On October 14, 2017, a bombing in Mogadishu in which a truck filled with explosives has killed 358 people and injured more than 200 people has been a crisis in making. The events and incidents prefacing this tragedy can be easily ignored, so, in this essay, we make an attempt to piece the events together from information available in the public domain.
It was Sep 2012 and I had taken over the role of the Program Director for setting up a Food Rations Warehouse, Food Supply Chain, Fulfillment Centre and Last Mile Delivery for UNSOA (United Nations Somalia Mission) in Mogadishu for a company that had recently won a contract with the UN. The end customer was AMISOM constituting of 10,000 troops from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Burgundy. I had little interest in the geopolitics around the project and kept myself constrained to the scope of the projects. Unknown to me at that time, I also witnessed a meeting between key members of the coalition in Kempinski Hotel, Djibouti in the year 2000. Four years after I moved on and got into a new career, a sudden interest was sparked to understand the deeper hidden aspects shaping the violence and instability in this region. All the information has been gathered from public sources and all links open in new tabs to ensure reading continuity.
The epicenter of the recent truck bombing that is called the “9/11 of Somalia” is also the location where a few weeks back, a botched US bombing reportedly killed 10 civilians. The planning and execution of the Mogadishu attack is a small town named Bariire in the southern Lower Shabelle region, a two-hour road trip from Mogadishu. The town was captured by Al Shabaab from government forces the same day the bombing took place in Hodan District. Apparently, soldiers and local police have not been paid since Riyadh and Abu Dhabi pulled budgetary support for Somalia as it refused to side with UAE/Saudi in the gulf crisis. Due to this, Somalian forces surrendered Bariire protesting against non-payment of salaries and dues for few months. The field assets used by the group responsible were two vengeful terrorists, each driving a Toyota Noah minivan and a Bedford truck carrying a mix of around 350kg of military grade and homemade explosives which were hidden underneath agricultural produce. The target was the heavily fortified green zone in Mogadishu which contains the airport, most embassies, UNSOA HQ, AMISOM HQ (the peacekeeping force AMISOM) and the recently established Turkish military base for training Somalian forces. The strategy used was familiar to the previous strategy used by Al Shabaab i.e. use the smaller vehicle to break through the fortified gate and allow for the bigger vehicle to barge in creating a secondary explosion. Reportedly, the truck driver of the bigger vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint while entering Mogadishu and even briefly detained, but let go quickly without the vehicle being searched. While the local officials claim that a local clan leader vouched for the truck and its driver, there have been reports that money changes hands at the checkpoints to allow goods and services to access the city. In all likelihood, palms were greased of these corrupt officials at these checkpoints who let the trucks proceed ahead. There are also reports that the driver desensitized the security forces at the first checkpoint by making a couple of round trips in the weeks preceding the fatal trip.
Zoobe Junction is in city’s Kilometre Five sub-district (also called K-5 district) in the main district of Hodan in Mogadishu where the attack unfolded has been a popular weekend getaway spot for Somalians where Shisha bars, local coffee shops, vegetable and street hawkers do brisk business. On Saturday, the market area was particularly busy with traffic and jams and bustling weekenders. The bigger trucks was stuck in a traffic jam, within sighting distance of Medina Gate, the entry to the fortified AMISOM/Airport complex and attracted the attention of security forces who were chasing the truck after it breached the second checkpoint. Before the security forces could intervene, the driver detonated the explosives. A nearby fuel truck amplified the explosion leading to significant injuries and destruction of property. The driver of the second van was arrested around 300 meters away who turned out to be a militant known to the authorities. After the driver stepped away from the second van, the van detonated at Ceel Qalow near Halane, he base of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM).
