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al-Shabaab’s Resurgence in the Horn of Africa: Factors Contributing to the Group’s Persistence

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Since the middle of 2016, al-Shabaab has reemerged as a formidable threat to peace and security in the Horn of Africa. al-Shabaab’s operations have steadily declined since Operation Linda Nchi in 2011, during which the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali Government troops recaptured territory previously under al-Shabaab’s control. Although a-Shabaab continued to control large swaths of land in southern Somalia, it was not able to maintain its hold on towns or major cities until recently.

The resurgence of the al-Qaʿida linked group seems to be connected to broader developments both inside and outside of Somalia and does not necessarily reflect al-Shabaab’s ability or strength. This essay will examine how AMISOM’s new troop reduction will affect al-Shabaab’s presence in the Horn of Africa and assess whether it still presents challenge to peace and security in the Horn of Africa

Ethiopia’s Troop Withdrawal and AMISOM

AMISOM’s role has been crucial for the peace and security of Somalia and the region as a whole. Since its inception in 2007, AMISOM has assisted the Somali government forces in fighting al-Shabaab and other Islamic militant groups. AMISOM was originally comprised of 22,000 troops from five countries – Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Burundi. However, this was less than half of the 47,000 troops recommended by counter-insurgency doctrine to stabilize and secure Somalia.[1] AMISOM’s forces have been reduced in recent months, as Ethiopia has withdrawn 4,300 of its soldiers. AMISOM also stands to lose another 6,000 Ugandan soldiers by the end of 2017.

In early October 2016, Ethiopia declared a State of Emergency following a year of anti-government protests in which hundreds of protesters were killed and thousands detained. Shortly after, Ethiopia began abruptly withdrawing its troops from southern and central Somalia. Although the Ethiopian government has denied that its troop withdrawal is connected to the unrest at home, the circumstances suggest otherwise. The government claims it has called its troops home due to the financial burden of maintaining its forces in Somalia.

Ethiopia’s withdrawal came as a surprise to the Somali government, AMISOM, and even to al-Shabaab. Ethiopia’s troops are the most experienced and battle hardened of the AMISOM peacekeeping force. They have been involved in the conflicts in Somalia since 2006, gaining valuable counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism experience, which has allowed them to keep Al-Shabaab at bay. Ethiopia’s sudden withdrawal has been a blessing and a change of fortune for al-Shabaab. The Ethiopians withdrew from more than 10 towns in the south and central regions of Somalia. Their absence has allowed al-Shabaab to swiftly fill the vacuum during the past six months, recapturing most of these towns without firing a single shot.

The loss of Ethiopia’s military manpower and experience coupled with the inexperience of Somali government troops makes the fight against al-Shabaab difficult for AMISOM. EU budget cuts to AMISOM have allowed Al-Shabaab to take advantage of AMISOM’s limited resources. al-Shabaab has used large swaths of Somali land as safe havens, given that AMISOM does not have the necessary resources to monitor such a broad chunk of territory. With AMISOM operations expected to be concluded in 2020, and troop withdrawal to begin by 2018, it is difficult to imagine how it will succeed in ridding Somalia of Al-Shabaab.[2]

The Spillover Effect of al-Shabaab Operations

For the past year al-Shabaab has managed to carry out devastating terror attacks in the central and southern regions of Somalia. It has been responsible for more than 20 attacks since mid-2016. The most significant attacks were an attack on a Kenyan military base in which 57 soldiers were killed in June 2016; a January 2017 suicide bombing in Mogadishu that killed 28 people; and the June 2017 storming of a military compound in Puntland, which killed 70 people.[3]

In addition, Somalia’s neighbors in the Horn of Africa are still targets of al-Shabaab terrorism. Since the beginning of May 2017, Kenya has been repeatedly hit by terror attacks in the Mandera area, in northeastern Kenya, including an attack that targeted the regional governor and killed eight members of his security detail. The Mandera region has always been a prime target for Al-Shabaab due to its proximity to the border with southern Somalia, which is partly controlled by al-Shabaab.[4] al-Shabaab operations were also foiled in both Kenya and Ethiopia. al-Shabaab takes advantage of Somalia’s vast and unmonitored borders with Kenya and Ethiopia to carry out its attacks. Although both countries have a significant Somali population, a long border with Somalia, and have contributed to the AMISOM force, al-Shabaab has only managed to attack Kenyan targets successfully and failed to carry out a successful attack or operation in Ethiopia. The security apparatus in Ethiopia is often credited with being more capable than its neighbors due to its experience in dealing with different militant opposition forces that have operated in the north of the country for the past 20 years and the Somali Ogaden region for the past 40 years.[5]

