Analysis - Security Studies
Thursday، November 16، 2017
Following a period of relative calm, al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen movement (al-Shabaab) re-emerged on the scene in Somalia, particularly after its attacks bedeviled Mogadishu via a series of attacks during October and November this year. The most recent development was the murder of four men, whom the movement shot after accusing them of espionage on November 6. These attacks are the biggest of their kind since 2007 in terms of destruction and losses caused. This sends a strong message to the movement’s rivals in Somalia and beyond.
The recent terrorist attacks reveal that the movement’s temporary disappearance from the scene in the past did not mean the demise of its stardom and entering a phase of recession. It was rather the calm before the storm especially that the movement rejects middle-ground solutions and does not accept to sit at the table of negotiations.
This analysis thus aims to specify the motives of these attacks, their timing, governmental, regional and international reactions to them, their influence on Somalia’s future and the required mechanism to achieve stability in the country.
Motives of the Attacks
On October 14, a booby-trapped truck exploded near a gas station and wreaked havoc in one of the biggest commercial zones that are packed with citizens. The explosion also destroyed a hotel and public transportation buses and killed 300 people and injured 100 others. Other attacks followed.
Data confirms al-Shabaab's responsibility for these explosions, despite the painful blows it suffered since 2011 when Kenyan forces launched a military campaign against it. The campaign was dubbed “Protect the Country” and it was launched by Kenya in response to the movement’s frequent attacks inside it. As a result, the movement had to withdraw from its strongholds in Mogadishu. The Kismayo port, which was a major source for securing funds and weapons, was evacuated in September 2012. The movement also withdrew from the cities of Barawa, Baidoa, Beledweyne, Hiran zand Kadan. Its general commander Mokhtar Abdulrahman was killed in September 2014 by an American strike that targeted his motorcade in Lower Shebelle.
Perhaps this is what made the movement carry out its recent attacks to achieve a number of gains on the organizational and political levels.
First - Organizational Gains
1- The leadership’s command under Ahmad Umar, aka Abu Ubaida, desires to prove that it is capable of being efficient, carrying out attacks in broad daylight, such as explosions and suicide bombings, raiding state institutions and hotels and besieging them, taking people hostages and assassinating local and international officials, like the assassination of deputy mayor of Mogadishu on February 20, 2015 and Somalia’s permanent representative at the UN in Geneva on April 2, 2015.
2- Maintain the movement’s organizational coherence after the balance of powers shifted against its interest, as a result of disengagement between it and some tribal leaders, as well as its conflict with the Islamic party. This is in addition to the withdrawal of hundreds of its members to join the national army and of the disputes between terrorist immigrants who joined the movement. Immigrants adopted the principle of “global jihad,” which calls for getting involved in Muslims’ cases across the world, while the local command adhered to focusing on domestic causes with the possibility of launching strikes against countries that support the Somali government. An example of these attacks are the 2010 Kampala attacks and the 2013 Westgate attack in Nairobi in 2013.
Within this context, the movement, which has been on America’s terror list since March 2008, carried out its recent attacks for the purpose of raising its members’ morale, increasing its capabilities to recruit more supporters and providing funds from the revenues of coal exports and Somalis’ foreign transactions. Thus, al-Shabaab attempts to restore its past glories, when it controlled two thirds of Somalia’s area in 2007.
3- The movement also sought to impose itself as a leader of “jihad” in the African Horn and as a defender of Muslims’ rights in the region so it can submit the required credentials to ISIS and gain its trust to establish the so-called “State of the Horn of Africa” after it realized that the terrorist ISIS organization is the most capable of supporting it on the financial level and of arming it – especially compared with al-Qaeda organization whose power and popularity decreased since the death of its founder Osama bin Laden.
Second – Political gains:
1- The desire to prevent Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s administration from resuming its efforts to achieve a national reconciliation and rebuild state institutions, especially that it succeeded in establishing a number of regional administrations in Puntland, Juba and southwest of the country, and of forming committees to draft constitutions, controlling borders, executing reconstruction works, resettling refugees and holding parliamentary and presidential elections.
