A year ago, the terrorist group Al-Shabaab attacked Soobe junction in the Somali capital Mogadishu killing over 500 innocent people and wounded hundreds more. The barbaric attack sent shockwaves in Somalia and the world, sending a strong message to the international community that the Al-Qa’ida affiliate terrorist group is back, stronger and more lethal than ever. The October 14, 2017 attack was the deadliest attack in Somalia and on the continent of Africa. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. However, the Somali government and the international community assess that Al-Shabaab carried out the attack.
Since the Soobe attack, Al-Shabaab and the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) have stepped up their terrorist campaign in Somalia and the region, significantly increasing the threat to the U.S. national security and regional interests. Al-Shabaab has expanded its insurgency to Kenya, increasing attacks on civilians and security forces in North Eastern Providence.
A few days after the attack, I traveled to Mogadishu and went directly to Soobe Junction to see for myself the devastation. The attack hit me and many Somalis hard because how indiscriminate it was and the number of innocent people, families and small children who perished in the attack. I remember how angry, frustrated and helpless as well as resolute many Somalis felt.
The devastating attack provoked international condemnation, and customary lip service from the International Community members based in Mogadishu International Airport. Within days of the attacks, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) started UN Security Council mandated draw down removing forces from South-Central Somalia, collapsing Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). As a result of this ill-advised policy, over 1000 AMISOM personnel were sent back home.
The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is no longer viable. Many AU forces have made the ultimate sacrifice in Somalia and the Somali people appreciate the great work for a decade in Somalia. However, there is mission fatigue after more than a decade fighting in Somalia.
The African Union Mission has taken resources required to rebuild the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF), leaving Somali forces with limited capabilities. According to reports, the average AMISOM soldier costs about $4700 per month. Somali forces receive about $150.00 per month.
The International Community have spent over $10 billion over the last decade to support AMISOM and too little has been achieved to counter Al-Shabaab growing appeal. Al-Shabaab continues to use AMISOM to galvanize recruits and inspire attacks in Somalia and the region, effectively convincing marginalized communities in Somalia and Kenya that its ideas and causes are just, fueling violent insurgency that greatly contributes to radicalization and recruitment.
The International Community members have misread the conflict in Somalia, and continue to make mistakes that negatively impact Somali people. They waste time organizing meetings and events at Mogadishu International Airport that does little to produce peace and security for the Somali people.
They dictate poor policies and security architectures that are not worth the paper they are written on. They claim to promote political reconciliation while their policies and plans push the Federal Government and Federal Member States further apart.
Military operations to defeat Al-Shabaab has not created notable success. Twelve years into the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), the international community stands at crossroads. It has been five years since AMISOM has carried out meaningful counter-insurgency operations in south-central Somalia. Driving Al-Shabaab out of its stronghold in Somalia is achievable. However, it will not end the insurgency, unless there is a credible Somali Security Forces to hold the territory. Capturing Al-Shabaab’s safe haven will have important consequences for the group leadership, command and control as well as the structure that supports the insurgency and terrorism.
Al-Shabaab can and will be defeated but requires new policy, strategy and tactics. Somalia has become the definition of insanity when it comes to the international community approach of combating terrorism.
Some so-called Somalia experts from their safe offices in Nairobi or ivory towers in New York Washington, and Brussels advise the international community advocate for negotiating with Al-Shabaab and the Islamic State elements. They use rare cases of defections by for Al-Shabaab co-founder Mukhtar Robow, and Zakaria Ismail to argue that moderate elements of the group willing to negotiate to end the insurgency. They are misinformed and lack basic understanding of the conflict. They also seem to ignore what motivates Al-Shabaab and the groups narratives, messages and content they use to radicalize and recruit fighters.
To find moderates in Al-Shabaab if they exist, the core must first be destroyed. That means sustained counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaign that disrupts, dismantles and defeats Al-Shabaab’s leadership, command and control as well as facilitation network, financing and support.
Weakening Al-Shabaab’s core and creating wedges between the group and its outer support could potentially have impact on the group, beginning decline that could if they exist allow moderate elements to peal off and seek political solution with the government.
Al-Shabaab as its structures today with its influence and control over the lives of many poor and marginalized communities in Somalia is a potent force that can only be challenged militarily.
In conclusion, Somalia needs a tactical shift and a change in policy and strategy. The consequences of failure for the United States, and the European Union is too high and the International Community cannot afford lose Somalia and the region to an Al-Qa’ida affiliate. The current strategy is based on fundamentally flawed assumptions about the African Union Mission and the limited capabilities of the Somali government.