It is difficult to assume that al-Shabaab has an international scope, however, the group has been able to radicalize and recruit youngsters from the West, primarily from the Somali diaspora. International recruits receive weapons training, intelligence gathering, suicide attacks and the like to fight AMISOM and Somali Government forces. This gives Al-Shabaab an international dimension.

Al-Shabaab’s Internal and External Resources of Funding

al-Shabaab financiers range from states to charities and individuals. Apart from donations, al-Shabaab, it is said, has been able to generate money on its own, and its sources of funding underscore its international support. The diaspora is still Al-Shabaab’s strongest source of funding.[6] Based on clan membership, the diaspora continues to pump money through Somali “hawalas” (informal money transfer networks). Al-Shabaab independently generates funds by extorting money from businesses, hijacking humanitarian aid, kidnapping, and receiving payment from the Dubai-based Dahabshil money transfer company for services it provides in the regions it controls. The group has also been able to tax residents living in those Somali regions.

Now that al-Shabaab is back on the offensive, it is likely to seek control over the port city of Kismayo, which it effectively used before it was driven out by AMISOM in 2011. During its time in Kismayo, Al-Shabaab heavily taxed as much as 30 percent of the import-export business through the port, generating an estimated $1 million quarterly. Al-Shabaab is also believed to be linked with pirates that operate in the Gulf of Aden.

Peace and Security in the Horn of Africa

Security in the Horn of Africa has been elusive for quite some time. Western embassies in the Horn and Eastern Africa have issued travel advisories to their citizens, warning or cautioning against travel in the region. The international community sees the advent of Al-Shabaab as a threat of international peace and security. Al-Shabaab’s ties with al-Qaʿida, by definition makes it part of an international terror network.

Historically, there have been large Somali populations in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. In addition, almost two-thirds of Somali refugees reside in neighboring countries, with Ethiopia and Kenya accommodating almost 1 million refugees between them.[7] This dispersed population, which shares the same ethnicity, religion, and language has the potential to be fertile ground for Al-Shabaab recruitment. The proximity of the region to the Middle East, primarily Yemen, which has one of the most active al-Qaʿida networks, makes the Al-Shabaab threat even more of a danger to the Horn of Africa.

The Trump administration recently eased restrictions on drone and air strikes that had been put into place by the Obama administration. It has also defined Somalia as an “area of active hostilities,” allowing for raids by U.S. special operation forces and conventional forces.[8] The American government has already initiated drone strikes and ground operations using its elite special forces.[9] In late March 2017, the Pentagon confirmed that it was sending dozens of troops to Somalia, decades after it pulled out its troops following the Black Hawk Down incident in 1993.[10] However, this increased US military activity may not be enough to win the war against Al-Shabaab. The military operations presumably would push Al-Shabaab out of its newly acquired towns and villages, but they will not diminish the visible al-Shabaab presence in the region.

In February, Somalia elected a new president. Although the new government is still fragile, Somali-American President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has shown a willingness to confront Islamic militants by declaring a new offensive. The US should help the new government to build its capacity to fight al-Shabaab. The US and the EU should encourage AMISOM to stay and finish the job by funding its activities. The war against Al-Shabaab cannot be won by drone and air strikes, it requires troops on the ground that can provide a sustained presence for stable security in Somalia.

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Alexander Takele holds a M.A in Government Studies from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel.  He is a research intern at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.