The arrested driver reportedly provided information that the driver of the bigger truck, who died in the explosion, was a deserter from the Somalia Military and a member of the ICU (Islamic Courts Union) who wanted to take revenge for the botched US attack in his hometown Barrie. Al Shabaab has not yet claimed credit for the bombing as the significant civilian deaths have the potential to rally the public against the militant group and its network. Al Shabaab did not anticipate the severity of the attack as, without the fuel tanker in the vicinity, the death and causality toll would have been much lesser. The ironic part of the incident is that the military grade explosives may have been stolen from the AMISOM troops (made up of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopian Troops). As per Sahan Research, a Nairobi based think tank, the number of attacks has been on the increase from 723 people died in 395 attacks in Somalia in 2016, up from 46 dead in 36 attacks in 2010. Reuters reported that the initial swab tests at the site of the attack showed traces of potassium nitrate, a fertilizer component, indicating al Shabaab is now manufacturing explosives as well as harvesting them from munitions.
Many Commercial and Geo-Political Players in the Country
Somalia has been in a civil war since 1991 and while it initially grew out of resistance to the military junta led by Siad Barre during the 1980s, a series of geo-politics events in and around the country led to the emergence of an armed uprising between clans and warlords. As we will discuss later in this essay, even the appointment of the TFG ( Transitional Federal Government) in 2004 did not achieve any of the “unification” or “return of normalcy goals”. Somalia is situated on the edge of Horn of Africa and is a strategic location for trillions of trade that transits through the area. Naturally, external state actors with economic and political interests are found deeply embedded in the conflict zone. Turkey has been the most avid supporter of Somalia during the recent years and has run hospitals, schools, critical infrastructure projects and has even allowed a large number of Somalians to study in Turkey. The Turkish company Albayrak manages the Mogadishu seaport, and Turkish Airlines is the only country which flies regular flights to and fro from Somalia. The airport is operated by an Emirati company SKA International which also provides accommodation camp services within the green zone. An Emirati company also runs the food rations project for AMISOM troops through UNSOA. While Turkey has mostly aligned itself with the federal government refusing to take any sides, UAE has been active in the Somalian breakaway region of Somaliland where a military training base in under construction. Additionally, Dubai’s DP World has signed a contract to manage the port of Berbera inspite of protests from the Somalian Federal Government. More recently, UAE has been accused by Al Jazeera of fomenting trouble in the north of Yemen to create a breakaway region. China is a marginal player so far in the country, however, is planning to ramp up efforts in the reconstruction of the war-torn country. Finally, there is a large presence of AMISOM forces under a UN approved mandate which provides a range of support services from military, maritime to humanitarian services.
Farmaajo upsets the Election Apple Cart
In a Feb 2017 election, Farmaajo emerged as the surprise winner of the heavily contested race in which 184 of the 328 seats were won by him. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed affectionately nicknamed “Farmaajo”, was a former Prime Minister of Somalia, a US citizen and an anti-corruption crusader, who was pitched against rivals: Sheikh Sharif Ahmed from Jubbaland; incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud from the Southwest and Galmudug and incumbent Prime Minister Omar Sharmake from Puntland. As reported by Jeffery Gettleman of New York Times, this election was rife with blatant corruption where Farmajo’s opponents traded bribes of $ 1.3 million or more. To add to the corruption and intrigue, this election also had foreign state actors openly siding with their preferred candidates and potentially injecting the cash needed to sway the election in their favor. Ethiopia backed the incumbent Prime Minister Omar Sharmake while Qatar, UAE, and Turkey backed the Islamist candidates Hasan Sheikh Sheikh Sahrif Ahmed. Farmaajo’s election win was greeted with cheers and jubilation across the country as he was perceived to be the protest candidate who was honest and was not easily influenced by foreign powers. Even the Al-Quiada affiliated group Al Shabaab openely warned the voters and clans of Somalia against electing Farmaajo.
With so many enemies, the election upset is bound to have triggered and catalyzed behind the scenes actions to topple this government. This background of commercial/political/insurgency interests intersecting together provides a good backdrop for understanding the potential multiple motives for the recent bombings.
