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Will the Beast finally be Slain? An analysis into Presiden Mohamud's Remarkable Progress in his Fight Against Terrorism
by Dr. Omar Ali Mohamed aka Picolo
Monday February 27, 2023



Just a few short years ago Al-Shabaab seemed undefeatable. An all-powerful, pervasive menace that unrelentingly loomed large over the entire Somali landscape and psyche. According to records by Armed Conflict, Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), attacks attributed to the Al-Shabaab had resulted in over 4,000 civilian deaths since 2010, the majority of those deaths being in Somalia. Several other civilians have been injured in these attacks (that have included shootings, abductions and suicide bombings), and the financial ramifications have been unquantifiable. The reality has been grim indeed, and these are just conservative estimates. The real number is thought to be even greater according to records from Somali doctors. The biggest hospital in Mogadishu, Medina, has recorded over 10,000 deaths and 54,000 injuries since 2007, 75% of which are civilian casualties.

However, the biggest tragedy in my opinion has been the psychological impact that Al-Shabaab has had on the Somali people for the past 15 years. Al-Shabaab (and now ISIS) had all but taken Somalia captive and Somalia, as a nation seemed to be at their mercy and behest. It almost felt as if the Somali people had collectively resigned themselves to a fate of having to always coexist with this all-powerful, ubiquitous terrorist group that has held Somalia in bondage for decades. Al-Shabaab had certainly done a great job of having people believe that they are invincible. And truth be told, they had practically been invincible for such a long time that the world ultimately believed this lie.

Is there Hope on the Horizon?

That was until His Excellency President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took over for the second time in May 2022. President Mohamud has declared an all-out war against Al-Shabaab and ISIS and finally, there now seems to be some real hope on the horizon. Mohamud has helped to galvanize the support of the Somali people, a majority of whom are fed up with terrorism within their borders and strongly desire liberation from their stronghold. And, in just a few short months, the results have been nothing short of remarkable. According to a database kept by International Crisis Group analyst Omar Mahmood, more than 1,200 militants have been killed since August 2022. In central Somalia, federal troops supported by local fighters have been slowly seizing territories from Al-Shabab since August. The army and local clan militias known as the Ma'awisley militia (farmers turned fighters) are playing a critical role in the fight against Al-Shabaab. They have retaken large areas of territory in the central states of Galmudug and Hirshabelle in recent months in an operation supported by United States air attacks and helicopter support from an African Union (AU) force, ATMIS.

The current military offensive has been planned and executed by Somali commanders and local forces with Mohamud at the helm. The president has also successfully mended fences with regional powers and convinced them to step up their national security and intelligence support for his government.

Mohamud’s All-Out Strategy

How has such incredible progress been achieved? All of this stems from President Mohamud’s radical new offensive approach through an all-out, three-pronged focus on military, financial, and ideological means. Ideologically, the president has drawn on the common Islamic faith that a majority of Somalis ascribe to, employing an ideological war by explaining to the Somali people that what Al-Shabaab is propagating is not true Islam because Islam does not kill. This new ideological angle was not there before but it seems to be working as the message is resonating and the government has the backing and the support of the Somali people.

Financially, the president is focused on cutting Al-Shabaab’s economic lifeline. The government has developed a center called the FRC (Financial Reporting Center), which is a financial interagency unit. The government has put in place a law that exposes the movement of terrorist money. The FRC has been working very hard with the World Bank and other banks, remittance companies, as well as other financial institutions to curtail the flow of terrorist money in and out of the country.

Militarily, President Mohamud has declared a state of "total war," urging citizens to resist Al-Shabaab. On the 12th of January 2023 the Somali government introduced a "people's uprising" campaign, aimed at putting pressure on Al-Shabaab from all angles, including financial measures. This offensive is being touted as the most crucial attack on the extremist group in over ten years, with Somali fighters leading the charge, supported by U.S. and African Union forces. President Mohamud has been organizing a strong military front in various regions of Somalia and feeling the pressure, Al-Shabaab lashed out in October 2022, killing at least 120 people at a busy intersection in Mogadishu.

