CATF Reports Feb. 16, 2017, 9:14am

The February 8th election of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo ushered in hopes for stability and an “era of unity” in Somalia. Yet Al-Shabaab’s flurry of attacks just days later showed the lack of impact of the election on the momentum the group has achieved over the past year. Al-Shabaab fighters targeted government facilities at dawn on February 12th with attacks on two separate military bases outside of the capital, Mogadishu, followed by a subsequent roadside bomb attack on an aid convoy traveling to the bases, killing four Somali soldiers, one deputy commander and a second military officer. The prior day Al-Shabaab members attacked a government checkpoint, killing two soldiers and capturing a third. In a recent piece, the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) Research Fellow, Shaul Shay, attributed Al-Shabaab’s resurgence to a number of military and political factors, which he argued should prompt countermeasures that are both political and military in nature.

Al-Shabaab experienced major setbacks in 2011 as a result of successful peacekeeping efforts by U.N.-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), whose 21,000-soldier force ousted the militant group from much of its’ held-Somali territory. Yet this territory has come back into play per a twenty-percent funding cut by AMISOM’s primary donor, the European Union, resulting in the transfer of security responsibilities to the feeble Somalian army and withdrawal of all AMISOM forces by the close of 2020. Additionally, the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) – dubbed as the “most experienced and most effective” presence in fighting Al-Shabaab in Somalia since 2006 – suddenly announced complete removal of its troop forces after the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency in October 2016, which left further territory up for grabs. A third factor emboldening Al-Shabaab, Shay argued, is the group’s desire to “undermine” the presidential election and further “destabilize” an already shaky country, as evidenced by the most recent attacks. Finally, competition over Al-Shabaab between its mother ship, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS’ attempts to recruit the group is certainly a factor propelling the group forward.

In conclusion, Shay contended that the best chance for Al-Shabaab defeat lies in a vigorous military endeavor combined with an equally energetic political engagement in an effort to compromise Al-Shabaab’s ability to exploit the many vulnerabilities of the Somali state’s security infrastructure.

From The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism:

“Somalia’s Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic group, Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen, is making a "comeback" after having steadily lost ground over the past five years. […]

Al-Shabaab is far from a spent force, however, and has the ability to outmaneuver the Somali government and its international partners. The group has been on the offensive since the middle of 2016, retaking at least 10 towns from Ethiopian and African Union troops. The group has also increased its attacks on African Union bases, Somali government facilities and officials and security forces, hotels and targets in neighboring Kenya.”

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