News / Africa

    Somalia's Al-Shabab Weakened

    Members of al Qaida-linked militant group al Shabab listen to a Somalia government soldier after their surrender to the authorities in the north of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, September 24, 2012.
    Members of al Qaida-linked militant group al Shabab listen to a Somalia government soldier after their surrender to the authorities in the north of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, September 24, 2012.
    Harun MarufJoe DeCapua
    The militant group al-Shabab is losing ground rapidly to Somali government troops and allied Kenyan and African Union soldiers.  Most recently, the group lost the key port town of Kismayo, which served as a strategic base and an important source of revenue.   But despite the military setbacks, al-Shabab’s top leadership is holding together at least for the time being and the group is promising a long war. 

    The capture of Kismayo is sweet revenge for Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam, also known as “Ahmed Madobe,” whose militia fought alongside Kenyan and Somali government forces.  He is a former deputy leader of al-Shabab but was kicked out of Kismayo in November 2009 after his militia, Raskamboni, had a falling out with al-Shabab.

    Madobe, a native of Kismayo, wanted an inclusive administration for the town, with representation for local clans.  Al-Shabab insisted on a totalitarian style of governance - which Madobe says was the group’s downfall.

    “They have media department, Jihad department and security," said Madobe. "They have many departments but those sections don’t have powers.  They are sailing on boat navigated by someone else. Whoever raises questions about this gets killed.  It is not an organization managed based on consultation among them people.”

    Ahmed Madobe was a founding member of al-Shabab in August 2006.  At the time Mogadishu and many areas in south-central Somalia were controlled by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Jihadists in the group then accused the UIC leaders of not performing true Jihad.

     Al-Shabab Timeline

    • 2006 - Launches insurgency to take control of Somalia and impose strict Islamic law
    • 2008 - U.S. declares al-Shabab a foreign terrorist organization
    • 2009 - Seizes control of parts of Mogadishu and the port city Kismayo
    • 2010 - Expands control across central and southern Somalia, carries out deadly bombing in Kampala, Uganda
    • 2011 - Blocks drought/famine aid from areas under its control
    • 2011 - East African leaders declare al-Shabab a regional threat; Ethiopian, Kenyan troops enter Somalia to pursue the group, which is driven out of Mogadishu
    • 2012 - Declares itself an al-Qaida ally, loses ground in Somalia, abandons strategic coastal stronghold Kismayo
    • 2013 - Attacks Mogadishu court complex, killing more than 30 and attacks mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 69 people
    In August 2006 the group secretly formed Harakat Mujahedeen al-Shabab (the Mujahedeen Youth Movement) or al-Shabab.  Ahmed Madobe was elected as the deputy leader.

    “After a long meeting we agreed to unite under a Jihadi system different from other systems," said Madobe. "We took the name al-Shabab.  They proposed Ismail Arale, who studied in Pakistan, to be the leader and I was chosen the deputy on behalf of Raskamboni.”

    The group attempted to establish a small Islamic emirate within in the UIC but this move was interrupted by the incursion of Ethiopian troops into Somalia.  By late 2006, the UIC was routed and many of its leaders fled the country.  In February 2007, Ahmed Madobe was wounded by U.S. airstrikes in the Lower Jubba region and subsequently captured by the Ethiopian troops.

    Three months later in May, al-Shabab’s leader, Ismail Arale, was captured in Djibouti by CIA on his way to Eretria and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Al-Shabab reacted swiftly and replaced them both.  Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, took the helm and remains the group’s emir.

    How al-shabab operates

    Al-Shabab is largely run at the whim of its leader.  Abu Zubayr is a trained accountant in Pakistan where he crossed the border into Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and is believed to have had militancy leadership training. 

    Starting in 2008, the group seized control of city after city, and moved to impose a strict form of Islamic law in which music was banned and most international aid groups were not allowed to operate. 

    Meanwhile, the role of foreigners grew, and in February this year, al-Shabab formally joined al-Qaida.  The group’s leader “Abu Zubayr” made the announcement in a message to the leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

    “To the respectful and honorable emir Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, may God protect you," he said. "A message from your soldier, Mukhtar Abu Zubayr.  Dear beloved emir, on behalf al-Shabab al-Mujahedeen, we hereby enter an agreement with you under the guidance of the holy book and hadith to listen to you and obey you in good and bad times both.  Lead us the way to the Jihad and martyrdom as laid down by our martyred Imam, Sheikh Osama.”

    But the merger came at a time when both groups were weakening, and experts believe it was just a symbolic move to energize their base.  

    Al-Shabab began losing ground to government and African Union troops in late 2010, and was weakened further by the drought that ravaged Somalia in 2011.

    Lately, the group has found it difficult to put up a meaningful fight in a conventional war against the African Union force, known as AMISOM.  The loss of Kismayo is a huge blow to al-Shabab financially and strategically. The group used the port to tax commercial goods and to export charcoal, a lucrative resource of revenue according to U.N. reports.

    Far from finished

    Nonetheless, experts believe Al-Shabab is far from finished.  Dr. Roland Marchal, a senior fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, believes the loss of Kismayo was a defeat in military and symbolic terms but not necessarily strategic one.

    “The strategy of al-Shabab is first to secure new sanctuaries, and those sanctuaries will be located in rural areas far from roads," he said.  "The strategy will then be to target logistical lines of AMISOM because now AMISOM is occupying a number of cities all over Somalia and not only Mogadishu.  So the issue of logistics is becoming a nightmare.  At the same time they will continue the same activities they have involved in terms of targeted killings, IEDs in cities and suicide bombings.”

    It remains to be seen whether this strategy can turn the tide for al-Shabab, or whether the group is about to become a closed chapter in Somalia’s recent chaotic history.

    You May Like

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora