Strategically Flawed Approaches Bolster Al-Shabab – OpEd
Thursday September 28, 2023 marked yet another day of acknowledging the dangerous nature of al-Shabab, a group that claims to embrace Islamic values but operates as mindless terrorists. In recent years, al-Shabab has undergone a transformation, moving away from its original monolithic structure. It has now become a decentralized network of franchises that function as mercenaries. Additionally, al-Shabab has managed to infiltrate various sectors of Somali society, including the government, intelligence agencies, and traditional clan structures. However, it would be naive to attribute all violence and insecurity in Somalia solely to al-Shabab.
Over a year ago, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud made a bold declaration, announcing an ‘all-out war against al-Shabab’ and pledging to confront them in every remote village across Somalia. To achieve this, he formed alliances with clan-based vigilantes and armed them to fight against al-Shabab. Some voices cautioned against this strategy, fearing that it would further divide the nation, fuel clan conflicts, and inadvertently strengthen al-Shabab. Despite the warnings, Somalia is now on the brink of disaster. Clans are turning their weapons against each other, and the Somali army, along with their highly trained counter-terrorism divisions Danab and Gorgor, continue to fall victim to ambushes and massacres in remote villages and military camps within Galmudug and Hirshabelle federal states. These attacks have raised serious concerns, leading to finger-pointing and a widespread sense of distrust within the military.
Questions arise when faced with these successive defeats of a larger army backed by ATMIS and the U.S. Is al-Shabab truly capable of executing such deadly operations across vast geographical areas? How have they managed to conduct surprise attacks without being detected? The answers to these crucial questions depend on whether one blindly accepts the government’s narrative or seeks the truth. If one believes that al-Shabab is solely responsible for all terrorist attacks, then there is no need to dig deeper. However, for those concerned about the mysterious killings of young soldiers or in pursuit of the truth, the official version falls short.
The abundance of natural resources, lack of patriotic leadership, rampant corruption, and fierce political competition have turned Somalia into a lucrative hub for illegal mining. The region of Galgadud, particularly around the town of El-Bur, has become the epicenter of a deadly competition for control involving multiple actors.
In late August 2011, when al-Shabab suddenly withdrew from Mogadishu, it was falsely portrayed as a defeat inflicted upon them by a coalition of the Somali National Army and AMISOM. However, there were no direct confrontations or battles that forced al-Shabab to retreat. The truth was that behind the scenes, mercenary sharpshooters equipped with military night vision and silencers hunted down al-Shabab militants every night, causing their leader Ahmed Godane to order an immediate evacuation.
The presence of mercenaries, driven by their own interests and unaccountable to any authority other than lucrative contracts, has always been a decisive factor. Some nations have their own mercenaries serving their objectives, which may occasionally align with their host nations’ interests. However, mercenaries lack ethical restraint and are motivated solely by profit.
In August 2023, President Mohamud established a central command in Dhusamareeb, Galmudug, to lead the all-out war against al-Shabab. This raised questions since Mahas in the Hiiraan region was initially seen as the epicenter of the fight against al-Shabab. Dhusamareeb has become a hotspot for international illegal mining, with fierce competition between Ethiopia, mercenaries funded by the U.S. and UAE, and the European Union, driven by their uranium needs.
President Mohamud remains stationed in Dhusamareeb for over 40 days and cannot travel to Garowe, the capital city of Puntland. Puntland has officially severed ties with the federal government, resembling the situation in Northern Somalia three decades ago.
Moreover, the people of Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn (SSC-Khatumo), who had long suffered under Northern Somalia military repression, have united in recent months and managed to defeat the Northern Somalia forces. They declared their independence from Northern Somalia and requested recognition as a federal state. However, President Mohamud has chosen to ignore their plea, further exacerbating tensions and potentially leading to prolonged military conflict.
As if these challenges were not enough, the government mandated citizens to apply for digital national identification cards. Although this may enhance security, Somalia’s provisional constitution and the definition of Somali citizenship remain unresolved. Clan identity holds significant importance in Somalia, with clans spread throughout East Africa. The citizenship issue has been a contentious topic since the trusteeship period.
The emotionalized war on al-Shabab and the suppression of media reports have not only garnered President Mohamud praise but also led him to prematurely declare victory over al-Shabab. However, the reality is far from victorious, with a significant number of Somali soldiers losing their lives and territories quickly being lost. This situation has forced President Mohamud to sideline top military commanders, request a government reshuffle, and seek a 90-day delay in reducing the presence of ATMIS troops.
Any unbiased observer would question the logic behind claiming victory against al-Shabab under these circumstances. Unfortunately, questioning the government’s narrative is regarded as treasonous. In the past three decades, Somalia has been characterized by greed and a disregard for integrity. This status quo sustains corruption, perpetuates failures, and allows al-Shabab to thrive. Donor nations, the Somali government, and international non-governmental organizations are hesitant to subject this industry of corruption and failure to scrutiny.