to food and other “supplies”. Families that can afford to are sending children (mainly boys age 8-16) away to areas with less al Shabaab presence to protect the kids from a popular form of recruiting in Africa. This began with al Shabaab demanding that rural schools stop teaching anything that might be interpreted as hostile to al Shabaab. Then al Shabaab imposed a “tax” on some schools that had to be paid in the form of students. In the last year several hundred children have been taken and several thousand have been sent away by their parents to keep the kids safe from al Shabaab. This recruiting tactic has been used elsewhere in Somalia for years.

This tactic was not unexpected because the Islamic terrorist group has suffered heavy losses in the last few years but maintained its strength by improvising. This is mainly about using children and, at one point, at least half the al Shabaab gunmen were armed boys under age 18 with a growing number under 14 years old. This is why, despite losing control of 90 percent of the area it controlled at its peak in 2012, al Shabaab still exists with less than half the personnel it had in 2012.

The growing use of child soldiers was noted as early as 2010 when the fighting in Mogadishu was not going well for al Shabaab and many of their fighters had been killed or discouraged enough to desert. Unable to entice enough men to join, they convinced (or coerced) some clan elders to allow kids (large enough to handle an AK-47) to join the fight. Like most Somali children they were eager for the opportunity to have an AK-47 of their very own and people to shoot at. This is a big deal for Somali teenagers. By 2012 it was noted that 10-20 percent of most al Shabaab fighters appeared to be kids. The teenagers are not the best fighters. Most are impulsive and inexperienced so they do not last long if there is a lot of combat, and even then they require more supervision than adult fighters. But given the choice between disappearing because of heavy casualties and recruiting more and more kids, many African irregular groups like bandits, rebels and Islamic terrorists will resort to the use of children.

This is not a new phenomenon but it did not become as affordable and widespread until the 1990s. That’s because after several million cheap Cold War surplus AK-47s began showing up in Africa in the 1990s and child soldiers became a more practical solution to heavy personnel losses. The world market for AK-47s was inundated by the late 1990s. The only market left was Africa, but only if you were willing to sell cheap. The gunrunners were, and still are, very active in lawless places like Somalia, Sudan and eastern Congo.

The cheap AK-47 made it possible to use kids as young as 10-14 years old as soldiers. This was a new development, because the old weapons (spears, swords, bows) required muscle. Kids had to be older, and stronger to be warriors. But now, if you could lift a 4.5 kg (ten pound) AK-47 and pull the trigger, you could be a killer. Child soldiers changed everything, because warlords could just kidnap or entice kids and quickly brainwash them. These armies of child killers made insurrection and anarchy more common. Tens of millions of Africans fled their homes to avoid these tiny terrors, and many of those refugees died of starvation or disease. These victims were just as dead, even if the bullets didn't get them. In fact, few AK-47 victims died from bullets. It was the massive fear, and breakdown of society, and the economy, that killed most people confronted by all these cheap AK-47s. The kids weren't very good shots, but if they got close enough to you, they were capable of unimaginable horrors. Al Shabaab is continuing this vile tradition, although in the name of God.

Another pragmatic tactic al Shabaab has adopted is to negotiate and keep economic agreements in rural areas where they live. This includes all traffic passing through the area having to pay a “tax” to pass al Shabaab road checkpoints. This includes trucks carrying foreign aid supplies like food and medicine. This is not much different than in government controlled areas except that al Shabaab will fight any other groups (clan militia, security forces or bandits) seeking additional and unexpected “taxes” to pass. Al Shabaab will hand out written receipts so drivers will not be taxed more than once while in al Shabaab territory.

September 19, 2023: The EU has suspended food aid to Somalia after an investigation found that much of food aid was money was diverted by those running the program in Somalia. Somalia is suffering a famine and there were reports that food money was not reaching those who needed it. Those in need of food aid are sent money via their cell phones. This is a common form of banking in Africa. It was fond that those eligible for food were supposed to receive $170 a month to buy food. But when those eligible for the food money checked their cellphone account they found only $65 was sent.

