Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Defeating Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked Shebab militants and preventing
cross-border attacks like the bloody siege at a Nairobi shopping mall
will require more than commando strikes alone, analysts say.
killing or capturing senior rebel leaders in raids or drone strikes
would dent the insurgents, the Shebab can bounce back from such setbacks
thanks to their shadowy command structure.
individuals would be a strategic blow to the organisation, but of
course, the problem is in finding them," said one foreign security
source who follows the Horn of Africa.
"However, it is not a silver bullet alone... it offers a chance to kick them down, but not keep them down."
to a recent UN monitoring report, Shebab have built up a powerful
"Amniyat" secret service which operates in separate cells "with the
intention of surviving any kind of dissolution" of the group.
addition, regional Shebab "franchises," such as Kenya's radical Al-Hijra
group thought to have played a key role in last month's Westgate
shopping centre attack, have the ability to work with Somali commanders
but also on their own when necessary.
It was not known which
Shebab commander was targeted by elite US forces in their Saturday night
raid in the southern Somali port of Barawe.
The wanted militant
-- described as a "high value" Shebab leader -- was not captured and it
was unclear whether he had been killed, but a US official said several
members of the group had been slain.
Somali experts suggested it
would be unlikely that reclusive Shebab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane, who
carries a $7 million US bounty on his head, would have been based in as
open a place as Barawe.
Some Shebab leaders are thought to be
based in the mountains of Puntland in the far northeast, known to some
as "Somalia's Tora Bora" after the mountainous area of Afghanistan where
Osama bin Laden hid out following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
seems doubtful with the Al-Qaeda-linked group, and there seems little
sign that the Shebab -- who want all foreign forces to leave Somalia and
have warned Kenya of "rivers of blood" -- would actually want to talk.
leaves the focus on a military solution and a long fight for the
17,700-strong UN-mandated African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM), which
has already been battling Shebab fighters for almost seven years.
Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said Sunday that his country's
cooperation with foreign powers battling the Shebab was "not a secret."
is a threat to us and neighbouring countries," the premier said.
"Al-Shebab is recognised as a terror group by world countries.
Therefore, Al-Shebab is a problem for Somalia, its neighbours and the
Overstretched AU force
Massive steps forward have
been taken in the past two years after Shebab fighters fled fixed
positions in the capital Mogadishu and the AU seized a string of key
But stamping out Shebab for good is a distant goal.
targets could include a push to link up currently separated AU forces
by seizing Barawe, some 180 kilometres (110 miles) south of the capital
One of few ports left in Shebab hands, it offers both a symbolic and a strategic prize.
"Barawe is a target within reach for the Kenyans," said Stig Jarle Hansen, author of "Al Shabaab in Somalia."
troops in southern Somalia -- along with forces from Sierra Leone --
could push north from the port of Kismayo, while at the same time
Ugandan or Burundian troops could advance south towards the same target.
But just taking towns will weaken but not eliminate Shebab forces, analysts said.
notion that insurgency can be defeated by force displays a fundamental
misreading of the enemy's strength," said Abdihakim Ainte, an
AMISOM itself complains it lacks ground
troops and air power including both transport and attack helicopters to
fully carry out the task.
"We can't expand anymore... the best we
can do is consolidating and cleaning up the areas which we're
controlling now," Ugandan army chief Edward Wamala Katumba said shortly
after the Westgate attack, calling for up to 7,000 more troops.
more we stretch, the thinner we become on the ground and the more
exposed we are," Katumba told reporters, adding that Shebab fighters use
"the ungoverned space... to perfect their skills of terrorism."
restrictions including strangling the lucrative charcoal trade to Gulf
States that the Shebab still have interests in could also tighten the
noose on the group.
But Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa project
director at the International Crisis Group think tank, suggested that
while it could hamper Shebab's day-to-day operations, it would not stem
the possibility of another Westgate-style attack.
sources of funding that are quite high profile is not necessarily going
to hurt the kind of networks that carried out this kind of attack,"
"This sort of funding (for the attack) would be more ring-fenced."