News / Africa

    Al-Shabab Strategy Perplexes Some Experts

    A truck passing a partial roadblock setup by residents as a protest against the Islamist Al-Shabab insurgent group, in Tobanka Buundo in the lower Shabelle region, near the Somalian capital Mogadishu, March 6, 2014.
    A truck passing a partial roadblock setup by residents as a protest against the Islamist Al-Shabab insurgent group, in Tobanka Buundo in the lower Shabelle region, near the Somalian capital Mogadishu, March 6, 2014.
    About a month ago, African Union troops and Somali government soldiers retook the town of Huddur from the militant group al-Shabab. The capture came relatively easy. When the troops approached, al-Shabab just retreated into the hinterland.

    The following day, the town of Wajid also fell to pro-government forces. Several towns were then recaptured: Burdhubo on March 9, Buloburde on March 13, Qoryoley on March 22, and el-Bur on March 26. By the end of March, AU and Somali forces had seized 10 towns in all.

    In most of these locations, al-Shabab offered no resistance. Qoryoley and Burdhubo were the exceptions; both were home to al-Shabab bases. In Qoryoley, 120 kilometers south of Mogadishu, the militants continue to launch counter-attacks  

    All the other towns were almost empty when captured. The town of el-Bur, in the Galgudud region, was the emptiest and the “eeriest," witnesses report. They say before al-Shabab retreated, the militants told residents to flee and destroyed the local wells to make sure the coming troops did not have a water supply.

    So what is al-Shabab’s strategy here?

    Regional analysts say al-Shabab has realized it can not effectively fight AU and Somali government troops in a conventional war, so the group is avoiding direct clashes. The militants suffered significant losses in 2010 and 2011 during attempts to hold Mogadishu, and have since taken heavy casualties in other battles.

    Abdullahi Aden, a security analyst in Mogadishu, said, “They [al-Shabab] know and hear what is going on. They know something about the fighting strategy, they have assessed the power that is moving toward them and they decided to vacate these towns.”

    Roland Marchal is an al-Shabab expert and a senior fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. He said he thinks the militants have decided to pursue asymmetrical warfare, an approach popular with militant Islamic groups in other parts of the world.

    “If you look at what happened to the Taliban in 2011 that was one of their main mistakes," said Marchal. "If you look at other jihadi groups that tried to resist in cities in Syria or Iraq, they lost so much for trying to keep cities for the sake of showing their strength. Shabab has learned."

    Blocking the roads

    Al-Shabab is implementing another new tactic, more troubling to the Somali government and AMISOM forces. They are blockading the towns they have lost.

    In Huddur, Wajid, Buloburde and el-Bur, al-Shabab militants have told commercial truck drivers that they will be targeted and even killed if they transport goods to these towns. With no supplies coming in, food and fuel prices in all four towns have skyrocketed.

    Ali Ismail Ali, a worker for a non-governmental organization in Huddur, said the cost of basic goods in Huddur has risen about 50 percent. "[For] an example, a sack of sugar was $35 and now is selling for $80, and a sack of rice was $25 and now $60," he said.
     
    He said the price for a drum of fuel also has jumped, from $70 to $105.

    Ali said the only way to ease the situation is to remove al-Shabab from the roads leading to Huddur and the other towns.

    Experts say al-Shabab’s ultimate goal is to stretch AMISOM and government forces, wear them down, and then be able to regroup.

    Even after its recent losses, al-Shabab still controls a significant amount of the countryside.  At the moment, AMISOM and the government lack the troops to drive them out of every area.

    Many regional experts think al-Shabab leaders and individuals that are well known -- and wanted by Somali authorities -- will stay in rural areas and jungles to lead the group’s guerrilla war.

    But many militants have gradually re-entered main towns, trying to melt into the society.  These militants, the experts say, could conduct urban attacks such as suicide bombings and assassinations.

    Al-Shabab may also benefit from any grievances residents have.  In particular, people in the areas previously controlled by al-Shabab are tired after enduring years of war and al-Shabab's strict Islamic rule.  Some feel that at least they had peace under al-Shabab, and expect the government to improve their lives.

    One expert says of these civilians: “They cannot accept roadblocks, insecurity and lack of administration.  At the moment they want to see the government stay and not move on to other areas because that would make them vulnerable to attacks from al-Shabab.”

    Al-Shabab faces its own challenges.  Roland Marchal describes the group's leaders as "paranoid" when it comes the possibility of spies passing information about the group's plans to U.S. agents, who can then launch drone attacks against al-Shabab targets.  "That has weakened the ability of Shabab to mix with the population and trust people enough to rebuild its recruitment facilities in a short-term basis," he says.

    So who is better prepared for the long war in Somalia?

    Abdullahi Aden says the government will succeed if it can keep continuous military pressure on al-Shabab.  “The international community and the Somali government are determined to remove al-Shabab and to see Somalia united," he says.  "The Somali government has its own troops (who) are able to conduct an operation, however weak they are.  I believe if they can maintain this operation the government will succeed.”

    But Roland Marchal argues there is a huge question mark on which side could come on top at the end.

    “AMISOM is going to take over very significant number of cities, some of them very important for their number of population and strategic location," he said. "But the point is, the day after, who is going to control? Who is able to secure logistical lines for the military contingent or for the people and administration to move from one city to the other, and this is the weak point.”

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Madei salad from: Garowe
    April 13, 2014 11:50 AM
    Yes, UN support is important, But what is more important is the will of the people, cause it matters them and should be their matter. It needs solidarity, sincerity and sacrifice against this virulent groups.

    by: Humey Nwokolo Esq from: Nigeria
    April 12, 2014 6:09 AM
    The UN should not be tired of supporting the Somali government & people. It's apparent that left to themselves they will be overwhelmed.

    by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
    April 12, 2014 4:20 AM
    Al-Shabaab is not as sophisticated as others would like them to portray as such. I don't think that they are exercising very thoughtful strategic guerilla war plan. They use religion as weapons to recruit uneducated and disfranchised youth. The only thing that AMISOM cannot prevent is suicide bomber, who normally maim, kill innocent civilian and destroy properties.\
    If the West is sincere about eliminating Al-Shabab once and for all, they must offer us a massive military support.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora