Escaping Al-Shabaab Militants Create Obstacle for Somalia’s Security
Fleeing from Al-Shabaab militants presents a significant challenge to the security of Somalia. While the country’s army and allied clan militias have made progress in driving out the fighters from central Somalia, experts warn that there is still a risk of security threats from these Islamist extremists who are on the run.
Since President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s declaration of a “total war” against al-Shabab in August 2022, the group has been forced to withdraw from its strongholds due to military pressure from the army, militias, and airstrikes by international partners. Despite this achievement, Somali security analysts believe that the presence of fleeing militants remains a serious threat to national security.
Ismail Dahir Osman, a former deputy commander of Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency, highlights the looming danger. He explains that the militants who have fled the front lines have dispersed into rural areas and are secretly making their way to major cities like Mogadishu. Even though they have lost their bases, these militants may still possess weapons and plans for further violence.
Colonel Abdullahi Ali Maow, a former Somali intelligence official, agrees that there is a security threat from the fleeing militants. He compares their strategy to that of a frog, which buries itself to survive until the next rain. In this case, the militants seek safe houses in major cities to avoid capture and continue their activities.
Omar Abdi Jimale, a Somali political and security analyst, explains that fleeing militants can find refuge and support among sympathizers and allies in populated cities. This makes it challenging for security agencies to track and neutralize them. Jimale states that these militants, with their combat experience and ideological fervor, are capable of carrying out acts of terrorism and insurgency in new areas. They go into hiding, strategizing for their next move.
Mahad Wehlie, an analyst, believes that the threat from the fleeing militants, particularly lower-ranking foot soldiers, is relatively lower compared to the significant damage they have caused in Somalia over the years. However, he emphasizes the need for government security agencies to drive militants to a point where local police and intelligence agencies can effectively handle the threat with grassroots support.
Maow cautions that even if al-Shabab is completely defeated in Somalia, the danger will persist as long as the top leaders and foreign ranks remain alive. To effectively counter this threat, he suggests a multifaceted approach, including international cooperation, improved intelligence sharing, and addressing the root causes of militancy in conflict-affected regions.
Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre aims to secure more international support for Somalia’s ongoing battle against al-Shabab militants. He plans to appeal to the U.N. General Assembly to lift the international arms embargo imposed on Somalia, allowing the country to eliminate al-Shabab, a U.N. and U.S.-designated terrorist organization that has been fighting against the Somali government for 16 years.