During 2014 AU peacekeepers and Somali troops continued pushing al Shabaab out of territory it had controlled since their formation in 2006. In the last two years al Shabaab has lost control of 85 percent of the area it controlled at its peak in 2012. There are now two areas where al Shabaab still exercises some control. One is in the northeast, near the Puntland border and the other in the south along the Jubba River and the Kenyan border. Al Shabaab also has men living covertly in Mogadishu and some other towns and cities. Here they plan and carry out terrorist attacks while receiving reinforcements and supplies (weapons and bomb making materials) from the base areas or locally.
There are 22,000 AU peacekeepers (including troops from Kenya and Ethiopia) in the country as well as about as many Somali soldiers. There are over 50,000 pro-government militias that mainly defend their own areas from al Shabaab takeover.
Even in areas where a visible al Shabaab presence has been eliminated some of the Islamic terrorists continue to operate as bandits. This has become a major problem where there are large numbers of locals dependent on food aid. The al Shabaab like to attack the food trucks, even when they are accompanied by armed guards. A truckload of food can always be quickly turned into cash or favors and is a favorite target. This is causing some serious hunger problems in parts of the interior, where a few starvation deaths have been reported.
January 6, 2015: In the south (Gedo) al Shabaab publically executed four men it had accused of spying for the United States. The Islamic terrorists are obsessed with halting the ability of the Americans to find their leaders and other key personnel and kill them with missiles. The U.S. does have some informants on the ground, but a lot of intel comes from UAV surveillance and electronic eavesdropping. Some al Shabaab know this, but it’s good for morale (and to induce obedience among the locals) to execute a few “spies” from time to time.
January 5, 2015: In the north (Puntland) government forces spent several days sweeping the mountainous Galgala district (50 kilometers south of the Gulf of Aden) and fought several al Shabaab groups killing 54 and capturing nearly as many of the Islamic terrorists while losing at least five soldiers dead and four wounded. A similar campaign was undertaken in late 2014 and the Islamic terrorists appeared to have fled, but they actually returned to the area and re-established themselves. Since the 1990s the two statelets that comprise northern Somalia (Puntland and Somaliland) have been having some internal problems. Despite that, northern Somalia has been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1990 to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south, has been in perpetual chaos since 1990. The two statelets have a festering border dispute that periodically flares into armed clashes. Puntland has had al Shabaab groups camping out near the southern border for several years. One group moved north to the Gulf of Aden. The number of al Shabaab men in Puntland has increased to several hundred during 2014 as more of the Islamic terrorists fled the continuing government offensive in the south. In late 2014 Puntland decided to forget about trying to tolerate the al Shabaab presence and went on the offensive. The al Shabaab men in Puntland have few resources and are vulnerable. A growing number of them are returning south and surrendering to the government there but are determined to remain free and threatening.
January 4, 2015: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide car bomber killed five people. The bomber was trying to get close to the headquarters compound of the national intelligence agency, but failed.
January 2, 2015: In the central Somalia town of Baidoa al Shabaab attacked an army base. During the gun battle seven soldiers and three Islamic terrorists were killed before the remaining al Shabaab men fled. Al Shabaab later claimed this attack was in retaliation for an American UAV killing one of their leaders on December 29th. Later in the day al Shabaab attacked a food convoy in the same area, killing one soldier before fleeing.
In the north (Mudug, on the Puntland border) an al Shabaab roadside bomb hit a bus, killing a security guard and wounding ten passengers, six of them Kenyan teachers working at a local high school. Al Shabaab is hostile to secular education. In Mogadishu a businessman died when a bomb under his car seat went off. This last attack may have been a criminal gang seeking to extort money although sometimes al Shabaab does that as well. In Somalia bandits and angry tribal militias have long used to terror tactics to get their way.
January 1, 2015: Just across the border in Kenya al Shabaab ambushed an army truck and wounded three soldiers before fleeing.
December 31, 2014: The United States revealed that it had killed al Shabaab intelligence chief Tahlil Abdishakur in a UAV missile attack on December 29th.
December 29, 2014: an American UAV missile attack 320 kilometers west of Mogadishu killed several al Shabaab men.