2- Pressure countries participating in the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to withdraw their forces from the country especially after Sierra Leone forces withdrew. Other countries have also threatened to withdraw, like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Al-Shabaab insists on the idea that the union’s forces are invading forces that protect a treacherous government.
3- Prevent UN forces from deploying in Somalia after AMISOM forces withdraw from it.
4- Undermine the Turkish influence in Somalia in general by making a pre-emptive strike to thwart Turkish attempts to establish an organized national army in the country.
Significance of Timing
The timing of the movement’s attacks seems clear as they were carried out in synchronization with three important developments, which are:
1- The escalation of the political crisis between the federal government and some regional states, especially in the Galmudug State, as these regions’ governments have accused the federal government of negatively interfering in their affairs, due to differences in their stances regarding the Qatar crisis. This has led to political tensions in the country. As a result, governmental institutions, including security apparatuses, stopped focusing on their work, thus giving al-Shabaab an opportunity to move forward with their schemes to destabilize the country and harm its security.
2- Deteriorating security situation in Lower and Middle Shabelle as most attacks against the capital are planned there. The movement, thus, carried out these recent attacks to harm the relative stability in the capital and prevent refugees and investors from returning there.
3- Opening the Turkish military base in Somalia in October 2017. The base aims to rehabilitate more than 10,500 Somali soldiers, and it includes three schools, stores for weapons and ammunition and residential buildings. The base was established on an area of 400 hectares for USD 50 million. Somali intelligence confirmed receiving information that al-Shabaab plans to strike the Turkish base and that the perpetrators of the October 14 attack had to blow up the truck before the exact planned time and place after security forces suspected them.
The terrorist attacks, which Somalia recently witnessed came as a surprise and showed that the authorities were not ready to deal with them. The attacks also surpassed the capabilities of the relevant institutions in charge of managing crises, emergencies and disasters, as they still count on inappropriate primitive tools. The absence of governmental plans for communicating with the media and the public led to losing popular participation in aid efforts.
What is more dangerous is that these attacks exposed doubts that some security members are complicit in these attacks. This is according to Minister of Internal Security Mohamed Islow. It also explains why the Mogadishu police chief and the director of the security and intelligence apparatus were relieved from their posts on October 29, 2017. The attacks also showed how rescue teams affiliated with AMISOM failed to quickly intervene to confront the explosions’ repercussions although they consist of 22,000 soldiers and the explosions were close to their headquarters. This led more politicians and people to object to the mission’s presence, especially that there are doubts about Ethiopia’s and Kenya’s real roles and considering the accusations that their members violated human rights.
Regional reactions focused on condemning the attacks and on sending aid, but did not talk about any possibility of military intervention to strike al-Shabaab. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn called on the international community to provide support to the Somali government and to AMISOM to confront terrorism. Djibouti also dispatched the health minister, who headed a medical team to provide help. Kenya sent medicine and medical equipment via a plane to Mogadishu and received a number of injured people to be treated at its hospitals. The deteriorating security situation in Somalia and the involvement of the three countries’ forces in AMISOM, as well as the difficulties they are facing in terms of funds and armament were some of the most important reasons that limited their desire to be further militarily involved in Somalia.
On the international level, the US condemned the attacks and announced donating medicine to hospitals in Mogadishu. An American team also participated in operations searching for survivors. On November 9, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) said a number of gunmen were killed in an airstrike that targeted Al-Shabaab’s positions west of Mogadishu.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attacks will not discourage his country from resuming its support to Somalia, adding that Ankara is not a colonizing power, but it rather adopts a project to rebuild the Somali nation and unify its lands, including the Republic of Somaliland. Turkey also dispatched a medical team headed by the Turkish health minister to provide the required support and coordinate the transportation of the injured people for treatment. This was warmly received by the Somali government, which described Ankara as “the only real international partner.”
