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The al-Shabaab insurgent group was once part of a popular and respected leadership during the reign of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) before 2006. Later, the youth wing of the ICU broke away adopting strict sharia law and this resulted in Somalis fleeing from areas they controlled and in most cases to neighbouring countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. Currently, many Somali people around the globe are celebrating the tangible territorial losses suffered by the insurgent group at the hands of the joint Transitional Federal Government (TFG), African Union Peacekeepers (AMISOM) forces and various pro-TFG militia groups. Al-Shabaab have lost several strategic towns and are currently based in the port city of Kismayo which they intend to defend to the death.
Somali citizens are beginning to attain a sense of what a centralized government means and what it takes to effectively manage local affairs. After more than twenty years of civil unrest and shifting decentralized leadership, Somali people had lost hope of attaining a well coordinated, able and effective centralized leadership.
In this article, we review how and why al-Shabaab have lost power and influence over the Somali population.
Loss of Key Towns and Positions
Al-Shabaab have lost key towns in Southern Somalia including Baidoa, Hudur, Wajid, Garbaharey, Balad-Hawo and Elwak which served as critical administrative hubs. These losses were a huge blow to their presence and influence in these areas and they were later confined to small suburbs that are not economically productive in comparison to the lost locations. The group now lacks its usual number of income generating sources which funded their military might. Al-Shabaab began regrouping in Kismayo town which is a key stronghold that the militants still control.
According to senior TFG officials in Gedo and Bay regions, there have been a large number of al-Shabaab fighters who have surrendered to the TFG after clashes between al-Shabaab against Ethiopian forces, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) militias and Kenya Defense Forces (KDF).
“We received brain washed young men who were coerced to join al-Shabaab but eventually withdrew from the militant group. This happens daily and we try to rehabilitate them and give them proper guidance,” said the TFG chairman in Gedo region, Mohamed Ahmed Kalil.
Mr. Kalil further added that any militant who withdraws from al-Shabaab will not be subjected to any inhumane treatment but will be guided on how to lead a proper life free from terrorism and extremism.
Kismayo is the only strategic towns which al-Shabaab currently control. The insurgents are planning to fight to the death to defend this stronghold. Their troops have flocked to the outskirts of the city in an effort to defend it. On the other hand, TFG forces are preparing to liberate Kismayo of al-Shabaab.
Their concentration in one town is a clear indication that they have failed to manage and retain control of the towns they vacated.
Somalia Report spoke to Shiekh Omar Daud, an al-Shabaab official based in Kismayo for an understanding of the reasons behind their retreats and regrouping in Kismayo as well as the nature of their military might.
“It is important that people differentiate between military tactics and declining power. Everybody knows that we chased Ethiopia from the entire Somalia in the year 20007 and we are also capable of doing the same to AMISOM, TFG, ASWJ and KDF,” he asserted via email.
More of al-Shabaab’s fighters have been fleeing to neighbouring countries including Yemen and Kenya. They are currently crowded in Dadaab refugee camp, the largest refugee facility in northeastern Kenya. According to an anonymous resident in Hagadhere refugee camp, most of the recent refugees who are admitted into the camps are al-Shabaab fighters who have fled for their lives.
“Most of those who arrived in refugee camps recently are escaping from the intensified security operation going on in Somalia and they are former members of al-Shabaab militia group,” said the resident who identified himself as Isaack.
Senior al-Shabaab officials based in their home towns and cities chose to withdraw without a fight in order to prevent bloodshed among their fellow clansmen and inhabitants. Fighters pulled out of Baidoa, fearing that a serious battles would result in destruction of their respective communities.
Some Somalis believe that the main reason for al-Shabaab’s declining power and influence is as a result of clan based allegiances and the uncompromisable intentions of leaders regarding the survival and well being of their people.
“No war occurred in Baidao and al-Shabaab militia had peacefully left the town without any resistance because leaders of al-Shabaab who hail from Baidao will never allow conflict to occur in Baidao. That will cause destruction of the town as well as displacement of the residents so they persuaded their counter parts not to wage war,” reasoned Farah Warsame.
The Al-Qaeda Merger
According to Professor Tahlil Abdikadir, a political science lecturer of Gaheyr University in Mogadishu, the al-Shabaab allegiance with al-Qaeda has negatively influenced their public support as many Somalis believe that al-Qaeda are determined to damage the Muslim image to the world.
Despite the fact that they have lost a lot of territory to the TFG, the group has not despaired and they continue to launch hit and run attacks and harass residents in areas under their control.
Al-Shabaab Atrocities Against Somalis
Many have suffered harsh sentencing and maltreatment by the insurgent group whose established courts and administration have reached remote areas in Somalia. Somalia Report has often informed the public on cases of abuse by al-Shabaab officials who detain and mistreat locals at the slightest inclination. As is the case with most victims who have survived such treatment Libak Kahil lives in fear of the militants and had to flee Somalia to save his life. He currently resides in Dagahley refugee camp in Kenya after living in prison for one year without learning of what he was guilty of. Liban was a businessman who was mistreated during detention until his father eventually persuaded an official to release him. He was later released on condition that he leave his hometown in Ofurow district in Bay region. Liban looks forward to the downfall of al-Shabaab and hopes to reunite with his family soon.
AMISOM Perspective on the Declining Power of al-Shabaab
For an understanding of the African Union Peacekeeping forces’ view on al-Shabaab, we spoke to the AMISOM spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda and asked him several questions pertaining to the group’s declining influence and power.
What has caused a decline in al-Shabaab’s power and influence?
They have no support from the people of Somalia. When they continued to express their radical nature, this angered people. As you know, the al-Shabaab merger with al-Qaeda worsened the situation. The ideals they stand for are foreign to Somalia. Besides, internal wrangling for power and control of finance and the continued loss of strategic positions from which they earned income contributed to their defeat and decline.
They are regrouping in Kismayo town. Do you think they can defend it?
We know they will try to defend Kismayo but they will be fighting a losing battle. The way in which they lost Mogadishu is the same way they will lose Kismayo. They cannot survive the overwhelming firepower of AMISOM.
They are trying to create havoc in Mogadishu. Do you think that is a ploy to delay or prevent direct confrontation and combat?
Obviously, they lost the conventional battle in Mogadishu when they were forced to flee in August 2011. Their last resort is irregular warfare and the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) was adopted after this strategic loss. I don’t think they have the capacity to defend any town in a standing battle against AMISOM.