[1]James Barnett, “What Ethiopia’s Withdrawals from AMISOM Mean for Somalia”, African Argumnents, 17 October 2016. Accesssed 21 June 2017. http://africanarguments.org/2016/10/27/what-ethiopias-withdrawal-from-amisom-means-for-somalia/

[2] James Jeffrey, “Ethiopian Troop Withdrawal from Somalia Exposes Peacekeeping Problems”, France 24, 16 December 2016. Accessed 21 June 2017. http://www.france24.com/en/20161215-ethiopian-troops-withdraw-highlighting-peacekeeping-internationally-funded-peacekeeping

[3] Jason Burke, “Al-Shabaab Fighters Kill Dozens in Attack on Military Base in Somalia”, The Guardian, 8 June 2017. Accessed 21 June 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/08/al-shabaab-somalia-kill-dozens-attack-military-base

[4] Caleb Weiss, “Shabaab Steps-Up Attacks in Kenya”, Threat Matrix, FDD’s Long War Journal, 6 June 2017. Accessed 21 June 2017. http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/06/shabaab-steps-up-attacks-in-kenya.php

[5] Daniel Torbjörnsson, “Explaning the Differences in al-Shabaab Expansion into Ethiopia and Kenya”, FOI: Swedish Defence Research Agency, May 2017. https://www.foi.se/download/18.2798873115c0ac874a84d5/1494935094959/Daniel+Torbj%C3%B6rnsson+al-Shabaab.pdf

[6] For example, one-third of the Somali diaspora lives in the West with estimated 280,000 in the EU, UK, Norway, and Switzerland, and 170,000 residing in North America. For more data, see: Phillip Connor and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “5 Facts about the Global Somali Diaspora”, Fact Tank: News in Numbers, Pew Research Center, 1 June 2016. Accessed 21 June 2017. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/01/5-facts-about-the-global-somali-diaspora/

[7] Ibid.

[8]Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt, “Trump Administration is Said to be Working to Loosen Counterterrorism Rules”, New York Times, 12 March 2017. Accessed 21 June 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/12/us/politics/trump-loosen-counterterrorism-rules.html?_r=1

[9]Jon Temin, “Somalia and the Limits of U.S Bombing”, New York Times, 25 May 2017. Accessed 21 June 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/opinion/somalia-al-shabaab-us-airstrikes.html

[10] Joseph Trevithick, “America is Expanding its Secretive War in Somalia”, The War Zone, The Drive, 31 March 2017. Accessed 21 June 2017. http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/8851/america-is-expanding-its-secretive-war-in-somalia?iid=sr-link1

Briefing Room

US Targets Islamic State in North Eastern Somalia

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WASHINGTON / PENTAGON / LONDON — A U.S. airstrike has targeted Islamic State in northern Somalia, defense officials told VOA Friday.

The strike resulted in at least one casualty, a U.S. defense official said, without elaborating on the target of the attack.

The chairman of the town of Qandala, Jama Mohamed Qurshe, told VOA Somali that several missiles hit a base for IS militants at Buqa village, 60 kilometers south of his town in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

“According to the information we are getting from the ground, six missiles hit the militants’ base in the mountainous area. Local residents and pastorialists were shocked and fled from the area,” Qurshe said.

He said that prior to the strike, residents reporting hearing airplane sounds.

Details of the strike are still not clear due to the remoteness of the area, which locals said was only accessible to the militants; however, local officials and residents suspect the airstrike targeted the group’s senior leaders and perhaps even its top leader.

The pro-Islamic State faction in northeastern Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former al-Shabab cleric who pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015. In 2016, the U.S. State Department designated Mumin as a global terrorist.

Since the emergence of the IS faction in October 2015, the militants have claimed responsibility for at least four deadly attacks in Puntland.

In late October of last year, the militants briefly seized Qandala, before they were driven out by Puntland’s government.

No cutoff in funding

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has denied reports that it is planning to cut funding for the Somali government.

Somali media reports said the U.S. might reduce funding because unnamed Somali officials helped facilitate the October 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.

There were also reports that linked the alleged cut to an internal State Department finding that the department’s Africa Bureau is failing to ensure that U.S. funding is not diverted to al-Shabab militants.

In an email, a State Department official told VOA the reports were “incorrect.”

“Reports of funding being suspended to the Somali army due to alleged facilitation of the bombings by Somali officials are incorrect,” the official wrote. “The United States continues to provide extensive support to Somali security forces in their efforts to combat al-Shabab.”

