In the last several months, Somali government soldiers fighting Al-Shabaab have made substantial advancements against the group. Clans sprung up in opposition to the armed organization, and the government intended for them to expand. Although government troops have been successful in their fight against the terrorist group, analysts believe that it will be challenging for them to sustain those victories while still honoring their responsibilities to the local people.
Somalia has been ripped apart by the Islamist insurgency of Al-Shabaab for almost 15 years with little prospect of abating. The conflict between Mogadishu and the country’s regions, also known as federal member states, has hindered the military operations of Somalia’s government and its international allies. Al-Shabaab, for its part, has shown resilience by adapting to counterinsurgency efforts and consolidating its position within Somali society. Newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his administration are trying to restore faith in the ability of Somali military to confront insurgents. Given the progress that has been accomplished since he assumed office, the new president is not only finding success with the military by using force, but he is also winning success with morale.
Arabic name “the young,” Al-Shabaab was originally the enforcers for the Islamic Courts Union, a group of clerics that defeated the warlords who had ruled parts of south-central Somalia since the fall of the central government in 1991. Al-Shabaab has established itself as a tool of armed resistance and a governing player in all regions under its authority since Ethiopia’s invasion in December 2006 toppled the Islamic courts in favor of the internationally supported Transitional Federal Government.
Al-Shabaab’s overarching policy is to avoid direct military conflict at all costs, retain supremacy in rural south-central Somalia, and gradually expand its reach into cities and towns that are ostensibly under the authority of the government. Smaller ambushes at strategic areas allow the group to choose the rhythm of the conflict rather than being at the mercy of larger conflicts. Meanwhile, AMISOM, which Ethiopia is a member of but which is now known as the African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), has taken a defensive stance and seldom undertakes large offensives for years.
First elected in May of this year, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has been on an aggressive campaign against Al Shabaab since taking office. His forces have been supported by clan militias, African Union troops, and the United States. Hundreds of US special operations forces were sent to Somalia in May after US Vice President Joe Biden revoked an order issued by Trump’s predecessor. Since its inception in 2007, the African Union operation in Somalia has cost the European Union close to 2.3 billion euro.
More than 600 members of Al Shabaab were reportedly slain and 68 towns were taken by the Somali government in the three months leading up to December. Only 20 percent of Somalia is under the group’s control, President Mohamud stated last month. On December 16th, he said to Al Jazeera, “We are succeeding.”
In an era “when the state is not present or is weak,” Hassan said, the organization thrived. “During its history, Somalia has had periods with no functioning government. This place was like a womb for these kinds of individuals.” He elaborated by saying that some militants joined for ideological reasons, some for economic ones, and yet others for other concerns.
Hassan’s military effort against Al-Shabaab seems effective, and he won widespread public support as a result.
Last week, on January 12, 2023, hundreds of Somalis gathered in Mogadishu for a state-organized march to denounce the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab. The gathering was held in a heavily guarded stadium, and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was there, urged the Somali people to help eliminate members of the Al-Shabaab organization, which he called the “bedbugs.
“I’m calling to you, the people of Mogadishu; the Kharijites [renegades] are amongst you … so flush them out. They are in your houses, they are your neighbours, in cars that pass you by,” Mohamud said
“I want us to commit today to flushing them out. They are like bedbugs under our clothes,” he added, as demonstrators waved flags and placards with anti-Al-Shabaab message.
It seems that Al-top Shabaab’s officials have realized that fortune is on their side. This week, in a stunning reversal of events, they reportedly indicated their willingness to negotiate with the government of Somalia, which they had previously deemed illegitimate.
““Al-Shabaab requested to open negotiations with the Somali government, but there are two groups within Al-Shabaab,” Deputy Defense Minister Abdifatah Kasim told journalists in Mogadishu. “The first part is foreigners, and the second part is local Somalis. Those locals have a chance to open up negotiations, but those foreigners who invaded our country have no right for talks. The only option is to return to where they are from.”
The Somalis who are members of Al-Shabaab were given two options by the minister of defense.
“For the Somalis, we are ready to receive them, for they are willing to surrender to the Somali government. They must follow the government’s instructions, reintegrate with their society, or face the Somali National Army in the front lines,” he concluded.