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Ethiopia’s impregnability ends, Al-Shabaab remains a threat

Sunday July 31, 2022
By Ashenafi Endale

By Ashenafi EAl-Shabaab’s first military attack within Ethiopia’s territory is a sign of the security intelligence network’s declining power. The group’s concern over the previous 20 years was a confrontation with Ethiopian soldiers. This is partially because Ethiopia has intelligence sources within the armed group, which the world sees as a terrorist organization.

But on July 20, 2022, the terrorist group invaded Ethiopia’s border with over 1,000 fighters “without anyone knowing.” Hundreds of the attackers entered Ethiopia through Aato, another border town, but just a small number engaged Somali Special Forces in a phony battle at Yeed, a border town that is split equally between Somalia and Ethiopia.

Al-Shabaab forces crossed the Ethiopian border more than 100 km deep before the Somali Special Forces were able to stop their assault. Officials of the Somali regional state Security Council declared on July 24, 2022 that all al-Shabaab fighters who crossed the border into Ethiopia at Hulhul Afder zone had been destroyed. But sources suggest some of the fighters have remained within the Ethiopian border. As the defending force moved in and coordinated with local forces, the conflict continued.

The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) released a statement on July 29, 2022, indicating that there is still fighting going on between Al-Shabaab fighters who are still inside Ethiopian borders and other groups of fighters who are attempting to cross the border through five border towns between Ethiopia and Somalia. Over 150 fighters, Al-Shabaab supply hubs, and armored vehicles were neutralized in the battle.

“Our military punished Al-Shabaab forces that tried to cross into Ethiopian territory,” said Tesfaye Ayalew (Maj. Gen.), coordinator of deployment and security command post at the ENDF, during an interview with the state media the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) on July 29, 2022. “Its purpose to invade Ethiopia failed as it faces irreconcilable loss.”

Al-Shabaab’s raids, according to officials of the Somali regional state, are intended to reach Elkere, a location in the Bale zone of Oromia, and establish a base for the Ethiopian Mujahedeen (also known as Allah’s troops), the group’s Ethiopian affiliate. Elkere is a natural barrack that is hard to attack and has unfavorable weather to live in, situated between Somalia and Oromia.

“The creation of the Ethiopian Mujahedeen followed an Al-Shabaab accusation that Muslims in Ethiopia were being oppressed in 2020. This wing’s fighters are mostly from Somalia and Oromia,” According to a Somail regional government official who spoke to The Reporter under the condition of anonymity, “their goal is to create a military base in the Bale zone of Oromia and destabilize Ethiopia.”

However, Mustefe Omer, president of the Somali regional state, who oversaw the counteroffensive from the field, claimed in an interview with the VOA that Al-Shabaab has been assigned a mission by international powers to obstruct the development of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). This claim implied that Egypt is responsible for Al-Shabaab’s recent attack in Ethiopia.

This charge comes at a time when there is growing worry that the relationship between Somalia and Ethiopia has soured since Hassan Sheik Mohamed, Somalia’s recently elected president, assumed office. The new President did not visit Ethiopia, though he did meet with Asmara, Cairo, and Nairobi officials. However, this does not amount to a case because his visit has likely been postponed at the behest of Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed (PhD), who has been out of the public eye for about two weeks.

Al-Shabaab’s recent attack against Ethiopia, according to top security expert, Abebe Muluneh, shows the terrorist organization’s aim of becoming the recognized government in Somalia.

“After seeing the Taliban takes control as Afghanistan central government, Al-Shabaab is giving rise to a new hope for becoming the genuine authority in Somalia. It is therefore making an effort to reinvent its own propaganda,” the expert said.

Al-Shabaab is presenting itself internally as a covert leader, according to the expert, who believes it is making an effort in the interim to appear dominant in the area.

“The recent attack on Ethiopia was primarily intended to serve as propaganda against Ethiopia. These fighters were sent to Ethiopia by Al-Shabaab with the knowledge that they would never succeed or survive. The leaders of the group, however, spread this falsehood about attacking Ethiopia to recruit new youths,” Abebe said.

