As Somalia Prepares for the Next Phase in the Fight Against Al-Shabab, International Collaboration is Needed
By Deeq S Yusuf
Thursday, August 10, 2023
Security analysts in Somalia and beyond agree that the current anti-terror offensive led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (HSM) offers reasons for optimism. This campaign is a marked departure from previous ones. For the first time, the Somali National Army (SNA) backed by local partners is taking the lead, rather than relying on foreign-led military operations. While US and Turkish drone strikes are limiting al-Shabaab’s command and control, it is primarily the Somali army on the ground that is inflicting heavy losses on Al-Shabab, demonstrating their capability to defeat the insurgents.
Counter-terrorism experts have provided various definitions of the term. Richard J. Chasdi defines counter-terrorism as efforts to suppress terrorist assaults, while Alex P. Schimd describes it as a proactive effort to prevent politically motivated violence. Andrew Silke states that counter-terrorism is the combination of policies, strategies, and tactics used by states to combat terrorism.
An essential element in counter-terrorism is the partnership with the civilian population. HSM has rallied the support of the Somali public, with some even taking up arms to assist in the fight against the terrorists. HSM’s strategy focuses on confronting the terrorists on the battlefield, debunking their ideology, and targeting their financial networks.
HSM’s policy of depoliticizing the security forces has allowed the SNA to concentrate on combating Al-Shabab, unlike his predecessor who used the military to destabilize non-compliant Federal Member States. This depoliticization has restored a sense of duty and patriotism within the ranks of the SNA, boosting their morale and determination to defeat the enemy.
HSM made progress on the ideological front by garnering the support of Somali scholars to condemn Al-Shabab’s extremist ideology. Over 300 Islamic clerics issued a fatwa denouncing religious extremism and urging support for the government-led offensive against Al-Shabaab.
In addition to military operations, HSM’s government is aggressively targeting terror financing by shutting down accounts linked to Al-Shabaab and warning the private sector against supporting the group. The ongoing offensive has yielded significant territorial gains, reclaiming towns and villages previously controlled by the terrorists.
However, consolidating these gains is a challenge. The Somali government must fortify its progress in the central regions by assigning holding forces, promoting local reconciliation efforts, and providing essential services. International support is crucial in assisting Somalia with stabilization, financing the return of displaced residents, and countering Al-Shabab’s networks.
Moreover, the arms embargo remains a significant obstacle to Somalia’s national security. The UN Security Council should lift this embargo to equip the SNA and other security forces adequately. Somalia can also benefit from international efforts to strengthen law enforcement, enhance intelligence sharing, and implement counter-violent extremism programs.
Ultimately, a global coalition is needed to join the fight against Al-Shabab in the second-round offensive. A successful completion of this offensive will bring lasting peace and prosperity to Somalia.