Multiple Motives for Bombings
There have been some claims that the truck bombings are a revenge for the botched US-led attack in Bariire and other reports claim that the bombings were targeting the Turkish military base in Mogadishu. however, this may be a reductionist or biased analysis of the incident. The various intelligence and security agencies of Somalia are decentralized, have strong preferences and opinion on how the country should be run. There are even reports that these agencies are infiltrated by Al Shabaab sympathizers. Anonymous reports from these vested interests released to the media may be aimed at creating misinformation and making the true perpetrators behind this terrible crime. While Al Shabaab is the most probable suspect, it is quite plausible that the competing forces may be propping up financial and subversion efforts in Somalia through their chosen proxies.
Al Shabaab routinely attacks the AMISOM troops and their large network as they share with the general Somali public deep antipathy for what they consider occupying forces. While AMISOM forces have brought much-needed stability to the country, they have also been routinely accused of corruption and abuses including detentions, torture, rape of Somalians who are accused of being sympathetic to Al Shabaab. Kenyan investigative journalists have recently found damning evidence of corruption against the Kenyan military positioned in Somalia in the sugar trade which benefits Al Shabaab as well. Professor Abdi Ismail Samatar of the University of Minnesota offers says that “The African Union force is a conventional army up against guerrilla fighters and I have little faith they will prevail. They have Mogadishu, but al-Shabab has much of the rest of the country. The African Union force is partnering with Kenya and Ethiopia, which want to gerrymander Somalia. This undermines any serious attempt at stabilizing Somalia. The goal of much of the political class in Somalia is not to create peace, but to engage in endless political gymnastics in pursuit of their own interests”
Given that no Americans assets were located nearby at the time of the attack and the attack target was quickly modified after the truck driver got stuck in traffic points to a different motive than harming American interests. There are many theories on the timing of the attack and they include routine attacks on AMISOM forces, intended attack on the Turkish military training base, revenge for the botched American raid in Bariire or embarrassing the President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who has claimed that his administration will wipe Somalia clean of Al Shabaab. There is also the potential of the Gulf Crisis external state actors playing their part and providing financial and ideological support to the various breakaway clans in Somalia. We will briefly discuss these probable theories.
Abdikarim Sheikh Muse (Qalbi-Dhagax), a decorated military officer, a war hero who was wounded in the 1977 war against Ethiopia was accused of being an Al Shabaab sympathizer and handed over to Ethiopia without the due process recently. Al Shabaab is the radical group that emerged from the US supported Ethiopian invasion of Somalia which shattered the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamic political group. The young wing of ICU emerged and transformed itself into the radical ideologist Al Shabaab once the more moderate ICU was dismantled. Analysts claim that the US-led Ethiopian invasion had the unintended consequence of the emergence of the radical and ruthless Al Shabaab strain. The handing over of Qalbi-Dhagax Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) to Ethiopia is seen as a betrayal by most Somalians and most definitely by Al Shabaab. The popularity of the President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (popularly known as Farmajo) has plummeted due to the hypernationalist fervor created by the incident. The social media is helping to mobilize Qalbi-Dhagax sympathizers with tweets, songs, poems, and even public skits expressing the disillusionment with Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo. Al Shabaab has a strong intelligence arm (Amniyat) which has traditionally sought to capitalize on disagreements between clans, warlords and provincial fault lines using violence. Using this incident, it is possible that Al Shabaab was attempting to rile up criticism of the President (Farmajo) who has also made bold claims that Somalia will be unified and rid of terror.
There are also murmurs of external actors propping up separatist regimes and a radical movement against the President Farmajo. Reportedly UAE even tried to defeat Farmajo and spent millions of dollars in influencing the election process. There are reports that the hard-line stance against UAE and Saudi Arabia may cost Farmajo his job as well lead to a potential destabilization of Horn of Africa. In the fatal 1977 war, where Somalia lost against Russian backed Ethiopia, CIA cables confirmed that Saudi Arabia played a pivotal role in egging President Siad Barre of Somalia to launch the ill-fated war. Even Qatar has been accused by the United States of providing support to Al Shabaab militants.