Ahmed Karate, the deputy leader of al-Shabaab for whom the US had placed a USD five million bounty on his head, gave a documentary interview to Channel 4 television a month before the attack on Ethiopia. Ahmed took the journalists to one of the towns under Al-Shabaab’s control in Somalia after the group’s graduation ceremony for new fighters was held.

Al-Shabaab is now employing new tactics to win over the locals, including female-only schools, health facilities, and environmentally friendly policies like restricting plastic use. The armed group, according to some insiders, has followers in both the upper and lower houses of Somalia’s Parliament, forming a shadow government alongside the country’s elected government. Having ties to al-Qaeda, it also controls a substantial section of Somalia’s economy, including tax collection, illegal trade, human trafficking, and the trade in charcoal, among other things.

Other regional variables, in addition to the Taliban element, have been pointing to Al-Shabaab’s resurgence. The main cause of al-Shabaab leaving its stronghold and claiming new territory is that Ethiopia’s military has been occupied by internal strife. Conflicts in the regional states of Benishangul Gumuz, Oromia, and Tigray are currently the main focus of the ENDF. The military joined the battle a few days after the recent border conflict.

Ethiopian officials are afraid of more than just Al-Shabaab’s plan to build a military facility there. However, there is also concern that “theEthiopian mujahedeen” will band together with the TPLF and OLF-shene, two organizations that the Ethiopian Parliament has deemed terrorist.

Al-Shabaab also views the western countries’ decision to stop funding the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), a peacekeeping mission operated by the AU in Somalia, as an ideal moment. The Mission has been reorganized and renamed ATMIS and is anticipated to be phased out by the end of 2024. This signals the end of the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia and the withdrawal of foreign soldiers. It is anticipated that this choice will deepen Somalia’s security gap.

Somalia’s security forces are still unable to contain Al-Shabaab on their own, according to reports. Many believe that if the ATMIS troops leave Somalia without a backup force, the Taliban situation will repeat itself in Mogadishu. The majority of the AU peacekeeping operation budget is essentially covered by the United States, China, and EU nations. The western nations’ focus on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict diverted their attention from the increasingly volatile Horn of Africa.

Nearly all of the horn nations currently have weak security cooperation, on top of “the weak” Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). While long-ruling administrations were overthrown in Ethiopia and Sudan, two familiar faces are also being replaced in Somalia and Kenya. Before coming to an agreement, these new rulers will require some time. Hassan Sheik Mohamed, for instance, might not pursue the Abiy-Isayas-Farmajo axis, but can avoid the security void by working with IGAD.

Although there are clear signs that Mohamed and Kenyatta get along well, this only holds true till the upcoming election in Kenya. Isayas Afeworki, a TPLF nemesis, may have problems with Ethiopia as well, which would worsen the stability in the Horn of Africa. The horn countries are becoming even more divided over the interests of foreign powers. And in the region, backstabbing is imminent as transactional politics and shuttle diplomacy become the new norm.

The Somali regional government demanded a buffer zone, according to the source who talked to The Reporter anonymously, to ensure that Al-Shabaab fighters cannot bring their banner into Ethiopia once more. This was done in an effort to maintain the conflict between al-Shabaab and Ethiopian forces on Somalia’s soil. This can be a challenging undertaking, though, given how large of a border Ethiopia and Somalia share.

Abebe emphasizes that the case against al-Shabaab can only be resolved if the horn countries conduct a quick operation at the same time. He believes Al-Shabab might be destroyed with a well-planned military operation. The military forces of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti must be combined in order to carry out a massive operation at once, according to him.

“Al-Shabaab can only be totally eliminated using this strategy once and for all,” the expert noted.

Working independently was the main factor in why AMISOM and ATMIS were unable to restrain al-Shabaab, according to Abebe.

“Al-Shabaab will keep trying to take over Somalia unless the horn states unite in a powerful military alliance and utterly crush it. As a show of might, the strikes on neighboring nations continue as well. But the new Somalia administration needs to be powerful in order to organize the coalition,” he insisted.


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