Somalia and Kenya with the nightmare of Al-Shabaab.
The weekend of July 8th was an eventful one in Somalia. The country still remains unstable and Al-Shabaab could once again be taking the initiative not only in the use of social media but also on the battlefield.
The announcement was made by the militants on July 6th, 2023 that six IEDs were detonated in Janay Adelle in the Afmadow District of the Lower Juba region in the Southern part of Somalia. The target that was chosen was a joint convoy of US and Somali forces.Al-Shabaab would claim on social media that twelve Somalis and several Americans were injured in the blast. However a Press Release from AFRICOM would state that no American Soldiers were injured in the blast.
That would not be the only operation Al-Shabaab would launch on that date. Reports also emerged that a suicide bomber was deployed by the Militant Group against Camp Sarira a facility of the Kenyan Defense Force in Lamu County in Kenya. The attacker was detected by snipers and killed before he was able to reach the facility. It would be reported in the same source that the Somali Militants had used a UAV to conduct surveillance against the facility where the failed attack was launched. Over the last three weeks it has been documented that over 30 Kenyan Security Officers have been killed in 10 attacks across both Lamu and Garissa Counties.
Why has there been an increase in attacks by Al-Shabaab in both Kenya and Somalia? That is a great question to ponder. One interesting factor that seems to be the catalyst is timing. The announcement that the reopening of the border between Kenya and Somalia which has been closed since 2011 will take place seems to have emboldened the militants. Another take has the view that Al-Shabaab is on the verge of being defeated and is trying to remain relevant.
Another factor that appears to encourage the militants is the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from the African Union Training Mission in Somalia aka ATMIS on June 30th, 2023. This move was a benchmark as the force plans to leave Somalia by the end of 2024. It appears that the militants see the withdrawal of ATIMS as presenting an opportunity to fill a vacuum that not only needs to be filled but also a chance to not only return to the areas where they previously held sway over but also to possibly regain power in Mogadishu.
How have both the Somali Government and their international partners responded to this renewed offensive? During the weekend of July 8th the United States launched Airstrikes against Al-Shabaab. The area that was targeted was in fact the Afmadow region where the IED attack against the joint convoy took place. These attacks were launched at the request of the Somali National Army.
Is the US presence in Somalia too limited or is the US agenda for Somalia out of balance? That is a great question. Most US operations in the country have been limited to either Drone Strikes or raids by the U.S. Special Forces. A paper by the International Crisis Group takes the position that the U.S. Policy focuses too much on Al-Shabaab and not enough to address the political rifts within the country that hinder conflict resolution. The paper also suggests that there is no preparation by the Biden Administration for any potential negotiations between the Somali Federal Government; these omissions can be seen as Washington being shortsighted.
As with other insurgent movements there are two factors at play here. The success of Al-Shabaab determines on governance or the lack thereof in the area that they operate. This appears to be at play with the growing strength and confidence of the government in Mogadishu. Secondly the ability to regroup by Al-Shabaab is a factor that is overlooked in far too many conflict zones and is a factor here.
Investments in Somalia by the International Community could be the coup de grace that could be levied against Al-Shabaab. Aid is flowing into Somalia in very small doses. But is it in the proper format? That will be the question that will need to be answered.