September 18, 2023: In Mogadishu, the second phase of the AU (African Union) peacekeeper force withdrawal began. By the end of the month at least 3,000 more troops will be gone. The first peacekeepers arrived in 2007 and kept coming until there were 22,000, most of them soldiers plus a few thousand police, trainers and administrators. Uganda and Burundi supplied most of them with most of the rest coming from Kenya and Ethiopia. The peacekeeper force made a difference, but in the face of massive corruption in the Somali government and various Somali communities that demanded help, the operation proved far more expensive and time-consuming than expected. Peacekeepers are due to leave because the best they can do is reduce the violence and disunity, while UN donors are not willing to waste money on that when there are other disaster zones that can make better use of the limited foreign aid. Because of this the UN extends the Somali peacekeeping force on a yearly basis. Currently there are about 19,000 peacekeepers in Somalia and they remained for so long because the UN believed Somalia would quickly regress back to a disaster zone without them. Currently the Somali security forces are supposed to consist of 13,900 personnel. That is what the UN is supplying cash and equipment for. With all the corruption and shoddy record keeping in Somalia, it is difficult for outsiders to verify how many security personnel Somalia actually has. Kanya contributed nearly 4,000 soldiers to the peacekeeping force in Somalia and will continue to have thousands of troops and police along its Somali border after all the peacekeepers are gone. Al Shabaab and various other Somali outlaws continue to raid into northern Kenya. Somali marauders have been raiding into what is now Kenya for centuries and that problem continues.

In the southwest (Gedo Region) an al Shabaab roadside bomb killed eleven soldiers and wounded three others.

September 17, 2023: In the southwest (Bakool region) two Ethiopian troop convoys were attacked with roadside bombs and over a hundred al Shabaab gunmen. Some trucks were damaged and about fifty al Shabaab men were killed. There were a few Ethiopian casualties but the odds were against al Shabaab because the Ethiopians are professional soldiers and the al Shabaab men have little discipline and their attacks are ambitious but poorly carried out. Somali troops were accompanying the convoys and the joint force was clearing al Shabaab forces out of towns and villages in the area. Al Shabaab forces usually withdraw when they know Ethiopian forces are headed their way. Ethiopia shares a border with Somalia and have been fighting al Shabaab for years, if only to keep al Shabaab from raiding into Ethiopia. Today Somali forces cleared al Shabaab out of three towns.

September 16, 2023: Outside Mogadishu (the Galgaduud region) Somali troops rebelled an al Shabaab attack on Qodqod, a town that al Shabaab had recently lost control of. Al Shabaab underestimated the number of soldiers still in Qodqod and thought they could take it back. The Somali and peacekeeper force are aware of that al Shabaab tactic and these al Shabaab counterattacks rarely work anymore.

September 15, 2023: Outside Mogadishu (the Galgaduud region) Somali troops foiled an al Shabaab suicide car bomb attack by killing the driver before he could reach his target and detonate the explosives he was transporting.

September 12, 2023: Outside Mogadishu (the Galgaduud region) soldiers captured the town of Xinlabu from al Shabaab.

September 11, 2023: In central Somalia (Galgaduud) a Somali MP (member of parliament) and three associates were killed when the MP stepped on one of the many landmines al Shabaab had planted around a villages they had retreated from. The MP and his party had taken the wrong road and wandered into an area where mines had not been cleared.

In the far south, across the border in Kenya (Lamu Country) fourteen Kenyan soldiers were wounded when their vehicles encountered a landmine planted by al Shabaab forces that had crossed the border.

September 7, 2023: The army revealed that 107 al Shabaab fighters had surrendered to army forces since July. Many more al Shabaab men had deserted and new recruits were harder to obtain.

September 6, 2023: In central Somalia (Galgaduud) Somali forces tracked down and killed two senior al Shabaab leaders. Al Shabaab later claimed that five civilians were killed during the operation as the result of an American airstrike. AFRICOM responded that there were no American troops in the vicinity and no American airstrikes. The only American assistance was in the form of aerial surveillance that helped track the al Shabaab leaders so that soldiers could find and capture them. The al Shabaab leaders refused to surrender and fought back and were killed. Six civilians were killed or wounded during the fighting. AFRICOM did send in a medical evacuation mission to take the wounded to a hospital, where one of the civilians died despite emergency medical care.

August 28, 2023: In central Somalia (Galgaduud) al Shabaab counterattacked government forces that had recently captured five villages from al Shabaab. The counterattack was unexpected and the army took losses and fell back to regroup and organize a response.

August 26, 2023: In the south (north of the port of Kismayo) an American airstrike called in by Somali forces killed 13 al Shabaab gunmen. The was the 14th American airstrike in Somali this year.

August 25, 2023: In central Somalia (Galgaduud) Somali troops captured the town of El Buur, which was the primary base for al Shabaab forces in the region.

In the far north (autonomous Somaliland) fighting continues between a rebellious clan militia and local forces. There have been hundreds of civilian casualties in addition the losses among the army and the clan militia.

August 23, 2023: In the southwest (Hirshabele State) local officials thanked departing Ethiopian peacekeepers for restoring order in state and eliminating most of the al Shabaab presence.

August 22, 2023: The government has created an amnesty program for al Shabaab members who surrender. A growing number of al Shabaab members are seeking to leave the Islamic terror group and resume a civilian life. The new amnesty program makes that easier. Some senior al Shabaab leaders feel the same way and have the resources to desert the organization safely.


Article Archive

Somalia: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close