Monday April 24, 2023
By David Sadler
The military campaign led by the Somali government against the terrorist Al-Shabaab movement, since August 2022, has resulted in the largest gains for Mogadishu since mid-2010, as government forces, backed by clan militias and the US army, succeeded in expelling the movement’s fighters from large parts of central Somalia. Despite these operational successes, the movement remains remarkably resilient and adaptable. So the Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud, is currently preparing to start the second phase of the military campaign against Al-Shabaab, within the framework of broad regional and international cooperation.
Significant operational developments
Mogadishu plans, at the current stage, to start the second phase of this military campaign, with a focus on moving towards the movement’s strongholds in southern Somalia. In this context, the features of operational developments can be presented as follows:
1- Significant field progress
The United States of America announced, at the end of March 2023, that Al-Shabaab had lost about a third of the areas it controlled, in an indication of the success of the first phase of the war waged by the Somali forces, backed by Washington and clan militias, and the recent period witnessed the surrender of a number of leaders and elements of Al-Shabaab. .
Several factors helped create the conditions for the government forces to advance, most notably the Al-Shabaab movement’s exaggeration in its expansion towards Mogadishu, and its hostility to the clans in central Somalia by imposing heavy taxes on local communities. However, government forces may face, in preparation for the second phase of the war against the movement, increasing challenges Especially since the southern clans do not show the same dissatisfaction with the youth movement, so Mogadishu is currently working on seeking regional and international support to enhance its chances of success at this stage.
2- Young people’s ability to adapt
Despite the government forces’ control of strategic areas in central Somalia, such as the movement’s operations center in “Adan Yabal” in Middle Shabelle, and the strategic towns of “Sil Dheri” and “Harardir” in Galgaduud and other important areas, however, the continuous attacks launched by Al-Shabaab still appear It is capable of causing massive damage to the areas it lost.
3- The divergent priorities of the Somali states
It is noted that the authorities of the various Somali states have different priorities other than combating terrorism, which may weaken the current government campaign against Al-Shabab, as the President of Puntland, Saeed Abdullah Dani, refuses to send his forces to fight the movement, due to his focus on preparing for the upcoming local parliamentary elections, on the 25th. May 2023, which is an important step on the way to his re-election in the next presidential elections in the state, January 2024.
In Jubaland, tribal disputes pose a challenge to efforts to combat the youth movement, as most of the forces of the state president, Ahmed Madobe, are made up of his clan in Ogaden, and a limited percentage of the Marhan clan, which is the second most important clan in the state, and Madobe fears that his opponent, former president Mohamed Abdullah Farmajo, by recruiting clan supporters to join the Mawsili militia in the city of Gedo, where the Marhan clan dominates, as he believes that the goal of these militias is to fight him, and not to combat the youth organization, which affects efforts to combat the movement.
The matter is not much different in the state of southwest, where its president, Abdulaziz Hassan Muhammad, is concerned about hosting more federal forces in his state, given that the increase of these forces may threaten his regional authority, in addition to the presence of dangerous clan conflicts in this state, which must be resolved. Before focusing on fighting youth.
Regional and international partnership
Mogadishu tended to form an expanded coalition that includes regional and international powers to besiege Al-Shabaab, which can be presented as follows:
Quad summit in Mogadishu
The heads of Somalia’s neighboring countries, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, held an extraordinary quartet summit in Mogadishu with the Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud, in early February 2023. The summit came a few hours after the preparatory meetings held by defense ministers and senior military leaders from the four countries, in an indication Important on the direction of the four countries to enhance cooperation between them in the fight against “al-Shabab”.
The arrival of Ethiopian forces
Last March, the National Security Adviser to the Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Ali, announced that the three neighboring countries, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, would send other forces outside their participation in the African Union Transitional Mission (ATMIS) forces, to support the Somali forces in the second phase of the war against Al-Shabaab. ».
Local reports have already monitored the arrival of several thousand Ethiopian forces in Somalia in recent days, by the end of March 2023, as part of Addis Ababa’s assistance to the Somali army in the second phase of the comprehensive military campaign against Al-Shabaab, where Ethiopian forces are concentrated in the Hiran region.
Growing American support
During the recent period, the United States intensified its military support for the Somali government in its war against Al-Shabaab. In early March 2023, Mogadishu Airport received a US Air Force plane carrying a large shipment of military equipment. Estimates suggest that there is coordination between some countries in the Horn of Africa and Washington, so that the latter will increase its air strikes against Al-Shabaab, in conjunction with the expected comprehensive attacks against the movement’s strongholds in the south.
There are a number of possible repercussions that may result from the current regional and international partnership directed against the Somali Al-Shabaab movement, which can be presented as follows:
1- Encircling the youth movement
The current war against al-Shabaab is distinguished from previous campaigns in that it is characterized by extensive cooperation between government forces and local clan militias, which allowed the Somali army to penetrate into rural areas, unlike previous campaigns in which government forces focused on securing cities mainly, which is what al-Shabaab exploited at the time. In addition, the current campaign in which the government forces play the central role in this war, in contrast to the 2011 campaign, when these forces played a secondary role, while the forces of the African mission “AMISOM” assumed the main role in the previous war.
Therefore, it is expected that Somalia will be able to besiege Al-Shabab in the Somali south from several sides, in light of the current coordination between Somalia and its neighbors in the Horn of Africa, in addition to the increasing American support, which will increase military pressure on the movement and weaken its influence.
2- Kenyan frequency
Kenya is still reluctant to engage in military efforts against Al-Shabaab, due to its fear that the movement will carry out retaliatory terrorist operations against it, as happened in previous years, in response to Kenya’s involvement in any efforts aimed at weakening it.
3- Insufficient military decisiveness
A report issued by the International Crisis Group indicated that even if the Somali government manages to preserve the areas it has regained in the center of the country and continue its progress in the south, it is likely that Al-Shabab will be able to maintain its survival, due to its wide penetration into Somali society, so it indicates The report highlights the need for the Somali government to keep the negotiation track open as a key means of a permanent end to this war.
• Local reports monitored the arrival of several thousand Ethiopian forces in Somalia in recent days, by the end of March 2023, as part of Addis Ababa’s assistance to the Somali army in the second phase of the comprehensive military campaign against Al-Shabab.
• It is expected that Somalia will be able to besiege Al-Shabab in the Somali south from several sides, in light of the current coordination between Somalia and its neighbors in the Horn of Africa, in addition to the increasing American support.
The biggest challenge
It seems that there are serious international and regional moves to undermine the influence of “Al-Shabaab” in Somalia, and therefore the biggest challenge for the government remains to ensure long-term stability in the areas it regains from the movement, as the clan militias that are involved in supporting government forces expect Mogadishu to implement its pledges to provide All services and the development of these areas, so any government reneging on these pledges will undermine much of the clans’ confidence in them, and will open the way for them to leave the fight against the “youth”, which opens the door for the return of the movement to these areas again.