MOGADISHU, Somalia (Caasimada Online) – Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, expressed confidence in his new military offensive against Al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group that has terrorized the Horn of Africa for years.
In an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, Mohamud stated, “Two things are there to defeat Al-Shabab: one is military, another is ideological. The ideological war will continue for some time, but in the military one, I believe we’ll defeat them.”
Since August, government forces have made significant territorial gains, mostly in central Somalia, in the most significant Somali-led campaign against Al-Shabab in 15 years.
A financial crackdown has led to freezing hundreds of bank and mobile money accounts, holding a combined “couple of million dollars.” A drive to convince Somali clerics to condemn Al-Shabab as “anti-Islamic” is underway.
Turkey, the African Union, and others back the offensive. A senior US official familiar with the conflict said the alliance between the Somali army and regional clans, who know the terrain and can identify Al-Shabab, was a “pretty powerful combination” and “fundamentally different” from previous attempts to crush the Islamists.
Challenges and future goals
Despite progress, analysts warn of significant challenges ahead. Omar Mahmood, a senior Somalia analyst at the Crisis Group think-tank, said, “Al-Shabab continues to mount resistance in parts of central Somalia, and fighting Al-Shabab in its southern strongholds will probably be a tougher slog.”
To tackle these challenges, the Somali government has enlisted military support from neighboring Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, countries that have also suffered Al-Shabab attacks.
“We’ll have more forces and capability right now than we had in the previous phase,” Sheikh Mohamud said.
Al-Shabab, which emerged around 2006 during an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, is known for suicide bombings and brutal attacks, including the 2013 raid on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall.
The US has called it “the largest and most deadly al-Qaeda network in the world,” providing the terror group’s central command with “tens of millions of dollars.”
US support and the path to peace
US support for Somalia comes from a “persistent” military presence of 450 troops, established last year by President Joe Biden.
This partially reverses the decision by his predecessor, Donald Trump, to withdraw troops.
The US has a long and troubled history in Somalia, including an Al-Shabab attack on one of its bases in Kenya in 2020 that killed three service members and the infamous 1993 downing of two Black Hawk helicopters in the death of 18 US soldiers.
President Mohamud’s ultimate aim is to pressure the militant group into such a tight corner that it has no option but to negotiate for peace.
“Al-Shabab still feels it can survive, and we also believe the opportunity for negotiations is not yet mature,” he said. “But in the end, this will end up with negotiations.”