On Wednesday, the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in Kenya, quoted a report from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. The report said the Africa Bureau had not established policy and procedures for identifying and mitigating terrorist financing risks for its programs in countries where militant organizations like al-Shabab and Boko Haram operate.

In his email, the State Department official said, “The United States prioritizes transparency and accountability in its partnership with Somalia, echoing one of the top priorities articulated by President Farmaajo upon his taking office earlier this year.”

“We have communicated conditions for U.S. security assistance to the federal government of Somalia, which includes enhanced measures to ensure proper oversight of our support,” he added.

Meanwhile, Somali leaders and the governors of Somali states are meeting for the fourth straight day in Mogadishu, in an effort to agree on implementation of a joint security plan.

The government is said to be preparing for a major offensive against al-Shabab.

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Somali News

Egypt’s Sisi stresses unity, sovereignty of Somalia

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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi stressed on Wednesday his country’s firm stance towards the unity and sovereignty of the Somalia.

Sisi’s remarks came during a phone call with his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, state-run MENA News Agency reported.

During the phone conversation, the two leaders discussed means of enhancing joint ties besides promoting bilateral cooperation in the field of fighting terrorism and extremism.
They also reviewed the latest developments in Somalia and the efforts of the Somali government to restore security and stability so as to fulfill the aspirations of the Somali people in achieving development.

For his part, Farmajo lauded the Egyptian stance backing his country and the support it offers in attaining stability.

He further voiced his keenness on continuing the high-level coordination and consultations with Egypt pertaining to various issues of common interest topped by combating terrorism and bolstering joint cooperation in various domains.

Egypt and Somalia have been facing rising waves of terror acts carried out by Islamist groups that left hundreds of civilians, army personnel and policemen dead.

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Opinion

Opinion: Reasons Why Somalia’s president Farmaajo is becoming Africa’s Most Popular Beloved President

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Suud Olat is Minnesota Based freelance journalist and refugees advocate founder of Refugees Forum and Advocacy.

Ever since his historic election in February as a President of Somalia Mohamed A  Farmajo has been a subject of public fascination. At first, his war on graft promised to cleanse the state of corruption, while his patriotic thrift inspired millions of Somali people.

Despite terrorism attacks recently the deadly  on October 14,2017 president vows to eradicate Alshabab terrorists out of Somalia declaring full preparations for large-scale offensive against Al-Shabab..

Months ago he turns down $80m to cut ties with Qatar

He has been offered $80 million in exchange for his agreement to sever diplomatic relations with the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Qatar.

President Farmaajo improved rapidly Somalias relations to the rest of the world we all know all sovereign states in today’s world are interdependent regardless of how small or big are. What guides each sovereign state in relation to others or even international organisations is the foreign policy, whose one of the main contents is about diplomacy.

President Farmaajo has prioritize building strong relations nations like Turkey. Much credit to Turkeys had played a key role and take a lion share on supporting Somali people. Weeks ago Turkey opens military base in Mogadishu to train Somali soldiers. Turkeys’s biggest overseas military base. As Experts and political analysts say Diplomacy is to a nation what brain is to a person. President Farmaajo”.quickly,appointed,capable,competent,good and able prime minister Hassan Ali Khayre Despite in office less than a year he gained widespread public support for several innovations, including halving the size of the cabinet and seeking to increase transparency in government.

Still despite major terrorist attacks government has made long strides in creating a peaceful Somalia, making  to be named Somalia’s prime minster among ’most influential politicians in Somali’s history. Government efforts at advancing national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, and socio-economic and security sector reforms in Somalia were cited as the reasons for the government progress a truth that is globally acknowledged, and which earned massive confidence Somali people and the mainly government donors and friends international community .

However, Somali government has also faced numerous external setbacks that prevented holding the entire

Somalia in control, especially from Al Shabaab, which had conducted terrorism attacks both in Somalia and  in Kenya. Now government is putting up measures aimed at curbing the insecurity challenges. The neighboring governments, of Djibouti,Kenya and Ethiopia on the other hand, are trying now to assist Somali Federal government in eliminating Al Shabaab once and for all, and this is worth mentioning.

