Al Shabaab’s area of control continues to spread and poses a threat to Mogadishu and the surrounding regions. Based on current events and live threats actively engaging in terrorist behavior in Mogadishu, the area is not stable enough for the United States Mission to Somalia to establish a permanent presence in Somalia. The trend of violence by Al Shabaab has continued to take the lives of countless civilians and government officials. The consequences of Al Shabaab’s tactics are crippling the Mogadishu area both politically and internationally.
The current threat landscape is expected to expand to the surrounding area as Al Shabaab continues to form alliances with other terrorist groups. The terrorist group is leaving Somalia’s civilians and government officials susceptible to attacks at any time in various areas. Based on the finding the instability in Mogadishu is expected to continue. Al Shabaab is a terrorist group in Somalia whose name means The Youth in Arabic. Al Shabaab initially formed as a radical youth group apart of Somalia’s Union of Islamic Court.
The Union of Islamic Court controlled Mogadishu in 2006, before they were forced out by Ethiopian forces but later returned after strengthening the group and building its membership. Al-Shabab is currently led by Ahmad Umar, also known as Abu Ubaidah (BBC, 2018).Al Shabaab is believed to have somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters (BBC, 2018). Al Shabab is unlike most Somalis who are Sufis in that they advocate a Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam. Their practiced version of Islam enforces a strict version of Sharia in all of the areas they control. Some of the practices of Al Shabaab include stoning women to death who have been accused of adultery and cutting the hands of thieves off (BBC, 2017). Al Shabaab’s extreme measures of those who disobey are to highlight their powers and to deter others from being disobedient. In addition to those tactics Al Shabaab is notorious for carrying out assassinations, explosion/bombings, hotel targets and IEDs fitted into vehicles owned by public figures (BBC, 2017).Al Shabaab’s focus is to expand their authority of control within Somalia and the surrounding area. In a joint video released in February 2012, then al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane said he “pledged obedience” to al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri (BBC, 2017). In addition to the video there are reports that Al Shabaab may have associations with other militant groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, based in the Sahara Desert.The Long War Journal, a U.S. based news website, reported that Al Shabaab managed to launch 418 attacks of different types during the last six months. Of the latest attacks, 40% were verified by independent sources (Halbeeg, 2018). The information was gathered from Shabaab’s monthly operational reports. In total, 418 claims were compiled for this study. Out of these, only 167 claims (roughly 40 percent) were verified by independent sources, meaning that 60 percent cannot be confirmed, the study reads, Moreover, Shabaab does not often release photo evidence for many of its attacks, further complicating verification, (Halbeeg, 2018). Al-Shabaab’s attacks within the last six months varied in complexity and impact and included assassinations targeting public figures and explosions. Most of the attacks executed by Al-Shabaab members took place in the southern part of Somalia including Mogadishu. Of the 418 attacks, 75 percent took place in southern Somalia, with 30 percent occurring in and around the capital of Mogadishu, (Guled, 2018). According to Long War Journal, the most common type of operations were assaults, which consists of clashes, raids, and military assaults, with a total of 166 of the claims. This was followed by IEDs (101), assassinations (67), and then attacks with hand-grenades (43). Al Shabaab also claimed five public executions of its own members for alleged spying, which were coded under internal attacks. In nine instances, the jihadist group claimed to capture territory, which is under ground offensive, (Guled, 2018). Al Shabaab will sacrifice its own members to align with their beliefs and to eliminate the risk of infiltration. Al Shabaab publicly claimed organizing ten suicide bombings, which were used in assaults on Somali government or military sites. Majority of the ten bombings took place after significant political activity was discussed in the area. Al-Shabaab’s use of suicide bombers fits with the overall trend of how Shabaab uses the tactic, additionally, it fits within al Qaeda’s general guidelines for the use of suicide bombings which further points to Al Qaeda guidance of heavy influence within the group (Acled, 2018).Most recently, on November 9th a car bomb detonated in Mogadishu and took the lives of over 52 people while injuring over 100. Three vehicle borne IEDs detonated outside three main buildings in the Hodan district. The explosions were followed by gunfire between Al Shabab fighters and the Somali forces (Acled, 2018). This is Al Shabaab’s deadliest incident enacted in Mogadishu in 2018, exceeding the number of casualties in the attack on the intelligence headquarters and the Parliament of February 23rd that left 30 people dead (Acled, 2018). This latest attack comes a little over a year after the truck bombing that killed 587 people in Mogadishu on October 2017 in multiple attacks. The recent large-scale attack confirmed that the group was very much still active and able to inconspicuously carry out deadly attacks while under watch. (Acled, 2018)The chart above illustrates how relative to 2017, 2018 has seen a decline in violent activities attributed to Al Shabaab for majority of the year. Although the majority of the year see a slight decrease, November 2017 versus December 2018 comparison show that Al Shabaab’s violent activities for this time of year have increased. This depiction serves