For al Shabaab a lot of the old rules don’t apply anymore. More Somalis want to flee Somalia than want to join al Shabaab and more of those Somalis willing to stay do so knowing that they will have to fight, not join, groups like al Shabaab to survive. For a growing number of Somalis al Shabaab is just another bunch of warlords demanding loyalty and support at gunpoint. The religious angle does not outweigh clan and family loyalties and what al Shabaab offers (a religious dictatorship) seems unlikely to work.
Al Shabaab is getting the message and has backed off on banning food aid to any areas it controls (mainly in central and southern Somalia). They got the same hostile reaction they encountered when they tried this in 2011. Back then al Shabaab banned food aid because they considered the food aid un-Islamic since it came from the West (mostly the United States) and not from Islamic nations. The U.S. has always paid for and provided most of the food aid to Somalia. This policy cost al Shabaab a lot of popular support. The policy was being used this time for different reasons. Al Shabaab believes that those who supply the food (local and foreign aid officials) are reporting the location of al Shabaab leaders, who are being found and killed (usually by American airstrikes) with increasing frequency. Al Shabaab also believes starving civilians make better human shields.
Another problem this time is factional fighting within Somalia that encourages all manner of odd behavior. In 2011 about a quarter million Somalis died of starvation, largely because of al Shabaab interfering with the movement of food aid. This time al Shabaab controls less territory and Somalis remember how this worked in 2011, so the starvation is expected to be less extensive. Many of these civilians may be going hungry but they still have their guns and more incentive to join an anti-al Shabaab militia.
Much of the territory al Shabaab still controls is theirs because the Islamic terror group has become more adept at exploiting clan feuds and general dislike for foreigners, especially the 22,000 peacekeepers. Although most of these troops are from other African nations that, in Somali eyes, makes this “foreign invasion” even more intolerable.
Al Shabaab also has to cope with more aggressive and effective American military assistance. The current (since early 2017) American government has allowed their military commanders to do what they feel is most effective to get the job done and not rely on a lot of micromanagement from lawyers and politicians back in Washington DC. That decision has made a big difference and al Shabaab has to devote more attention to keeping its leaders and key people alive.
September 12, 2017: In northern Kenya police at a roadblock arrested four Burundi men who admitted they were on their way to Somalia to join al Shabaab. The police were also looking for al Shabaab members coming from Somalia has there have been more of those because of a factional dispute within al Shabaab that is causing more members to flee Somalia.
September 11, 2017: In the south (Balad Hawo) al Shabaab attacked an army base near the Kenyan border. First there was a suicide car bomber at the main gate followed by al Shabaab gunmen rushing into the camp. The Islamic terrorists were eventually forced out of the camp, losing at least seven dead. Ten soldiers died in this battle but meanwhile al Shabaab freed 35 prisoners from a local jail. Troop reinforcements soon arrived and by the next day al Shabaab had been driven from the town. At least thirty people died during two days of fighting.
September 10, 2017: In central Somalia (Beledweyne) an al Shabaab suicide bomber attacked in front of a tea shop, killing himself and two civilians. Fifteen others were wounded.
September 8, 2017: In Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) an al Shabaab suicide bomber killed himself and three others. This is the third time in three years there has been an al Shabaab attack in this part of Baidoa town.
In Mogadishu the first nighttime football (soccer) match in 30 years was held without incident. This was a big deal because it is very visible proof that the city is a lot safer and al Shabaab knew in advance of the night game and were unable to muster their usual violence to mar the event.
September 7, 2017: In the south (outside the port town of Barawe) an al Shabaab man was killed by a missile from an American UAV.
September 6, 2017: In the south (Lamu, across the border in Kenya) al Shabaab raided two villages, killed five Christian civilians and beheaded them. In the last three months al Shabaab has beheaded 16 civilians in the same area.
September 5, 2017: In central Somalia (Bay region) three al Shabaab were killed by a missile from an American UAV.
September 3, 2017: In the south (outside Kismayu) al Shabaab attacked an army base, killed at least a dozen soldiers and made off with weapons, ammo and other loot. But al Shabaab did not capture the base and apparently lost about twenty men during the hours of fighting.
September 1, 2017: In the south (Jubba) a senior al Shabaab recruiter was killed by a missile from an American UAV.
In the north (Puntland) when an al Shabaab bomb went off in a khat market, killing five soldiers and seven civilians.
August 30, 2017: Somalia has received at least a dozen Chinese 4x4 Tiger armored vehicles (similar to armored hummers). These are second hand but free and in working order.
August 29, 2017: In northeast Kenya (Mandera, a Christian area on the Somali border) al Shabaab attacked a cell phone tower in preparation for an attack. The tower was not destroyed and the attack repulsed. Al Shabaab has accepted that most of the people (Moslem and Christian) in this part of Kenya are hostile to them and usually have access to a cell phone. It’s so easy to send a text to nearby soldiers or police to report possible al Shabaab activity.
August 25, 2017: Near Mogadishu a joint U.S.-Somali special operations raid on Bariire village killed twenty al Shabaab fighters. But it later was found that ten of the dead were civilians and the others were members of a clan militia preparing for a battle with a rival clan militia. After more than a week of negotiations the government agreed to admit its soldiers made a mistake and pay cash compensation to the families of the dead civilians.
August 23, 2017: The government arrested, Abdikarin Sheikh Muse, an ethnic Somali who was an Ethiopian rebel leader. Muse was taken to the Ethiopian border and turned over to Ethiopia, which had requested this. That, as expected, caused some protest demonstrations by Somalis who believe Ogaden belongs to Somalia. Islamic radicals in Somalia have long sought to conquer the Ethiopian province of Ogaden, which comprises most of eastern Ethiopia and contains a largely ethnic Somali population. The Ethiopians have been defeating these efforts for generations. That is not going to change, especially since oil and gas has been discovered in Ogaden, and drilling is underway.
Abdikarin Sheikh Muse is a leader in the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front). In 2015 Somalia and Ethiopia signed an agreement to not provide rebels from the other nations with sanctuary. Meanwhile Ethiopia is having problems in Oromia, the region east of the Ogaden, which is populated by Moslems who are hostile the Christian Ethiopians who run the country and the Somalis in neighboring Ogaden.
August 17, 2017: In the south (Jilib) three American UAV missile attacks during the last two days killed seven al Shabaab men.
August 13, 2017: In the southwest (400 kilometers from Mogadishu) Mukhtar Robow Ali, one of the al Shabaab founders, surrendered. Ali had been feuding with other al Shabaab leaders and decided working with the government was preferable to fighting al Shabaab and the government.
August 11, 2017: In the southeast, south of Mogadishu, there were two American UAV missile attacks that caused an undisclosed number of al Shabaab deaths.