Long-overdue elections that returned President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to power in 2022 have raised hopes that Somalia can close a highly divisive chapter in its recent history. But the challenges it faces remain daunting. Relations between the federal government and member states are still uneasy, talks over Somaliland’s status have made little progress and vital state-building tasks, like finalising the provisional constitution, are lagging behind. Meanwhile, a historic drought is undermining local livelihoods while also foreshadowing the long-term challenges posed by climate change. Further, even as Mohamud has declared “total war” on the Islamist insurgency Al-Shabaab, which remains a defiant actor, a security transition premised on the withdrawal of African Union troops by the end of 2024 is fast approaching. Crisis Group’s work in Somalia aims to foster and maintain political unity, address the root causes of insecurity, including climate change’s impact, and consider means to wind down the long war with Al-Shabaab.
This week on The Horn, Alan is joined by Crisis Group experts Omar Mahmood and Sarah Harrison, to discuss where Somalia's military offensive against Al-Shabaab might be headed and the evolving role of the U.S. in the country.
Election-related tensions persisted in Puntland even as state president appointed dialogue committee, offensive against Al-Shabaab remained largely on pause, and UN delayed drawdown of AU mission.
Amid election stalemate in Puntland state, opportunity for de-escalation emerged. Opposition in Puntland continued to accuse President Said Deni of attempting to manipulate upcoming parliamentary and presidential election process to his advantage, by determining rules of game with little consultation as Puntland moves from clan-based selection to universal suffrage. Group of Puntland clan elders 1 Nov argued for return to clan-based selection to ensure timely vote on 8 Jan 2024; but govt said it would not change path. Opposition 14 Nov announced parallel clan-based vote for 8 Jan. In local incident partially related to dispute, govt and opposition forces 7 Nov clashed in state capital Garowe, killing one civilian; UN 21 Nov called for restraint, expressed concern over recent mobilisation of forces in city. Parliament 26 Nov called for more time to resolve issues between govt and opposition, did not endorse electoral commission’s proposal to postpone elections to 25 Feb 2024. Deni 27 Nov appointed election negotiation committee, providing some hope for dialogue to break deadlock.
Govt offensive against Al-Shabaab remained on hold. Large-scale military operations against Al-Shabaab militants remained on pause due to heavy rain and troop rotation, as govt forces used time to regroup. Several small clashes reported, however, including in South West state. Notably, army 1-5 Nov engaged Al-Shabaab during clearing operations around Xuddur town, Bakool region, and late Nov conducted further operations in Bakool and Bay regions. In Galmudug state, main focus of recent efforts, govt forces 7 Nov captured small village of Barag Mohamud Daaud. Govt-allied clan militias continued attempt to clear militants from both banks of Shabelle river in Hirshabelle state. Al-Shabaab attacks also occurred at low frequency. Notably, two suicide attacks 3 and 13 Nov caused minimal damage in capital Mogadishu.
AU mission (ATMIS) drawdown official delayed. UN Security Council 15 Nov approved extension of ATMIS mandate until 30 June 2024, including postponing second phase of mission’s drawdown until 31 Dec 2023.
If military pressure is designed to push toward the complete elimination of Shabaab, then I think we'll miss opportunities to resolve this conflict.
Al-Shabaab continues to mount resistance in parts of central Somalia and fighting al-Shabaab in its southern strongholds will probably be a tougher slog.
Things [in Somalia] are likely to get worse before they get better as both the government and al Shabaab are locked into war mode right now.
Despite President Biden’s campaign promise to end the forever wars, Somalia remains one of the most active areas in the world for U.S. counterterrorism operations.
I think the reason why [Mukhtar Robow, ex-Al-Shabab leader] was brought from house arrest to the cabinet minister is to create a counter-narrative to that of al-Shabab.
Polls likely due in 2024 could unsettle Galmudug, a building block of Somalia’s federal project, increasing frictions along clan and other lines. State and federal authorities have a shared interest in ensuring a clean vote. They should cooperate toward that end.
U.S. President Joe Biden promised to end the “forever wars” launched after the 9/11 attacks. In Somalia, however, his administration has reinvigorated a flawed military-first approach to battling Islamist militants. Washington should complement those efforts with others aimed at stabilisation and political reconciliation.
The CrisisWatch Digest Somalia offers a monthly one-page snapshot of conflict-related country trends in a clear, accessible format, using a map of the region to pinpoint developments.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard speaks with Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group's Somalia expert, about the Somali army’s latest offensive, together with clan militias, against Al-Shabaab’s Islamist insurgency and challenges as the battle moves from central Somalia to Al-Shabaab’s southern strongholds.
In this video, Omar Mahmood discusses the Somali government’s recent gains in its war with the Islamist insurgency Al-Shabaab, mainly in central Somalia.
In conjunction with clan militias, the national army has dislodged the Islamist insurgency Al-Shabaab from swathes of central Somalia, marking a breakthrough in the fifteen-year war. As its campaign proceeds, Mogadishu should take steps to strengthen its hold on the territory it has retaken.
This week on The Horn, Alan speaks with Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group's senior analyst for Eastern Africa, about the government offensive backed by local clans that is making gains against Al-Shabaab in central Somalia, and what comes next.
Somaliland is going through considerable political turmoil. The government and opposition disagree over the sequencing of two forthcoming high-stakes elections, and both sides are digging in. International partners should push the two sides to reach consensus, while standing by to mediate if talks fail.
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