A string of military and tactical reverses by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab in the past month could indicate signs of its declining capability and loss of common support, despite their obvious presence in Somalia, according to security analysts.
Al-Shabaab’s spate of suicide bombings and assassinations aimed at government officials, members of the security forces and key facilities have been particularly lethal for the Horn of Africa nation. Since the start of 2016, over 100 civilian and officials have been killed in Mogadishu alone.
But in recent months and particularly since the beginning of June, the Al-Qaeda affiliated group has experienced significant setbacks and an erosion of the public support it once enjoyed in rural districts under its control.
In late May 2016, Mohamud Dulyadeyn, who masterminded the deadly attack on Garissa University in April 2015, and Maalim Daud, head of Al-Shabaab’s intelligence hit squads, both died as a result of intelligence led operations by the Somali National Army and coalitionforces. Sixteen other militants were also killed in these operations.
On June 9, Al Shabaab suffered their heaviest losses so far in a failed attack against Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) troops of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in Halgaan in central Somalia. More than 140 militants were killed and a considerable amount of deadly ordnance recovered.
Immediately following their significant reversal in Halgan, Al-Shabaab’s senior level command ordered the execution of six alleged spies from within their ranks. This action is a clear illustration of the frustration by Al-Shabaab’s senior commanders as they continue to face high profile losses, security analyst on Somalia, George Musamali said.
Among those executed was Mohamed Aden Nur, whose death was ordered on the grounds that he was a CIA agent. Al-Shabaab allege that Nur facilitated the killing of Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was the Al-Shabaab leader, in September 2014. Also executed with Nur was Muhaydin Ahmed, another Kenyan, for providing information that led to the killing of the mastermind of the Westgate mall siege in Kenya, Adnan Garaar. Garaar was killed in a drone strike in March 2015.
Since 2008, Al-Shabaab has suffered a string of losses of its top commanders to either drone strikes or in combat with AMISOM troops. In addition, Al-Shabaab has also steadily lost territory in most major towns of Somalia. They now only occupy the vast Boni forest that transcends the Kenya-Somalia border in Jubbaland State.
In February, Al-Shabaab suffered another blow when one of its deputy commanders, Mahad Mohamed Karate who headed the intelligence unit, was killed by AMISOM troops. Karate was another of the masterminds of the Garissa University attack in 2015, in which more than 147 students were callously gunned down. He was also accredited with many suicide attacks that have taken place in various towns in Somalia.
Also in March, Yusuf Ali Ugas, the Al Shabaab regional commander, recruiter and influential preacher together with Mohamed Mire the group’s governor for Hiraan region, were killed in a drone strike. The following month, Hassan Ali Dhoore who was a senior member of the terror gang’s intelligence wing, was also killed in South Mogadishu.
The loss of the leaders is expected to disrupt Al-Shabaab’s operational planning and preparation and degrade their capability to mount attacks in the short term, Musamali said.
Al-Shabaab’s Halgaan Defeat Indicates Further Loss of Territory
Al-Shabaab’s latest defeat at Halgaan is a striking example of the ground it appears to be losing in recent months. In what has become their signature style of attack, the militant group planned a dawn raid against AMISOM forces using a suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) to destroy defences prior to a full scale ground assault. After a four-hour battle, Al Shabaab had lost more than 140 fighters and a huge cache of arms was recovered. Two foreign fighters in leadership roles were also killed.
Visiting the battleground soon after Ethiopians had declared victory, the acting AMISOM commander Maj-Gen Nakibus Lakara congratulated the soldiers for their preparedness and skill in thwarting the Al-Shabaab attack.
“This is a big catch; the communication gadgets, machines guns and the B10’s and of course the terrorists as well. It is massive,” Lakara said.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) in its report on Somalia dated June 1, 2016 says, “Al-Shabaab continued to launch regular attacks despite Somali National Army (SNA) and AMISOM offensive and drone strikes, but lost territory.”
Its May report noted that despite carrying out urban attacks in Somalia in which 18 civilians and two National Intelligence Service Agency (NISA) officers were killed, Al Shabaab “had made limited territorial gains”.
Having lost large swathes of land to the Somali National Army and AMISOM forces, Al Shabaab have now resorted to hit and run attacks on soft targets especially in Mogadishu and against AMISOM’s Forward Operation Bases (FOB).
The loss of territory has also meant that sources of finances for Al-Shabaab have dwindled. During the period when they controlled Mogadishu and Kismayo, they forcibly extorted taxes from businessmen. Kismayo’s port, in particular, played a key role as a conduit for the export of charcoal to Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries. It was also used to import cheap sugar that found its way to neighbouring countries including Kenya. This loss of revenue has clearly had an impact on Al-Shabaab finances resulting in the group having to raise their taxes, which has further eroded popular support from communities under their control.
As Al-Shabaab’s influence wanes and their military power is checked, Somalis have become bolder and are slowly reclaiming their country and resisting the terrorists. They are also providing more information to the Somali National Army and AMISOM forces, which has resulted in many successful operations against Al-Shabaab in the regions.
In Adaley, a little village in Mudug region, local herdsmen took up arms this month against the terrorist group, fed up with the forced taxation on their camels and goats.
In the ensuing fight at least five fighters from both sides were killed. Al Shabaab members fled the village.