Surprisingly, Ethiopia and Somalia are the only two countries in Africa who have remained neutral during the Gulf Crisis. Farmajo refused to side with Saudi Arabia and UAE in their recent tirade against Qatar. However, the Federal government of Somalia is at loggerheads with the provincial states and most of the Somali citizens who believe that they would benefit by siding with Saudi Arabia and UAE. Puntland, Somaliland and other states have taken an independent position and some leaders have traveled to UAE recently before announcing their position publically. Saudi Arabia incentivized Somalia with a $ 50 million funding when Somalia cut its ties with Iran. UAE’s P&O ports, a state sovereign fund owned company invested $ 136 million in the Port of Bosasso in Puntland, a provincial state of Somalia. With the exit of ISIS from Syria, rumor mills (though unsubstantiated at this point), point towards the potential funding of separatist and radical movements in Somalia by wealthy external state actors to destabilize the UN-backed government of Farmajo. These allegations about the involvement of state actors have amplified since UN Monitoring group released its semi-annual report alleging that UAE is involved in Arms Transfer to certain groups in Somalia using novel methods. While a likely motive, UAE, and Saudi Arabia have strong business interests in Somalia and stand to gain more from a stable Somalia than an unstable nation. Even if the external actors want to destabilize the government, the poverty-ridden Somalia is hungry for investments and projects and regime change aims can be achieved by offering commercial contracts as an incentive in the trading hubs of Somalia.
Turkey has opened up a military training base within the fortified Airport compound, by far its biggest overseas, to train Somali forces. The $ 50 M investment led to the inauguration of a base on Sep 30 and a promise to provide more support in the future. It may seem that Turkey is seizing the first mover advantage after the Gulf crisis and advancing its footprint in the MEA starting with Qatar and then with Somalia. However, Turkey has always been involved with the region including the massive aid effort in 2011 famine. It has built schools, infrastructure, and hospitals in Somalia and trade has boomed between the two nations. Somalia supported Turkey during the recent attempted coup and it is a possibility that Al Shabaab, a Sunni militant group is taking revenge for Turkey’s extended presence in the country as well as the implied relationship with the government of President Farmajo.
An analysis of the real motive has the potential to be negatively impacted by the sequential/casualty reasoning process. We tend to analyze events to each other and assign sequential causality to them, while the real motive may not be visible immediately. Al Shabaab has been driven out by the AMISOM troops from Mogadishu in the last few years and it is simply possible that they are reviving, innovating and adjusting their strategies for a comeback. The explosives used by the group have become more powerful in the recent years and it is possible that the recent truck bombing was a random strategy to harm military and political interests as Al Shabaab regroups.
History of Somalia, Preface to the Al Shabaab Emergence and Revival
Somalia was historically known as the “Puntland” or the “Land of Gods/Land of Spices” and archaeological proofs found in Somali region confirm the identity of Somali Pharaonic. Many Egyptologists claim that the Land of Punt, located in Somali region, was the birthplace of the Ancient Pharaohs, their ancestral homeland. Somalia is best known for Queen Hatshepsut’s expedition in 1493 BCE to the Puntland. Living trees, ostrich feathers, elephant tusks and spices from Puntland were exchanged with gold, jewels, and beads from Egypt. Somalia, also known as the land of poets was predominantly Sufi Islam dominated which is the more intellectual Islamic theology. Till the emergence of the ICU (Islamics Court Union) in 1970’s in Somalia, a large swath of Somali population practiced Sufi Islam. The capital of Somalia is Mogadishu and the estimated population of the country is Mogadishu is 9.3 million. Somali/Arabic language is the predominant language and Somalia shilling is the local currency. The bordering countries are Yemen to the North through the Gulf of Aden, Djibouti, and Eritrea to the Northwest, Kenya to the Southwest and Ethiopia to the West of Somalia.
Belonging to the Cushitic group one of the three African indigenous ethnic groups, the country gets it name from SOO and MAAL which roughly translates into “Go and milk it”. While not proven, it provides an indication that Somalis were a traditional nomadic pastoral society which reared camels, cattle, goats, and
sheep for subsistence and commercial reasons. The country has the second longest coastline in African subcontinent with 3025 km as the coast extending up to 200 nautical miles in the Indian Ocean. Most of the building and architectural structures seem similar to contemporary Occidental designs while Islamic architectural influences overlay the Occidental designs.