This, however, has not deterred the nation. Somalis have long felt helpless in the grip of the Al-Shabaab but now, there is finally hope. President Mohamud has spearheaded a remarkable offensive three-pronged approach, for the first time triggering a citizens’ awakening that the federal government is supporting. For years, outsiders like the African Union force or troops had been the ones leading the fight against Al-Shabaab from neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya. Now, Somalia itself is on the frontlines and this appears to have been the missing link in the fight against terrorism in the region. In fact, the Somali National Army has been preparing to take over the security of the country from an African Union multinational force by the end of next year.

Support from the International Community

Nonetheless, an integral aspect of President Mohamud’s strategy has been working with other governments. Kenya, for instance, is increasing security along the border to find extremists on the run, and in January, the United States announced million-dollar rewards for Al-Shabaab leaders accused of major attacks. In early January, the United States donated heavy weapons and equipment worth $9 million to the Somali National Army (SNA), which may seem relatively small but the symbolism of this gesture cannot be gainsaid. The tide in external support is certainly shifting, as was embodied by the statement made by the U.S. Ambassador Larry Andre: “We cheer the success achieved by Somali security forces in their historic fight to liberate Somali communities suffering under Al-Shabaab.”

Elite Somali forces known as Danab (lightning) have been trained by the United States and they are the other major forces involved in ongoing operations. The force strength of the Danab is almost at 2,000 including a new batch of 350 troops that started training in late 2022 at an airfield west of Mogadishu.

Even back in his previous term from 2017-2022, President Mohamud worked closely with other countries in his fight against terrorism. During this term, one of his most successful strategies was to work closely with international partners, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Together, they were able to provide training, equipment, and other resources to the SNA and other security forces. Under President Mohamud's leadership, the SNA was also reformed and restructured to make it more effective in the fight against Al-Shabaab. This included better coordination between different units and a focus on improving the army's logistics and supply chains.

Turkey has likewise been an invaluable ally to Somalia in its fight against terrorism. Troops trained by Turkey, as well as the United States, have been at the core of the military operations being undertaken by Somali forces. Turkey has so far trained 5,000 commandos known as Gorgor (the eagle). To strength the command and leadership, Turkey also trained 316 officers and 392 non-commissioned officers. The head of SNA, Brigadier General Odowaa Yusuf Rage, was trained in Turkey and has praised their significant role in the training and building of the SNA. The troops trained by Turkey have made a major difference in the fight against Al-Shabab and have been successful in recapturing large numbers of Al-Shabaab-controlled settlements, defending their bases, and neutralizing terrorists. Turkish drones were involved in airstrikes in Lower and Middle Shabelle regions as confirmed by the Minister of Interior, Federal and Reconciliation, Ahmed Moallim Fiqi in September 2022 whilst speaking to a local television station.

What Next?

The future has never looked brighter. The government is leading the charge, the Somali people are uniting, and terrorists are being driven away from the villages; it is only a matter of time before they have nowhere left to hide. Indeed, things are finally looking up for Somalia, thanks to the decisive and bold approach adopted by President Mohamud. Al-Shabaab is expected to experience a decline as a result of the ongoing domestic and international effort to suppress the group and restrict its financial, judicial, and security systems; this will likely lead to the group's gradual weakening and loss of influence.

Nevertheless, while Somalia has without a doubt come a long way from the state collapse and lawlessness of previous years, there is still a long way to go and the nation still faces many challenges before Somalia can truly be seen to be the haven of security that the country hopes to become. The Somali government is still confronted with significant obstacles as it strives to establish, uphold its authority in areas recaptured from Al-Shabaab, and counter radicalization.

The people of Somalia and neighbors in the region must fully support President Mohamud’s efforts. As the president rightfully noted during his September 2022 speech addressing the CSIS (the Center for Strategic and International Studies), the country needs to finally put an end to the vicious cycle and repetitive saga of international terrorism in the region which has now been dragging on for over 15 years. This can only be achieved through continued unity both locally and regionally, as well as by consolidating the gains the country has achieved so far by continuing to do more of what seems to be working unrelentingly until the Al-Shabaab is nothing but a distant memory.

I believe it is possible– I believe in the resilience of the Somali people, I believe in the competence of the Somali government, I believe in the support of Somalia’s allies, and I believe in the leadership of the Somali President.

Omar Ali Mohamed, PhD
Email: [email protected]


 





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