Daily Intelligence Brief Al-Shabaab [Somalia, Kenya]

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

7046443151_301c8e8c02_bU.S. war planes carried out a strike in southern Somalia on Monday targeting a senior leader of the al-Shabaab militia, the Pentagon said, without giving any details of casualties. Military spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the raid hit a target in Saakow, shortly after the Islamist rebel group’s intelligence chief surrendered to government and African Union forces. Kirby did not identify the targeted militant chief by name. “At this time, we do not assess there to be any civilian or bystander casualties,” he said.  “We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information, when appropriate, as details become available.”

Al-Shabaab is seeking to topple the Western-backed Mogadishu government and impose its own 483456extremist version of Islamic law in the country.  If a senior militant was killed in the strike, it would be the latest in a series of setbacks for the militia since the death of its former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in another U.S. attack in September. On Saturday, officials said the al-Qaeda-affiliated group’s intelligence chief Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, the subject of a $3 million U.S. bounty, had surrendered to Somali government forces.

(With AFP and Reuters)

One of al-Shabaab’s leaders surrenders to Somali police

  • Not clear whether $3M bounty will be paid out for Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi
  • US issued $33M in rewards in 2012, as insurgency remains a threat in east Africa
  • A leader with the Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab who had a $3m bounty on his head has surrendered inSomalia, a Somali intelligence official said on Saturday.Shabaab-wanted-post
  • Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi surrendered to Somali police in the Gedo region, said the intelligence officer, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
  • Hersi may have surrendered because he fell out with those loyal to Ahmed Abdi Godane, al-Shabaab’s top leader who was killed in a US airstrike earlier this year, the officer said.
  • Hersi was one of seven top al-Shabaab officials whom the Obama administration offered a total $33m in rewards for information leading to their capture in 2012. It is not clear if the reward will be paid out for Hersi, because he surrendered.
  • Despite major setbacks in 2014, al-Shabaab remains a threat in Somalia and the east African region. The group has carried out many terror attacks in Somalia and some in neighboring countries including Kenya, whose armies are part of the African Union troops bolstering Somalia’s weak United Nations-backed government.
  • somalia-al-shabaab-militants-attack-mpeketoni-town-kenyaOn Christmas day, al-Shabaab launched an attack at the African Union base in Mogadishu. Nine people died, including three African Union soldiers, in the attack on the complex, which also houses UN offices and western embassies.Al-Shabaab said the attack was aimed at a Christmas party and was in retaliation for the killing of the group’s leader Godane.
  • Al-Shabaab also claimed that 14 soldiers were killed but the group often exaggerates the number of people it kills.
  • Al-Shabaab is waging an Islamic insurgency against Somalia’s government that is attempting to rebuild the country after decades of conflict.
  • Al-Shabaab controlled much of Mogadishu during the years 2007 to 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia’s capital and other major cities by African Union forces. The United States and the UN warn that political infighting in Somalia is putting at risk the security gains. The federal government remains weak and wields little power outside the capital Mogadishu.

 Intelligence Background Briefing 45195921_466200al-shababon A-Shabaab


The Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahidin—commonly known as al-Shabaab—was the militant wing of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts that took over most of southern Somalia in the second half of 2006. Despite the group’s defeat by Somali and Ethiopian forces in 2007, al-Shabaab—a clan-based insurgent and terrorist group—has continued its violent insurgency in southern and central Somalia. The group has exerted temporary and, at times, sustained control over strategic locations in those areas by recruiting, sometimes forcibly, regional sub-clans and their militias, using guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics against the Somali Federal Government (SFG), African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers, and nongovernmental aid organizations. As of 2013, however, pressure from AMISOM and Ethiopian forces has largely degraded al-Shabaab’s control, especially in Mogadishu but also in other key regions of the country, and conflict among senior leaders has exacerbated fractures within the group.

As evidenced by the increasing levels of infighting among leadership, al-Shabaab is not centralized or monolithic in its agenda or goals. Its rank-and-file members come from disparate clans, and the group is susceptible to clan politics, internal divisions, and shifting alliances. Most of its fighters are predominantly interested in the nationalistic battle against the SFG and not supportive of global jihad. Al-Shabaab’s senior leadership is affiliated with al-Qa‘ida and are believed to have trained and fought in Afghanistan. The merger of the two groups was publicly announced in February 2012 by the amir of al-Shabaab and Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qa‘ida.

Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for many bombings—including various types of suicide attacks—in Mogadishu and in central and northern Somalia, typically targeting Somali government officials, AMISOM, and perceived allies of the SFG. Some al-Shabaab personalities have previously threatened the West and vowed to launch attacks in neighboring countries; associated extremists are likely responsible for the rash of bombings that have occurred in Kenya.

alshababThe group was likely responsible for a wave of five coordinated suicide car bombings in October 2008 that simultaneously hit targets in two cities in northern Somalia, killing at least 26 people, including five bombers, and injuring 29 others. Al-Shabaab also claimed responsibility for the twin suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, on 11 July 2010 that killed more than 70 people, as well as a June 2013 attack in Mogadishu on a United Nations compound that killed 22. Al-Shabaab is responsible for the assassination of Somali peace activists, international aid workers, numerous civil society figures, and journalists, and for blocking the delivery of aid from some Western relief agencies during the 2011 famine that killed tens of thousands of Somalis. In 2008, the US Government designated al-Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (as amended) and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity under Section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224 (as amended). In 2012, the Rewards for Justice Program added several al-Shabaab leaders to its site, offering large rewards for information leading to their capture.

The Face of Somalia is changing


new face of Somali

Political maps do not reflect the world as it really is but rather the cartographer’s idealized world. This is particularly evident when looking at a map of Somalia, nominally an independent state with static borders since 1960. In reality, Somalia does not exist as a singular political entity, and it has topped the failed state index annually since 2008. Violence and chaos in the country began in 1991, when several rebel groups ousted long-standing dictator Siad Barre. Since then, many large militant groups and countless smaller local militias with overlapping claims of power have administered what was once Somalia. Over the years, various militant groups and governments have attempted to restore unity. However, all of these administrations, Islamist and pro-Western alike, have failed. Today, Somalia is not a state; it is a vacuum where a state used to be. However, nature abhors a vacuum, and the new face of Somalia is slowly emerging. The main battle today is between the internationally recognized but weak Somali Federal Government (SFG) and an African Union sponsored intervention force on one hand, and the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab on the other. However, the fight is more complex than that. This new Somalia face will be composed of six distinct regions, each one closely intertwined with the actions of the others and of regional powers.

The Ethiopian Occupation

Ethiopia’s territory is an idea more than a specific set of borders. Because its highlands are too inland to be easily dominated by coastal powers, Ethiopia has been able to maintain independence for almost a millennium. However, the threat of invasion from the coast still exists. Therefore, Ethiopia’s main strategic imperative is to acquire its own access to the sea and defend itself against any coastal power trying to expand inland towards its borders.

Somalia became Ethiopia’s main coastal threat after European decolonization. Therefore, it was perhaps a relief to Ethiopia when Somalia collapsed in 1991. In late 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia immediately after an Islamist government had come to power and consolidated control of most of southern Somalia. Ethiopia’s intervention was pure realpolitik, designed to break apart its potential challenger.

Today, Ethiopian forces remain in Somalia, fighting Al-Shabaab with an army of Ethiopian regulars, various allied tribal militias, and proxy militant groups. These forces occupy and administer large areas along the Somali-Ethiopian border. Ethiopia hopes to use this border territory to retain political advantage in the ruins of Somalia. Ethiopia does not want total chaos in Somalia; it merely wants a weak and disorganized neighbor. To this extent, Ethiopia cooperates with the SFG in fighting Al-Shabaab while retaining control over most of the southern Somali-Ethiopian border. Ethiopia has maintained very friendly relations with Somaliland since the latter is independence in the 1990s because Somaliland may provide Ethiopia with a stable and reliable outlet to the Indian Ocean.


The northwestern province of Somaliland seceded from Somalia in 1991 following political repression and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Siad Barre. Twenty-three years later, this breakaway province is doing well, holding competitive elections and developing government institutions. The young state has been largely successful in subduing and integrating tribal militias and driving piracy out of its territory.

Still, Somaliland’s independence is not formally recognized by a single country. It does have a foreign backer in Ethiopia. Somaliland and Ethiopia have formed a natural alliance from their shared opposition to Somalia. Additionally, sea trade through the growing Port of Berbera in Somaliland is key to this relationship. The two countries have begun massive infrastructure projects to turn Berbera into a major port and to better connect it to Ethiopia. Through Berbera, Somaliland gives Ethiopia access to the sea, while still ensuring a fragmented Somali coastline that will not be able to threaten the Ethiopian interior. Furthermore, Somaliland is an ally positioned between Somalia and Eritrea, Ethiopia’s enemies. In turn, Ethiopia has become a stronger protector state to Somaliland.  It  provides Somaliland with major economic opportunities. In the future, Ethiopia will help Somaliland further assert its independence and to secure international recognition.


