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Somalia: Al-Shabaab – It Will Be a Long War
Somalia: Al-Shabaab – It Will Be a Long War
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
How will the Taliban Victory Impact Other Conflicts Involving Jihadist Militants? (Online Event)
How will the Taliban Victory Impact Other Conflicts Involving Jihadist Militants? (Online Event)
Briefing 99 / Africa

Somalia: Al-Shabaab – It Will Be a Long War

Despite military gains against Somalia’s Islamist group Al-Shabaab, the insurgents’ defeat will remain elusive until the Somali government and its international partners address longstanding social – often clan-based – grievances through parallel local and national processes, as the basis for the revival of conventional governmental authority.

I. Overview

Despite the recent military surge against Somalia’s armed Islamist extremist and self-declared al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Shabaab, its conclusive “defeat” remains elusive. The most likely scenario – already in evidence – is that its armed units will retreat to smaller, remote and rural enclaves, exploiting entrenched and ever-changing clan-based competition; at the same time, other groups of radicalised and well-trained individuals will continue to carry out assassinations and terrorist attacks in urban areas, including increasingly in neighbouring countries, especially Kenya. The long connection between Al-Shabaab’s current leadership and al-Qaeda is likely to strengthen. A critical breakthrough in the fight against the group cannot, therefore, be achieved by force of arms, even less so when it is foreign militaries, not the Somali National Army (SNA), that are in the lead. A more politically-focused approach is required.

Even as its territory is squeezed in the medium term, Al-Shabaab will continue to control both money and minds. It has the advantage of at least three decades of Salafi-Wahhabi proselytisation (daawa) in Somalia; social conservatism is already strongly entrenched – including in Somaliland and among Somali minorities in neigh­bouring states – giving it deep reservoirs of fiscal and ideological support, even without the intimidation it routinely employs.

An additional factor is the group’s proven ability to adapt, militarily and politically – flexibility that is assisted by its leadership’s freedom from direct accountability to any single constituency. From its first serious military setbacks in 2007 and again in 2011, it has continually reframed the terms of engagement. It appears to be doing so again.

Countering Al-Shabaab’s deep presence in south-central Somalia requires the kind of government – financially secure, with a common vision and coercive means – that is unlikely to materialise in the near term. More military surges will do little to reduce the socio-political dysfunction that has allowed Al-Shabaab to thrive; in certain areas it may even serve to deepen its hold. The Somali Federal Government (SFG), supported by external allies, should consider the following political options:

  • implementing, as outlined in the “National Stabilisation Strategy” (NSS), parallel national and local reconciliation processes at all levels of Somali society;
     
  • imitating Al-Shabaab’s frequently successful techniques of facilitating local clan dialogue and reconciliation (as per the National Stabilisation Strategy, NSS), as well as religious education;
     
  • developing a new approach to establishing local and regional administrations that privileges neither SFG appointees nor clients of neighbouring states; and
     
  • making the local (Somali) political grievances that enable Al-Shabaab to remain and rebuild in Somalia the paramount focus, not regional or wider international priorities.

Nairobi/Brussels, 26 June 2014

Event Recording / Asia

How will the Taliban Victory Impact Other Conflicts Involving Jihadist Militants? (Online Event)

Could the seizure of Afghanistan by the Taliban just before the twentieth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks be a turning point for jihadist militancy worldwide? (Online Event, 28th September 2021)

Could the seizure of Afghanistan by the Taliban just before the twentieth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks be a turning point for jihadist militancy worldwide? Two decades after those attacks, the U.S. administration withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban quickly took control of the country. This followed direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban and an agreement they reached in February 2020 for the U.S. to pull out troops from Afghanistan in exchange for – amongst other things – guarantees the Taliban would not allow transnational militants to use Afghan soil for plotting attacks abroad.

As part of our series The Legacy of 9/11 and the “War on Terror”, please join us for this online event which will explore the impact of the Taliban takeover on other wars involving al-Qaeda and ISIS-linked groups. Crisis Group analysts will discuss the perceptions of jihadists and their enemies in the Sahel, Somalia and Syria of the dramatic events in Afghanistan and what they might mean for those conflicts in which they are fighting. The panel discussion will be followed by a Q&A with the audience.

Panelists:

Dareen Khalifa, Senior Analyst, Syria
Omar Mahmood, Senior Analyst, Somalia
Ibrahim Yahaya, Senior Analyst, Sahel

This event is moderated by Jerome Drevon, Senior Analyst, Jihad and Modern Conflict

How will the Taliban Victory Impact Other Conflicts Involving Jihadist Militants? (Online Event, 28th September 2021)