Somali Federal government has also faced internal setbacks- conflicts among with the Somali regional leaders on the issue regarding , the recent federal government neutral position on the Arab Gulf crisis which most corrupt regional leaders try to undermine federal government leadership neutral positions.

While majority of Somali are happy with the current political situation in Somalia. Recently, President of Somalia recently joined with the UN Secretary General Antonio Gutress and other world leaders in Kampala, Uganda at the major refugees in the region donor Confrence were historic Somali President generously donated 100,000 US dollars. And have also ordered foreign affairs and internal ministry to review numerous occasions previous government signed past agreements on the voluntary repatriation of the half a million Somali refugees in Dadaab camps. The assumption was that Somalia was eventually standing on its feet.

Knowing  unilaterally Kenya government ordered for the closure of Dadaab camps  after adjournment of the tripartite agreement, which had met an outcry from the international community. Still, the Somali refugees are receiving an orgy of threats from the Kenyan government.

Federal Government of Somalia set up  plans and committees to collaborate the UN refugees agency UNHCR and regional governments especially Jubaland were most refugees returning. Assuring Federal government to ensure the safety of the refugees upon their return back to Somalia, although that seems impossible if the current insecurity and terrorism attacks continue.

To keep Somali people dreams alive and real the only way out for the president to meet the expectations of the Somali people. while being very careful in making decisions was who will he appoint a prime minister although mistakes are the order of the day in politics, repeating the same mistakes will have surely cost the government to lose trust among the people. President Of Somalia knew that the nation needs a strong prime minister who knows how to solve the Somali problems since he was  previously being tested the waters of politics. He had chosen as a prime minster Hassan Khayre a qualified; patriot, intellectual, bureaucrat, who feels the pain of the people. Although it’ was  difficult to know such a person. President Farmaajo seek suggestions from the Somali intellectuals, religious groups and even  fellow politicians. A knew path avoid culture of future infighting between prime minster and president which had hindered in the past administrations as well on clan basis, competitiveness the core of the prolonged Somali conflicts.

Considering the fact that the Somali youth are entitled to take part in making political decisions, and his campaign pledges

May he Rest In Peace Abbas Siraji was among the cabinet young minister ever in the history of Somalia on May 3, 2017 gun men with government uniforms gunned and killed minster Abass down town Mogdishu. Speaking at the UN general assembly Somalia prime minister uses Abass Siraji as a role model and good example for the Somali youth.

Upon getting vote of confidence from

Somali parliament prime minister Hassan Kheyree government has made remarkable progress. strong support from the Somali people. Although the killing of Abass  immediately met with anger and solidarity protests from the general public and from many lawmakers. Now Somali government now gain trust among the Somali people. And the government approval getting up day by day.

Vast administration experience.

c) Government strictness and familiarity with the protocols of classical democracies.

d) His diplomatic demeanor.

e) completed its first monthly payment of stipends to government soldiers, and it has also initiated the implementation of a biometric register for the security forces within a window of four months. This was a great achievement that had proved Somali Federal government seriousness and its capability to make Somalia stable.

f) On  dispatching a high level federal delegations defuse clan-based tensions in several regions. This way has returned back the cordiality among different Somali clans, paving way for peaceful relations.

g) To improve transparency in the government, cabinet ministers fully disclosed transparency and signed a code of ethics.

h) An Anti-Corruption Commission with the power to carry out formal investigations and to review government decisions and protocols was also established so as to monitor public officials more closely

i) Unnecessary trips to abroad have been fully prohibited and all travels required the Premier’s consent.

j) On the war front, his tenure managed to secure control of 90% of Mugadishu, the capital of Somalia.

With his  Excellency, President Farmaajo administration creates unique protocols that will definitely make sure Federal government to fulfill the promises it had made to the Somali people. We hope that President farmaajo and the Somali prime minister, to keep this momentum and address refugees issues more closely Dadaab will be a dead story and for Somalia will regain peace and stability, and the refugees will then return back to their country.

Suud Olat is Minnesota Based freelance journalist and refugees advocate founder of Refugees Forum and Advocacy.

Follow him on Twitter @SuudM or email him SuudOlat@gmail.com

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