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Al-Shabaab 'disintegrating' after airstrikes, defections

By Shukri Mohamed
Tuesday, January 6, 2015

MOGADISHU — As al-Shabaab's leaders are killed in targeted airstrikes and its fighters are defecting in large numbers, the Somali government and its allies have the opportunity to take advantage of the group's weakened state, analysts say.

"The losses that al-Shabaab has sustained in the last two years seem to be a threat to the existence of the group," said Abdirahim Isse Addow, director of state-run Radio Mogadishu and former spokesperson for the Islamic Courts Union, the organisation from which al-Shabaab splintered.

"The signs of disintegration are very evident in al-Shabaab," Addow told Sabahi. "No group can continue to exist when it loses the support of the society within which it exists."

As a result of the military offensive by the Somali government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), al-Shabaab has lost the income it used to receive from important cities such as Barawe, Kismayo, Bulo Burde and El Bur, he said.

In addition, he said, al-Shabaab's internal conflicts, which have plagued the group for the last three years, have had a lasting impact in dismantling the group's leadership.

The divisions within the group were so deep that it eventually led former al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane to commission the killing of many of his former commanders, including al-Shabaab co-founder Ibrahim Meeaad al-Afghani, American-born jihadist Abu Mansour al-Amriki and Maalim Burhan, Addow said.

"After that, many other men who were part of the group fled, including Mukhtar Robow, Hassan Dahir [Aweys] and Zakariya [Ismail Ahmed Hersi], who finally surrendered to the government," he said.

The group has never recovered from that breakdown in their leadership, which has now been exacerbated by the airstrikes killing the remaining al-Shabaab leaders, Addow said.

In the latest example of a successful airstrike against al-Shabaab's leadership, the group's intelligence chief Abdinasir Hassan Barakobe, whose aliases include Abdishakur and Tahlil, was killed December 29th near Saakow in Somalia's Middle Jubba region.

His death came two days after the surrender of al-Shabaab intelligence chief Hersi to the Somali authorities.

Before he was killed, not much was known about Barakobe, who was in his thirties and was born to a prominent family in Mogadishu's Bondhere district. He was one of the officers of the Islamic Courts Union and later joined al-Shabaab in 2007.

Barakobe was believed to be very close to Godane and after his death it emerged that he was responsible for the group's Amniyat intelligence unit.

An opportunity to eliminate al-Shabaab

"The Somali government has a huge opportunity to eliminate this group with the help of its allies," said Abdirisaq Mohamed Qeylow, who was spokesperson for the Islamic Courts Union before he joined the Somali government and became spokesperson for the Ministry of Information under Transitional Federal Government President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

"The amnesty period has to be extended and the opportunities given to people who have not committed serious crimes, like the youth, have to be increased such as education, work and ensuring their security as a way of attracting other youth who are still part of the group," he told Sabahi.

The fate of al-Shabaab members will fall into three categories, according to Qeylow.

"First are senior leaders of the group, some of whom have committed many crimes against the Somali people," he said. "It will not be possible for them to hide within the society and the Somali government cannot make a decision about them by itself if they give themselves up because they have committed crimes against the world. So, they will try to fight until they are killed."

"There is a second group. These are men who are not well known by the people, but they are influential within the group. Those men have an opportunity to surrender and condemn the activities they were engaged in as part of al-Shabaab," he said. "The third group are the young members of al-Shabaab who carry arms. Those ones give themselves up every day and they are rehabilitated."

"The group cannot continue to exist if things go on like this," Qeylow added.

Al-Shabaab's ongoing difficulty retaining its foreign fighters and attracting new ones also points to the group's troubles.

"Lately there has been no news about the foreign men who were fighting alongside al-Shabaab. I think many of them have left the country and have joined the fighting that is taking place in Arab countries such as Libya, Yemen and Syria," Qeylow said. "That has weakened the strength of al-Shabaab, which initially had the ideological and financial backing of al-Qaeda."

"It is possible that after the killing of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was responsible for al-Qaeda in East Africa and who died in a Godane trap, and the complaint letter written by Ibrahim al-Afghani, whom [Godane also] killed, lowered support from al-Qaeda and other organisations for [al-Shabaab]," he said.

Fighting al-Shabaab ideology

The string of defeats al-Shabaab has suffered recently has caused its leadership to unravel and the organisation to weaken, said political analyst Hassan Sheikh Ali, but the radical ideology that the group promotes will remain in Somalia for many years to come.

"Al-Shabaab has been going down for the last three years, but the recent killing of their top officials will serve to [permanently] destroy the group's military capability, strength and morale soon," Ali told Sabahi. "But as an ideology, al-Shabaab will be here for a long time and will have to be fought with another ideology."

"Al-Shabaab is also suffering because the foreign fighters that used to come here for jihad are now going to Syria and Iraq," he said. "Therefore the Somali federal government, the regional and state administrations, and the international community should capitalise on al-Shabaab's current weakened state."

"In order to do that, the government should avoid the political conflicts that weaken its ability to act," he said.

A group like al-Shabaab can only survive when it has a strong leadership, said Association for Somali Youth Unity Secretary General Mukhtar Haji Kastaro. "But al-Shabaab's [foundation] has been destroyed. In the last few months, many of its top leaders were killed and the government must not waste this opportunity," he told Sabahi.

"Some of the steps the government and AMISOM should take include immediately taking control of districts under al-Shabaab so as to not give them an opportunity to regroup, to engage in talks with moderate al-Shabaab leaders and to continue the targeted [killings] of the few hard-core extremists remaining in the group."

"If that is done, al-Shabaab can be completely destroyed in the next 12 months as it is on its last breath," he said.


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