The north-central province of Puntland declared its autonomy at a meeting of tribal leaders in 1998. However, the region was semi-anarchic until the late 2000s, when the regional government finally began to stabilize the area. In 2009, a new government passed a new constitution and began to disarm militias and criminal gangs. With the creation of a maritime security military unit, the Puntlander government drove the Somali pirates out of Puntland in 2011.

Puntlander Security Forces are currently fighting an Al-Shabaab enclave hiding in mountains in northern Puntland. Puntland is supposedly a loyal, autonomous part of Somalia. In reality, the SFG has very little advantage in Puntland, which functions largely as an independent state. In the future, Puntland will try to consolidate control over its territory and may work with the SFG, if Mogadishu respect Puntland’s autonomy. Although Puntland has a disputed border with Somaliland, Puntland’s new, government is capable of defending itself.

Jubaland: The Kenyan Buffer Zone

Somalia’s southern neighbor, Kenya, is deeply worried about the violence to its north, especially after Al-Shabaab’s deadly 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. Kenya has been a major contributor to the African Union intervention against Al-Shabaab since invading Al-Shabaab-controlled southern Somalia in 2011 under Operation Linda Nchi (“Protect the Country,” a telling name). By invading southern Somalia, Kenya hoped to create a buffer zone in order to keep out the chaos to its north. To this end, Kenya has encouraged the autonomy of the southern Jubaland region under the control of warlord Ahmed Mohamed Islam “Madobe” and his militia, the Raskamboni Movement.

Although the exact borders of Jubaland are disputed and Madobe’s control is weak, Kenyan support makes him the strongest of the local warlords. Currently, Ethiopia and Kenya share influence over the region, resulting in some tension between them. Nevertheless, their goals in Jubaland are not mutually exclusive, and both countries will likely agree to a compromise government. Kenya has a worse relationship with the SFG, which has put pressure on Kenyan forces to leave Jubaland for fear that Madobe will become too powerful to control from Mogadishu. Madobe’s administration is acceptable to Kenya for now, but his loyalties are questionable and Kenya may replace him if a more trustworthy alternative appears. Even with international support, Madobe will face an upward struggle to consolidate control over Jubaland.

The Islamists’ Emirate

On the other side of the conflict lies Al-Shabaab. Not all of its members are radical Islamists; many joined because of tribal loyalties as well as to find a job. The group gets support from weaker clans that dislike the dominant Hawiye clan. Al-Shabaab capitalizes on disillusionment with the Somali Federal Government and presents itself as a legitimate, incorruptible government capable of uniting diverse clans. It is building infrastructure and doing charity work in areas it controls. The group is strongest in south-central Somalia, but it has influence throughout the entire country.

Al-Shabaab is currently fighting every other actor in Somalia, and the United States carries out drone strikes on Al-Shabaab leaders. Therefore, Al-Shabaab is currently on the decline, having lost large parts of its territory in the numerous offensives against it. Al-Shabaab is also hurt by internal leadership disputes. As the group weakens, Al-Shabaab’s enemies will discover that Somalia’s problems are caused by more than one angry militant group. Given the inability of the SFG to satisfy the Somali people, Islamism will likely continue as a political alternative in areas where the government is weak, regardless of how Al-Shabaab itself fares.

Greater Mogadishu and the Federal Government

Mogadishu itself is a treasure. Besides its symbolic value as the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu’s population is six times larger than the next largest city in southern Somalia. Intense fighting over the city occurred in the 1990s and later in the 2000s. While the SFG previously controlled only a small part of Mogadishu, now it controls the entire city. The city is dependent on the support of African Union peacekeepers to survive, as the discipline and loyalty of its own army are questionable. The SFG does have some authority, but it is only one of many actors in Somalia. Around half of former Somalia by both land area and by population is part of autonomous or secessionist regions. The federal government governs only a fraction of the remaining half, and its governance is often very weak and corrupt. The SFG in its current form will never have sovereignty over Somalia.

The Future of the Borders

The official borders of Somalia have not changed since 1960, despite the dynamic and fragmented situation on the ground. There is, however, some hope for a reunified Somalia in one form or another. Parts of Somalia are still largely anarchic, but the main six regions are expanding to encompass these areas, too. Somalia had a united government in the past but the new reality is that from the current feuding mini-states a new but different Somalia will one day emerge. If cartographers embrace, their idealized vision of Somalia for long enough, it might one day prove right.

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