News / Africa

    Analyst Warns al-Shabab Retreat is Not Victory

    Al-Shabab fighters march with their guns during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu (File)
    Al-Shabab fighters march with their guns during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu (File)
    Michael Onyiego

    The Somali insurgent group al-Shabab announced a surprise withdrawal from Mogadishu August 6, clearing the way for government and international forces to retake the city. But an analyst warns the fight for southern Somalia is far from over.

    For the first time in nearly five years, the Somali capital is in the hands of the country’s embattled Transitional Federal Government. Saturday, the TFG began to quickly move its forces - along with African Union peacekeepers - into the void left by Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab.

    Al-Shabab had occupied most of the capital from its inception in 2007, putting block after block under its control and backing the U.N.-backed government into small section of the city.  With the situation at its bleakest just over one year ago, government troops and soldiers from the AU force AMISOM began to battle back, steadily retaking territory.

    In July, government troops closed in on the sprawling Bakara market, perhaps the most important position held by the rebels in the war-torn city.

    Al-Shabab spokesman Mohamed Ali Rage suddenly announced on local radio Saturday that the group would leave Mogadishu entirely, in order to regroup and change tactics.  The announcement was greeted with jubilation on the ground and hailed as a major achievement by the international community.

    But Rage warned that al-Shabab would return.  Rashid Abdi, an analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, warns observers not to heap praise on the TFG too quickly.

    “This is symptomatic of the fact that al-Shabab is now a disintegrating movement," Abdi said. "It is clear that no one knows who is now in charge.  And I think the picture is much more complicated.”

    For Abdi, part of the worry about Rage’s announcement involves questions surrounding Rage himself.  Al-Shabab has publicly divided over the past year into competing factions - with yet another group of foreign fighters also exercising influence over the leadership.  Last year, the group merged with separate rebel group Hizbul Islam, further complicating the question of command.  It is not clear whether Rage remains in good standing with one or all of al-Shabab’s many factions.

    While a fractured and divided enemy sounds like a victory, Abdi says it will make confronting what remains of al-Shabab even more difficult.

    “It was even complicated for AMISOM and the TFG to deal with al-Shabab when it was a more cohesive organization," Abdi said. "I am not sure that it will now be easier to deal with a movement that is disintegrated to so many splinter factions.”

    Al-Shabab has not totally vacated the capital.  There have been reports of fighting between the African Union force AMISOM and vestiges of al-Shabab, illustrating perhaps that not all the fighters are under the same command.

    Even with the fighting, AMISOM says nearly 90 percent of the city is now under its control, compared with less than half just under a year ago.  But with the added control comes the constant problem of security and stability.  AMISOM has itself estimated it needs around 20,000 troops to securely control Mogadishu, but now has around 9,000.  Although some suggest the government troops may be able to fill this void, Abdi - and many analysts - are skeptical.

    “The reality is that the government will not be able to prosecute this counterinsurgency struggle unaided by AMISOM.  I think that will remain the case for the next few years.  I don’t see the TFG security forces being able to take on the challenge of security in Mogadishu,” Abdi said.

    Reports in Somalia indicated that President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has already flown to Uganda and Burundi - the two main contributors to the AMISOM force - to request an additional 3,000 troops.

    The other looming challenge is to finally destroy al-Shabab once and for all.  While Mogadishu was al-Shabab's most prominent conquest, the group still controls much of southern and central Somalia and maintains most of its organizational capacity in the Jubba region.

    “The bulk of al-Shabab’s firepower in southern Somalia is in the Jubba territory," Abdi said. "And I think once Mogadishu reverts back into government hands then I think the bigger challenge will be how to deal with the southern regions.”

    Abdi says if AMISOM troops are forced to fan out from Mogadishu, they will greatly limit their effectiveness, with or without the infusion of 3,000 additional troops.

    For now, the withdrawal of al-Shabab is a landmark in the seven years of the TFG’s existence. The insurgents' retreat from Mogadishu will allow humanitarian groups to greatly expand operations and address the ongoing famine affecting millions in the country.  But it is unclear how long the window will remain open before the fight for Somalia continues.

    You May Like

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.