Article written

  • on 11.09.2015
  • at 04:01 PM
  • by Naomi Cohen

Al-Shabaab has changed its tactics. AMISOM must do so, too. 0

In Somalia, holding the towns is not the key to the countryside. Holding the countryside is the key to the towns.

When al-Shabaab’s elusive leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a US air strike in Sablale on 1 September 2014, there was a widespread belief that the Islamist group’s operational capabilities might dwindle. But one year later, this has not proved to be the case. Rather, it seems the militants have lost little of their ability and remain an unyielding force determined to destabilise Somalia and the region.

In the early morning of 1 September 2015, on the first anniversary of Godane’s death, al-Shabaab fighters rammed a car full of explosives against an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) military base in  Janale, 90km  southeast of Mogadishu. A large number of fighters, close to 200, then stormed the base. The Ugandan AMISOM soldiers manning the base were overpowered and there were multiple casualties, though there is confusion over the exact numbers – al-Shabaab claimed it killed 70 peacekeepers, while the Ugandans put the number at just 12.

The terror attack was one of the worst attacks against AMISOM since it began operations eight years ago, though it was not unusual in the force’s recent history. A similarly devastating assault occurred just a few months ago in June, when al-Shabaab killed over 50 Burundian troops in an attack in the same region. AMISOM responded by hastily withdrawing soldiers from 10 towns in the area, ceding them to al-Shabaab control. AMISOM justified the move, referring to it as “re-adjusting and re-organising”.

These events suggest that there remains a difficult task ahead for the African Union forces, even after Kenyan and Ethiopian troops were integrated into the multinational force – joining Ugandan, Burundian and Djiboutian counterparts –  in 2012 and 2014 respectively, raising the number to over 22,000.

The truth, as of now, is that AMISOM and Somali soldiers are far from defeating al-Shabaab, and concerns have been raised around their operational capabilities. There are suggestions the forces have insufficient intel-gathering abilities, are disorganised, and suffer from a disconnected command.

Taking territory

Since 2010, AMISOM has conducted three major joint offensives with a mix of Somali forces against al-Shabaab. The latest, dubbed Operation Jubba Corridor, began in July and involves Ethiopian and Kenyan troops targeting the three regions (Bay, Bakool, and Gedo) that have borders with their two countries.

The operation has so far succeeded in dislodging al-Shabaab from two of their major stronghold towns – Bardere in Gedo and Dinsoor in Bay. The militants had controlled these towns for the previous eight years.

Continue reading on African Arguments

by Muhyadin Ahmed Roble

Photo Credit: AU-UN IST Photo/Tobin Jones

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