The United Arab Emirates and Qatar also sent planes carrying medical aid and helped transport injured people to hospitals in Kenya and other countries. The UAE said it will sponsor 300 orphans who lost their families in the explosion. It will sponsor them for six months via the Orphan Sponsorship Program which the Emirati Red Crescent is executing in more than 25 countries. The Qatari Red Crescent vowed to fund small projects to create jobs for the martyrs’ families and to provide monthly financial aid for the injured.
Future of the State
It is become clear that the international community – in general – has become inactive towards the situation in Somalia and still follows a strategy that is based on the idea of “cautiously approaching” the conflict without getting directly involved in it. For example, the recent terrorist attacks did not convince the US of providing the required funds to strengthen AMISOM’s forces and increase their number to 26,000 soldiers. The US only provides little financial support and arms. It also advises its nationals not to travel to Somalia, while ignoring questions related to fighting terrorism, reuniting Somalia and the possibility of deploying an international mission there.
The EU did the same as since January 2016, it decided to decrease the salaries of soldiers and workers in AMISOM by 20 percent and called on the African Union to look for alternative funding resources after it’s given 1.1 million Euros between 2007 and 2015. The EU made this decision under the excuse that there are other peace processes in Africa that are worthy of this support. It also justified its move by stating that it does not see any light in the end of the Somali tunnel. Accordingly, it is not willing to fund a peace process that does not seem to be finalized.
Within this context, the political and security situation in Somalia is more likely to suffer from further deterioration in the future, especially amid the dwindling prospects that al-Shabaab movement will suspend its attacks and the small number of the Somali army soldiers (around 20,000) compared with the state’s area and the extended coasts. This is in addition to the fact that the army lacks the essential training and weapons as the UN continues to impose an embargo on arms exports to Somalia. There are also other matters related to corruption and the Somali parties’ different stances from the deployment of army units outside Mogadishu.
It gets worse as tribal leaders and Somali officials are involved in supplying al-Shabaab with weapons. This is in addition to the absence of regional coordination. Kenya, for example, is building a wall on the borders with Somalia without consulting with Mogadishu’s government. Al-Shabaab will, thus, have the permanent ability to move and deploy, even if it has to wait or hide sometimes.
This means there are many obstacles that obstruct the national reconciliation efforts, reconstruction, rebuilding the national economy and the refugees’ return. The UN confirmed there are around 256,000 Somalis, who may have to return from refugee camps in Yemen to escape war, cholera and famine, with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Therefore, achieving stability in Somalia calls on the Somalis to be loyal to “the Somali nation” at the expense of tribal and regional affiliations. This is considered the most important factor that will help restore stability, lead to managing relations between the center and the regions and restore the dream of the big Somalia with its five regions.
Meanwhile, the international community must adhere to the possible chance of transforming Somalia into a stable state. It must do so through multiple initiatives that entail more than providing humanitarian aid. The most important ones are:
1- Support the achievement of a comprehensive political settlement and harmony between the federal government and regional governments in terms of the constitutional framework, system of governance, the role of the army and security forces, integrating armed groups in the national army and controlling borders.
2- Rebuilding the Somali army and security forces as this is extremely important after the African Peace and Security Council issued a plan on July 2016 to withdraw AMISOM from Somalia and after it decided to decrease the number of its forces in the country by the end of 2017 so it gradually withdraws and transfers AMISOM’s jurisdictions to the Somali army by December 2020.
3- Set a comprehensive strategy for AMISOM’s withdrawal from Somalia to be implemented within the framework of a new transitional process that lasts between 5 to at least 10 years.
4- Liberate Lower and Middle Shebelle completely from al-Shabaab movement to deprive it of these areas, which it uses to train fighters and prepare suicide bombers.
5- Provide support to the government to establish apparatuses and departments that are responsible for managing and confronting disasters and emergencies, training civilian volunteers, modernizing tools to warn citizens during emergencies and providing devices to detect threats and issue early warnings.
6- Supporting Somali economy and reconstruction efforts to fight political corruption, which has become part of people’s reality and which led to the deterioration of most people’s living standards, thus leading to famine.
7- Providing necessary compensation to those harmed by the conflict and resettling more than half a million of refugees, who are still suffering in diaspora, especially in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen.