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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs