Are we witnessing the end of Al Shabab which has so terrorised large swathes of Somalia for so long?
Conventional wisdom suggests that this is indeed happening. The turning point seems to have occurred in August 2011 when African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops together with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces pushed Al Shabab fighters out of the capital Mogadishu.
In recent months AMISOM has remained on the offensive against Al Shabab fighters and AMISOM’s numbers were augmented by troops from Djibouti and Kenya. In addition, Ethiopia, which is not part of AMISOM, has joined the fray against Al Shabab. In recent months Ethiopian troops have captured Beledwyne, and moved rapidly into the central regions of Hiran and Galgadud, and further into the Shabelle River Valley.
Kenya meanwhile has liberated Gedo and Juba whilst AMISOM forces spearheaded by the redoubtable soldiers of Uganda have pushed Al Shabab hundreds of kilometres from the capital. At the time of writing, AMISOM seems to be preparing for one final push to capture the Al Shabab stronghold of Kismayo on the coast.
Whilst Al Shabab is certainly on the ropes, it is far from down and out. Instead of engaging in conventional battles with AMISOM, Al Shabab fighters simply disappear to become part of clan militias.
Once part of these clan militias, it is exceedingly difficult for AMISOM to distinguish between clan militias from Al Shabab fighters. Moreover, given the fierce bonds of clan loyalty, there is little information being shared between clan elders and the AMISOM forces.
Safely ensconced in these militias, Al Shabab has increasingly embraced asymmetrical warfare against both AMISOM and the TFG.
The major problem confronting AMISOM though, is not military, but lies in the political sphere.
The notoriously corrupt TFG has earned the ire of Somalis for literally stealing development aid.
As a result, services are not being provided to an area liberated from Al Shabab control, thereby losing hearts and minds. In the process, the TFG is increasingly viewed as illegitimate whilst AMISOM is perceived as a foreign force of occupation as opposed to liberators or peacekeepers.
To compound matters further, the TFG in Mogadishu parachute governors into newly liberated areas who are not of the same clan – thereby inflaming tensions further.
If the fight against Al Shabab is to be won, it is imperative that the international community leans on the TFG to be more responsive to Somali needs. Equally as important a closer interface is required between the military strategy and the political vision post-Kismayo.
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