Somalia is situated at the farthest most edge of Horn of Africa. Most of Somalia is arid, inhospitable and inaccessible. The natural ports of Mogadishu, Kismayo, Berbera, Bosaso, Merca and Las Khorey provided rest and recreation stop for sailors as well trading hubs for much of landlocked African sub-continent. In 1939, the British developed Port of Aden as a husbanding port for its ships transiting to and fro from India. The French developed Djibouti and the Italians developed Eriteria as their main husbanding ports. The unexplored Somalia became the center-stage of conflict between competing forces British, French, Italians, and Ethiopians. After a brief war and an ensuing agreement, the French take over the North of Somalia which became an independent republic Djibouti in 1977, the British cultivated relationships with local clans and create the British Somaliland. The Ethiopians took over Ogaden and the rest of the eastward Somalian territory with a promise to allow the colony to become independent in a decade from the date. The North Eastern Province (NEP) carved out of Jubaland region of present-day Somalia was acceded to Kenya by the colonial powers. Ogaden and NEP remain volatile regions with large Somalia populations who claim persecution at the hands of Ethiopians and Kenyans.The colonial boundaries created in the 1930’s created faultiness within Somalia and the aim of all political forces was to unify these provinces (including the Ethiopian annexed state of Ogaden and the NEP held by Kenya) into a single country. The West had traditionally supported Ethiopia and Kenya, hence, the natural gravitation of Somali Youth League, who formed the first democratically elected government of the new republic of Somalia towards Russia.
Aden Abdullah Osman Daar was the first President of the independent republic of Somalia who was succeeded in a democratic election by Abdirashid Ali Shermarke. On October 15, 1969, while paying an official visit to the northern town of Las Anod, Shermarke was shot dead by one of his own bodyguards. Within days, Mohamed Siad Barre, the Army Commander of Somalia seizes power and makes a strong alliance with Russia while practicing brutal and repressive dictatorship in the republic. Barre also rolled out Marxist policies across the state and eventually led a brutal repression of his own people that did his undoing. Most importantly, Somalia under Barre attacked Ogaden, but, Russians did a Volta-Face instead siding with Ethiopia. Millions of Somalis living in Ogaden were displaced and fled Ogaden for Somalia. The mass migration led to the emergence of clans and guerrilla groups. Siad was overthrown in 1991 and the country spirals downward into a full-blown civil war. The various clans in the country got more and more polarized jostling for power. The rule of law was maintained by the various Sharia Courts which banned all Western cultural practices while providing prompt dispute resolution and basic services to the populace. Soon enough, the popularity of these Sharia courts started rising and 11 courts consolidated their ranks and created the Supreme Islamic Courts Union(ICU). The stated goals were to create a peaceful, unified and stable Somalia in a country where the majority of the population was Sunni Muslims who practiced Sufi Islam. Surprisingly enough, ICU brought some peace to the conflict-ridden Somalia and life started returning to normal with trade slowly picking up. The Sharia courts also used the extended militia clans to enforce the Sharia court judgments.
Al Shabaab Origin, Emergence, and Revival
Al Shabaab originally a local radical group is now an Al Qaeda affiliate in the Horn of Africa. It’s rise and emergence in Somalia as a formidable militant group is an instructive lesson for policymakers and leaders across the globe. There is a unanimous agreement amongst analysts that the US encouraged Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 dismantled the moderate voices in Somalia creating a vacuum in which Al Shabaab’s militant ideology developed. Specifically, if we analyze the intuitive and naturalistic decisions of key players in this conflict, it becomes clear that well-intended actions led to unintended consequences sabotaging working against the interest of the original players. After the overthrow of President Mohamed Siad Barre, civil war, anarchy, and chaos prevailed in Somalia. These conditions were compounded by famine, poverty, lack of opportunities for youth, breakdown of educational institutions, proxy wars by neighboring actors and led to a deep polarization of Somali community into competing clans and warlords.
