Somalia: Persistent Al Shabaab On The Defensive



January 24, 2023: The United States, along with a lot of other foreign investors have, since mid-2022 seen Somalia as safe enough for expensive investments. There are still problems investors have to deal with. While the Somali government has achieved a level of stability that encourages more investments, they have to understand that this stability has not eliminated al Shabaab or the corruption and clan loyalty Somalia now has a stable democratic government. In mid-2021 the elected parliament finally approved a new 75-member cabinet. There was something for everyone, including a senior job for a former Islamic terrorist who was one of the founders of al Shabaab and is now working in the government religious affairs department. During the proceedings there were several al Shabaab mortar shells landing near the Parliament compound. There were no casualties. It’s been a long and tedious process to reach June 2021 when the new parliament met and approved the new prime minister selected by the president. This formation of a new government came after several years of efforts to overcome clan and warlord objections to democracy in general. The elections were held and results certified in May 2021, producing a parliament and new president. The prime minister was the one who actually f0rms a government by filling dozens of key jobs with candidates that will not cause disputes in parliament over who got what. Somalia is still dominated by the power of the clans and the blind loyalty to clan even when it harms national unity. Overcoming this factionalism in a democracy is often very difficult. So far it appears that a majority of Somali leaders are willing to give a clean government a chance to work in Somalia. The key test was forming the new government successfully. The stability came at a price because the United States, which supplies most of the foreign aid, agreed to funnel nearly all of it through the central government, which would then distribute the money to where it was needed the most for economic, security or political reasons. This gradually ran into problems as the clan loyalties of central government ministers became more of a factor in who got what and how much of that went to the minister for services rendered. Many Americans who have long worked in Somalia (as soldiers, aid workers or investors) warned that this would happen. At the same time the U.S. government remains hostile to the independent Somali states of Puntland and Somaliland in the north.

These two independent Somali states have enjoyed a degree of peace and prosperity since the 1990s because they declared themselves independent. However, all is not perfect up there. Puntland and Somaliland have been having some internal problems but much less so than in Somalia. 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 live in the south, which has been in perpetual chaos since 1990 with a lasting central government established only recently, and demand that Puntland and Somaliland surrender their independence and rejoin the rest of Somalia. The north refuses because they recognize the problems the south still has, even if the American government does not. While the official U.S. government position is that Somalia is safe and stable enough for the north to rejoin, the northern Somalis and many Americans with long experience in Somalia side with the northerners. Despite that, some northerners back reunification but so far they are a minority holding public rallies backing reunification. The northern governments see this as another southerner threat and attack the separatists. The separatists had the support of some northern clan leaders and became another dispute the northern governments have to resolve, which they tend to do more frequently than the southern governments.

The difference between the northern and southern governments is that the northerners have been more amenable to compromise and less eager to use clan loyalty as an excuse to lie, cheat and steal as a government official. The north is not free of corruption, just more realistic and disciplined about it. During 2022 the Somali state suffered 613 civilian deaths and nearly a thousand wounded because of al Shabaab attacks. Losses among the security forces were a bit less.

January 22, 2023: In Mogadishu al Shabaab used a truck bomb to create a breach in the wall next to the mayor’s office. Al Shabaab gunmen went through the breach and got inside the government offices and occupied them for four hours. The six al Shabaab gunmen were killed and that ended the occupation. Six civilians were killed by the explosion and gunfire. The government employees were safely evacuated from the area before the siege began.

January 20, 2023: In central Somalia (260 kilometers north of Mogadishu) an American airstrike killed 30 al Shabaab members and three of their gun-trucks. This was to assist an army base besieged by over a hundred al Shabaab men. The siege had already left six soldiers dead and many more wounded. The airstrike broke the siege. The soldiers defending the base had already killed or wounded over a hundred of the original attack force. Until the airstrike the al Shabaab fighters seemed determined to continue the siege. Some of the defenders were members of the hated (by al Shabaab) American trained Danab special operations brigade. This was the first American airstrike in Somalia this year. Since early 2017, when Africom (U.S. Africa Command) increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia, there have been about 170 UAV airstrikes that have killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL members. In 2020 there were fifty of these UAV airstrikes and 275 in Somalia in the last decade. In 2021 there were seven UAV airstrikes and fifteen in 2022.American forces, and airstrikes, returned t0 Somali in 2022. This was prompted by the formation of a new Somali government. All American airstrikes are at the request of the Somali government.

January 19, 2023: Outside Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) soldiers found and attacked an al Shabaab camp, killing twenty of the Islamic terrorists, including a command. Five soldiers died as well.

January 18, 2023: North of Mogadishu (Middle Shabelle) the army killed nearly fifty al Shabaab men during a surprise attack on an assembly point for an al Shabaab force planning to make several attacks.

Down south, across the border in northeast Kenya (Garissa county) police and soldiers tracked down and killed ten al Shabaab men who had been responsible for a number of recent attacks on security forces and civilians.

January 17, 2023: North of Mogadishu (Middle Shabelle) al Shabaab attacked an army base, killing eleven soldiers (including an officer) and wounding several others. The attack was repulsed even though it began with an al Shabaab suicide bomber detonating a truck bomb at the main gate to the base.

January 16, 2023: Some 400 kilometers north of Mogadishu (the port town of Harardhere) soldiers drove al Shabaab 0ut of the port town that had long been a base for Somali pirates. Piracy has declined considerably because of the international piracy patrol and ships taking precautions while near Somalia. Harardhere came under control of al Shabaab in 2009 and is one of the few port towns they still control for short periods before being driven out again. The main pirate bases were always in the far north (Puntland) where the local government provided some protection from foreign interference. The Puntland eventually turned on the pirates and drove them from the ports they were using.

Down south in Somalia (Galmudug state) the army drove al Shabaab out of two towns and established local security to keep al Shabaab out, or at least make it more difficult for them to get back in.

January 14, 2023: In Hirshabelle state (220 kilometers north of Mogadishu) al Shabaab was responsible for three bombings that left 15 dead and fifty wounded. Some sixty kilometers further south soldiers at a checkpoint detected that an approaching truck was a suicide truck bomb. The driver was shot dead but not before he set off the explosives, killing himself and several bystanders,

January 9, 2023: Somaliland announced that oil had been discovered within its borders and the British firm doing the test drillings will continue to develop the find.

January 8, 2023: The United States announced that Somalia would receive $9 million in additional military aid to assist the fight against al Shabaab.

January 6, 2023: North of Mogadishu (Middle Shabelle) al Shabaab attacked an army base, killing seven soldiers and wounding several others. The attack was repulsed.


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