December 27, 2014: In the southwest (Gedo) much wanted (for a $3 million reward) al Shabaab leader Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi surrendered to Somali troops. Hersi was one of seven al Shabaab leaders the Americans offered a total of $33 million in rewards (for death or capture) in 2012. It is believed Hersi surrendered to save himself from because of the violent factional infighting inside the al Shabaab leadership. This has been going on since the Americans killed al Shabaab supreme leader Ahmed Godane in September 2014. After that there was a noticeable decline in al Shabaab morale and an increase in desertions. Not only disillusioned gunmen but a growing number of leaders. This began with some mid-level leaders but spread as al Shabaab personnel realized that Godane’s replacement was a fellow with no reputation and few followers. Godane was an old-school Islamic terrorist who was charismatic and cultivated his reputation. He started out with al Qaeda in Afghanistan during the 1990s. He was the one who shifted al Shabaab from working to take over Somalia to trying to be an international terror operation. This strategy was not a success and all al Shabaab was able to do was a few attacks in neighboring countries, mainly Kenya. Ordering more attacks in Kenya was not terribly difficult as there is already an ethnic Somali population there, mainly in the large coastal cities. Then there are over half a million Somali refugees that Kenya hosts in camps near the Somali border. Godane took over as head of al Shabaab in 2008 and in 2009 announced he was going international and pledging allegiance to al Qaeda. This caused some violent disagreements within al Shabaab. After killing or driving away dozens of senior dissenters Godane began implementing his new strategy. This “purge” of the leadership ensured that if Godane died there would be no replacements of equal stature available. Shortly after the shift in strategy the U.S. offered a $7 million reward for his capture. Since 2009 there have been over a hundred Islamic terrorist attacks in Kenya killing nearly 400 people. The worst one was in 2013 when an attack on a shopping center by four al Shabaab gunmen left 67 dead. Al Shabaab concentrated on Kenya after 2011 because Kenyan troops moved into southern Somalia to stop the increasing lawlessness on their side of the border. There are still al Shabaab leaders unhappy with the terrorism strategy and al Shabaab has tried, with little success to continue with that strategy even though it is now too weak to resume trying to conquer Somalia. When Kenyan troops captured the port of Kismayo in 2012 and later several smaller port towns al Shabaab lost major sources of income. Secondary sources, from control of market towns in the interior, were lost earlier in 2014. Al Shabaab is now broke and without a strong leader. There are still many Somalis who believe Islamic terrorism is the solution to the problems of corruption and poor government, but there is no longer a major organization to join and fight for that ideal (which most Somalis reject). Nevertheless al Shabaab still exists and could continue in its diminished form for years, or longer. This may not happen if enough of the senior, experienced leaders leave the organization via surrender, moving to another country or death.
December 25, 2014: Al Shabaab made a daring attack on the heavily guarded AU (African Union) headquarters in Mogadishu. A fierce gun battle left three soldiers and a civilian dead along with five of the attackers. Another three of the attackers were captured. Another ten or so attackers managed to flee when the attack failed.
December 24, 2014: Parliament approved a new prime minister. He succeeded a man who resigned on December 6th. This is the third prime minister in two years. The other two resigned after losing out in factional fighting, usually over who would be allowed to steal what. The corruption in Somalia is among the worst in the world and despite threats to halt foreign aid, the plundering continues. Actually, many countries have stopped providing aid because so much of it is stolen and the remaining donors seem quite serious about leaving as well. With the appointment of a new prime minister there will be more media attention for corruption because some of the deals negotiated by the former prime minister will now be cancelled so the new prime minister can negotiate new terms that ensure his allies get paid. This makes it very difficult for foreigners to do business in Somalia because once a Somali official is bought he does not stay bought, especially if there is a major shift in the national leadership.
December 15, 2014: In central Somalia (Galguduud) al Shabaab entered a town (Wabho) after its Ethiopian garrison departed without much warning. It took several weeks for the government to organize a force to eject the al Shabaab men and again try to create a local security force.
In the southeast (lower Shabelle region) al Shabaab attacked an army base at 3 AM and killed ten soldiers and set two vehicles on fire before retreating.