After many years of violence-ridden daily life, some semblance of normalcy started returning to the country when decentralized Sharia courts started emerging in various provinces of Somalia and started enforcing its judgments. Marginal better governance systems were emerging in the chaos-ridden state and soon enough, Somalis started accepting and embracing these Sharia courts as the final authority in dispute resolution. These courts were not perfect and there was no uniformity in the process and outcome of dispute resolution, the courts were guided by the personality and philosophy of its leaders. As cited by Critical Threats in their paper “The Terror Threat From Somalia: The Internationalization of al Shabaab“, the moderate leaders such as Sheikh Sharif Sheikh
Ahmed dolled out less rigid judgments in these courts than the courts under Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys who eventually joined Al Shabaab wing. Either way, while the various courts were being accepted by the population as the best way of dispute resolution in the war-torn Somalia, the moderate voices in these courts were tempering the more radical, extremist voices in the country. The courts relied on militia wings to enforce their dictates, but, they were mostly used to align those who disobeyed the court’s rulings. Al Shabaab also was known as “The Youth” and was a part of ICU, but, had its origin in a militant splinter group of, the Al Ittihad Al Islamiya (AIAI) formed in 1984 from the merger of two Salafi organizations. AIAI followed the Wahhabist ideology, which originated in Saudi Arabia who sought to replace the brutal regime of Barre with an Islamic State. Kept on a tight leash by the ICU, under the leadership of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, remnants of AIAI were re-incorporated into Al-Shabaab as the military youth wings of the courts.
In the year 2004, 11 courts joined ranks and created the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (ICU). While there were grievances amongst the population on how some of these courts governed, there was a net positive effect on the law and order in Somalia. Using the aligned militias or reformed warlords who sided with ICU, the courts gained quick victories over the warlords and infighting clans. For the neighbors, specifically Ethiopia, the existent danger was the conflict-ridden Somalia may be on the road to unification if the ICU’s agenda to bring exiled parts of Somalia under its archaic but effectively working governance model. In Somalia, where the majority of the population practiced the intellectual, philosophical and moderate Sufi Islam, a potential religious unification under the ICU was deemed potential danger by Christain majority nation Ethiopia.
In October 2004, under guidance and reconciliation effort from an eight-country Africa trading blocked named IGAD (The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Kenya created the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Unfortunately, the coalition emerged as a much narrower coalition and did not make good faith efforts to unify the divisive political and other voices within Somalia. This was a catastrophic policy error as the faultlines emerged a few months later when the TFG was unable to stem the revival of warlords and clans in the country. Parallely, members of ICU were speaking in different voices. Moderate ICU leaders wanted to focus on a nationalist agenda while converting Somalia into an Islamic State. The more radical and militant wings of ICU wanted to evolve from a transnational agenda i.e. launch attacks in Ethiopia and other neighbors followed by taking on the mandate of Global Jihad. In early 2006, Al Shabaab helped ICU take control of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia and starting extending its expansionist policy into other provinces of the country.
The next organic step was to launch crusade again Ethiopia and specifically Baidoa, a city in the southwestern region of Somalia, where the TFG members were located. As Al Shabaab encircled Baidoa and amplified “Jihad” against the Crusaders, alarm bells were ringing in Ethiopia.
The Black Hawn Down Incident
Meanwhile, an earlier incident a few years cited in the Mark Bowden’s book (based on a true story) “Black Hawk Down” was going to shape the American policy in the region. In 1993, a battle ensued between US Delta Force and Somali militia fighters when President George Bush sent marines to protect the relief aid supply routes. There were frequent reports of aid supplies being hijacked and UN peacekeeping troops being terrorized specifically by the forces of the Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed, a western educated (Rome) former diplomat (ambassador to India) who later joined the Somalia National Army (SNA) and was later nominated as the Intelligence Chief under Barre.
On 05 June 1993, dealing with Aideed became an urgency when 23 Pakistani soldiers were killed and 54 were wounded trying to seize a radio station which provides a strategic advantage to militants. In the same month, President Clinton authorized the request of Adm.Jonathan Howe, United Nations commander in Mogadishu to capture Aideed. 18 American Rangers were killed, more than 84 wounded in a 20-hour battle which also led to the capture of a wounded American Black Hawk Pilot. Two Black Hawk helicopters were destroyed and more than 500 Somalians were wounded or killed. President Clinton ordered the complete withdrawal from of American Forces from Somalia, but, the pictures of a dead American soldier dragged through the streets of Somalia. The photos taken by Canadian photographer Paul Watson of Mohammed supporters dragging the body of U.S. Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland sealed the fate of Somalian warlords in many ways. On that day the political destiny of Somalia was altered as a few years later, Ameria would give a green signal to Ethiopia to invade Somalia and dismantle the only governing system that was not perfect by any standards, but, seemed to be working. No one knew that the invasion would trigger the rise of the most radical group Al Shabaab in the country.
Ethiopian Invasion of Somalia
After the withdrawal of United Nations and all Western countries from Somalia in 1995, the vacuum created allowed the rapid emergence of ICU and its more radical arm Al Shabaab. Once Al Shabaab publically announced their upcoming war against the Ethiopian Crusaders, specifically a fractured TFG in Baidoa, Ethiopia sent its troops into Somalia on Dec 4, 2006. They quickly wrested control of Mogadishu from ICU and send most of the ICU members packing seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Al Shabaab, however, stayed back, retreated into the South of Somalia and continued its guerrilla war on Ethiopian troops from there. Unable to quell the unrest fomented by Al Shabaab in the south and facing significantly casualties, Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somalia in 2009. They were quickly replaced by 4000 troops from Uganda and Burundi under the banner of AMISOM (African Union Mission to Somalia). AMISON is largely perceived as an occupying force by many Somalians and has been accused of significant abuses including torture, rape, and disappearances. While they actively protect Mogadishu with help from Somalian forces, Al Shabaab still has a footprint in South Central Somalia and other rural areas. The adaptation by Al Shabaab to successfully launch asymmetric war keeps it alive and agile.
Al Shabaab’s Emergence – Local Insurgency to Trans-national Terrorism
A radical group which has evolved from a local insurgency to a trans-national terrorism has the potential to emerge as a real threat on the global scale. With the draw dawn of ISIS from Syria combined with the Gulf Crisis, a grim reality may be staring the global counter-terrorism efforts as well as actor states. More specifically, the recent efforts by Saudi Arabia and UAE to exert their influence across the MEA using unconventional means can propel the region towards another few decades of proxy wars, civil war, and decline.The group emerged as a formidable insurgency group after the Ethiopia invasion and went on a decline till early 2008 when it transformed itself from a local insurgency to a transnational terrorist group (see timeline below). The current set of conditions may potentially create a fertile environment in which the group may become a global threat. The same conditions that mimic the sudden emergence of ISIS catching analysts, counter-terrorism experts, and nation states by surprise are developing on the horizon.
The group launched attacks in a Rugby Club in Kampala in June 2010 where 74 people died and another 70 were injured. They were followed by an attack on Westgate Mall, Nairobi in 2013 in which 67 people died and more than 175 were injured. In 2015, the group launched attacks in Garissa University in North East Kenya which has killed around 147 students. Since then, there have been no trans-national attacks and their insurgency is more focused on internal foes. The recent Mogadishu bombing has led to the biggest casualty count in the insurgency history in Somalia and neighboring countries.
In Part 2 of this post (will be updated in maximum 2 weeks from now), we will discuss the below :
a) Origin and Prevalence of Clans ; Role of Clans to establish peace during previous efforts. We will also discuss the three modes of compliance (legal, customary and Sharia) prevalent in Somalia.
c) We will look at the asymmetrical strategy adopted by Al Shabaab and why they remain an existential threat.
d) We will briefly discuss the previous methods used to induce peace in the region and proposed methods of creating a stable state. We will also highlight why the peace process cannot succeed without involving Somalians in the advisory and tactical processes. Too many foreigners may be spoiling the broth.