to show that as Al Shabaab’s activities are not showing signs of significant decline. The illustration also shows that Al Shabaab is on average targeting civilians less in 2018 compared to 2017. While the targeting of civilians has seen a decline, it can be deduced that Al Shabaab has become better at seeking the targeted government forces and directly attacking them. (BBC, 2018)Although it is believed by many that Al Shabaab has lost control of most towns and cities, the image above shows that Al Shabaab still dominates in many unregulated rural areas extending into Kenya. The image also shows Al Shabaab’s bas location and relation to the capital which accounts for the trend of attacks occurring in the southern region of Somalia. The overlap of pro-government supported by Ethiopia and African Union regions in an area with heavy Al Shabaab presence is a cause of concern and center of violence due to the difference of beliefs. (Acled, 2018)As illustrated in the map above, political violence involving Al Shabaab has shifted to new areas. While the majority of the violence continues to occur in the southern region on Somalia, new activity is highlighted northern region near the contested Somaliland. Although the majority of violence involving Al Shabaab is in Somalia, a new development of activity is appearing in Kenya. The occurrence of activity in Kenya can signal alliances being formed in the area. The congregation of new violent locations trends to be moving into Kenya from Al Shabaab’s base, based on analyzing the image.The activities of Al Shabaab continue to delay the over 10-year delay in electing government officials. The November 2018 car-bombing came after months of reports of successful military campaigns, including American airstrikes, against Al Shabaab insurgents. As shown by the November 9th car bomb, despite the government’s efforts to protect Mogadishu against Al Shabaab they were still capable of executing deadly attacks in the area. The government has unsuccessfully reacted to Al Shabaab’s behavior by enticing Al Shabaab to work with them to come up with solutions in contested areas. The struggle to elect a President has been long overdue spanning over a decade. On October 10, 2004 Members of the Somalia parliament elected Abdullahi Yusuf to be the next President (UN, 2018). Due to the instability in Mogadishu, the election could not take place in the country and instead had to take place in Nairobi, Kenya. Al Shabaab and many locals were outraged by the election as they were once again unable to cast their votes and select a President for themselves.In November of 2018 Somalia’s South West state delayed the presidential vote for the third time because it was not sufficiently prepared, the semi-autonomous region’s election committee said on Saturday (Bandhinga, 2018). Some of the recent attacks by Al Shabaab were results of interference by the federal government and state authorities to block the candidacy of former al Shabaab Islamist militant Mukhtar Robow. After the block the committee released a statement delaying the vote again. After the committee evaluated the many activities awaiting, available time and the incomplete tasks to be completed within a short time frame, (it) decided the election date will be December 19th, a committee statement said (Bandhinga, 2018). The original date for the election was Nov. 17 before its initial postponement to Nov. 28 and then to Dec. 5.Although the vote has not been rescheduled it is unlikely to happen due to the continued instability and recent attacks. Matt Bryden, head of the Nairobi-based think tank Sahan Research, said The situation is increasingly unpredictable, and I wouldn’t even rule out the risk of violence in the coming days. And if that happens, then the situation could develop in any direction, Bryden told Reuters (Bandhinamedia, 2018). The trend of violence in recent week coincides with Bryden’s prediction that due to the unpredictability of Somalia right now anything is possible. Based on recent weeks it is highly likely that Al Shabaab is likely to execute an attack to again sabotage the election.To combat the actions of Al Shabaab and to help aid in the successful election in Somalia the United States has carried out a wave of air strikes targeting members of the group. The United States has also sent some of the more than 500 troops located in Somalia to offer monetary incentives for information on the location of the group’s leader.Although the airstrikes and insider threats are weakening al-Shabab, the group has still been able to carry out attacks and has regained control of some towns outside of their previous area of control. Al Shabaab’s resilience has proven time and time again to be their biggest asset. When forced out of an area the group is able to learn from their mistakes and form alliances that help them grow and reclaim lost areas and extend beyond. Al Shabaab continues to make an election impossible while continuing to weaken the stability of Somalia as a whole. The instability has led to mass casualties and a lack of government control for the area. American drone strikes against al Shabaab have successfully killed dozens of al Shabaab militants (BBC, 16 October 2018). These attacks, paired with a renewed offensive by the Somali military and African Union, helped shift the tactics and locations of Al Shabaab attacks away from civilians. Al Shabaab continues to target government personnel and have been actively working with local militias to strengthen their control. Al Shabaab will likely alter their base and reassemble in multiple locations rather than disappear in the near future. The trends suggest that the group will likely expand and form a subgroup in Kenya while maintaining a hold on their current areas in Somalia. The threat of continued violence is very high and concerning and highlights why the area is not stable enough for the United States Mission to Somalia to establish a permanent presence in Somalia.