From Somalia to Ethiopia: Al-Shabab’s dangerous pivot

Addis-Ababa (Caasimada Online) – A new intelligence report suggests that the Somalia-based extremist force, Al-Shabab, is focusing on Ethiopia and its armed contingents within the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS).

A rigorous analysis from the Terrorism Monitor (TM) noted on September 8: “Al-Shabab is increasingly threatening Ethiopia amid the escalating conflict between its militants and Ethiopian and other foreign troops in Somalia.”

With Ethiopia’s pivotal role in the African Union’s intervention against Al-Shabab, this group perceives Ethiopia, the mightiest neighbor, as a significant impediment to its overarching goal of gaining dominance over Somalia.

TM’s in-depth study links the group’s heightened hostility towards Ethiopia to its ambitions. Indeed, the consistent mentions of Ethiopia in Al-Shabab’s propagandistic materials raise the specter of unforeseen assaults on the populous African nation.

An alarming statement from al-Qaeda’s General Command on June 19 urged the global Islamic community to stand alongside Al-Shabab in Somalia, explicitly targeting Ethiopia for alleged transgressions.

Ethiopia’s response

In a move that likely fueled Al-Shabab’s enmity, on March 2, 2023, the Ethiopian Government resolved to deploy supplementary forces to Somalia, a decision made independent of its obligations under ATMIS.

Notably, Caasimada Online’s March issue highlighted that Kenya and Djibouti, Ethiopia’s neighbors, committed to fortifying their military presence in the area as Al-Shabab’s onslaughts increasingly targeted foreign troops, including Ethiopians.

Subsequent to these ominous signals, tensions palpably rose along Ethiopia’s frontier. TM aptly cited Ethiopia’s retaliatory measures against Al-Shabab, especially after the latter assaulted the border town of Dollo.

Furthermore, given Ethiopia’s current internal political dynamics, the nation seems to be an attractive target for Al-Shabab. The extremist group appears poised to exploit any chink in the armor, capitalizing on Ethiopia’s internal discord and instability.

Who is Al-Shabab?

For those unfamiliar, Al-Shabab stands as a formidable Sunni Islamist military and political faction primarily rooted in Somalia but with a presence extending across East Africa.

Notably, it plays a salient role in the protracted Somali Civil War, ingeniously integrating elements of Somali nationalism into its Islamist mission.

The Africa Defense Forum’s September 6, 2023 edition, referencing Foreign Policy Magazine, disclosed that Al-Shabab’s forces might comprise nearly 14,000 combatants.

Astonishingly, this figure nearly doubles its strength from three years prior. However, it’s worth noting that not all are seasoned warriors; many are coerced child soldiers.

There’s no public acknowledgment from the Ethiopian Government about the brewing storm. However, given the imminent and mounting threats, a proactive and robust response is both anticipated and crucial for regional stability.