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

China Announces Corruption Probe into Senior Ex-Leader

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, being probed for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid