The Al-Shabaab has posed a threat to security in Africa, United States, and Europe. This Islamist militant group has battled with the government of Somalia, the United Nations troops, and the United States government for more than ten years. It has carried out its attacks in the region because of its sophisticated weapons and the expanding number of fighters. In past few years, the Al-Shabaab was the best financed, organized, and the best armed military group which controlled a significant stretch of southern Somalia (Mwangi, 518). The Somalian army, in conjunction with the African Union (AU) troops, has forced the Al-Shabaab out of its previous territories but it remains a potent threat. It has formed links with other terror groups in Africa and other parts of the world such as the al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. This paper is going to discuss the Al-Shabaab, the weapons they use, the use of drones and the reasons for the intervention by the United States in the horn of Africa.
WHO ARE THE AL-SHABAAB?
The Al-Shabaab is a terror group in Somalia which started when the Islamic Court Union (ICU) was defeated by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its allies in September 2006. TFG allies such as Ethiopia entered Somalia to oust the ICU and the Islamist Militia from the nation. This was partly motivated by the security threat posed by the Al-Shabaab to Ethiopians living in the border with Somalia. Despite the entry of the Ethiopian Army into Somalia, the breakaway faction fled but the remaining group continued to fight. This led to the clear separation of the Al-Shabaab and the ICU which established itself in southern Somalia. The ICU had revitalized Mogadishu as the city awoke from many years of war and torment following the collapse of Siad Barre's administration in 1991 (Mwangi 517). The group has been on the forefront in waging war against enemies of Islam and are in combat against the Somali Federal Government and the forces of the Africa Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Because of this, governments such as United States, Canada, Australia, and United Kingdom have listed the Al-Shabaab as a terror organization with its commanders sought after by these governments.
Fig. 1. Negotiating with the Al Shabaab from: Gad, Gado. Gado cartoons, 15 Sept. 2014.
Al-Shabaab has had and still has many organizational links and affiliations with other terrorist groups. For instance, the Al-Shabaab is linked to the Arabian Peninsula, Ittihad Al-Islami, the Hawiye clan, the Muslim Youth Center, Hizbul Islam, and Ansaar Muslim Youth Center. These identities have provided Al-Shabaab with logistical, infrastructural, and financial support. Since 2006, the Al-Shabaab has attracted increased attention because of the use of suicide bombings and the presence of fighters from outside Somalia. The allegiance has contributed its development to regional and international terror groups such as the Al Qaeda. This has been exasperated by the training of Islamists from other countries in Africa such as Nigeria and Kenya.
The Al-Shabaab is a global organization in the sense that it has reached out to the Somalia diaspora. This has made the western world more concerned about its activities thus has been branded a terror group. Ploch indicates that there has been an upsurge in the number of Americans especially those from the Muslim community seeking to become operatives for foreign groups of terror (10). The group has camps for training and indoctrination of the Somali youths in the teachings of the Al Qaeda and as a practicing ground for recruits inspired by the Al Qaeda worldview and drawn to Somalia by the need to know jihad. The trained youths are potentially lethal because they take the Al-Shabaab doctrines and struggle back home.
The leadership of the Al-Shabaab falls on the Al Qaeda leader. The Al-Shabaab leadership is not formally structured because foreign fighters are getting out of the group. Ahmed Abdi Godane was installed as the leader of the Al-Shabaab in 2007 but was heavily criticized by the members for his failure to give food aid Somalis who were hunger striken. This led to the split of the organization into the national legion and foreign faction. Despite the internal disagreements within the various factions of the Al-Shabaab, there has been unity with the different sub-groups opting to stay in the organization. Despite the differences within the ranks, tensions have been successfully controlled with frequent rumors of emerging splits confounded.
The breakaway faction refused to take orders from the Al-Shabaab leader which made Godane pledge allegiance to the Al Qaeda which he hoped to regain his authority and inspire the overseas fighters to remain committed to fight and stay in Somalia. The key to the success of the Al-Shabaab is the unity based on having a rudimentary common ideological platform and worldwide view. Because of the threat posed by Al-Shabaab to the neighbors and the international security, the United States have hunted the Al-Shabaab leadership and killed Godane in 2014 with a drone strike.
The primary method used by the Al-Shabaab is physical attacks. The organization has unchallenged control of vast territories in Somalia and thus successfully blocked famine aid from reaching the western part of the country which led to the death of thousands of innocent Somalis and is still a threat to millions (Kelly 41). This condition has also assisted them to set up numerous training camps to prepare for its terrorist operations and insurgency. Furthermore, the Al Qaeda has instructed the al-Shabaab to disregard the international calls for peace efforts and make use of guerrilla tactics against the Somali government troops and other regional armies in the nation by annihilating, destroying and blowing them up (Kelly 4).
WHAT KIND OF WEAPONS DO THEY USE?
The Al-Shabaab has gained strength because of the use of lethal weapons that are supplied from various areas and their sympathizers all over the world. The attacks propagated by the Al-Shabaab has focused mainly in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mali, and Uganda (Kelly 42). The Al-Shabaab employs extremist intimidation and terror tactics designed to instill fear in the population. It metes out severe punishments ranging from floggings, beheadings, stoning, and amputations.
Fig. 2. Worldwide Cartoons from: Somali Youth for Peace.
The Al-Shabaab uses improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombers in a new dimension that has been successful within Somalia and outside especially Kenya and Uganda. Ploch notes that the use of IEDs by the Al-Shabaab has become increasingly sophisticated because of the tactics, planning, and execution of suicide bombings among the AMISOM and other potential victims (8). These IEDs uses explosive materials from unexploded military shells which are packed with shrapnel and is activated successfully by use of a mobile phone. The group has also relied on suicide vests that are often attributed to foreign training and expertise. These vests are useful because jihadists blow themselves up in crowded places like churches, markets, and hotels. The other lethal weapon used by the Al-Shabaab is the machine gun mounted on the back of a pick-up truck which offers an efficient drive-by assassination.
Furthermore, the Al-Shabaab group also employs a combination of conventional military tactics and guerilla-style attacks against the AU forces and TFG. Al-Shabaab forces use automatic weapons, grenades, mortars, and guided surface to air missiles called man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) (Ploch 8). These MANPADS have been used to shoot down cargo planes with the use of SA-18 missiles which can differentiate between a target aircraft and other heat sources. The rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) is another weapon of choice used by the Al-Shabaab. RPG is used to shoot down aircraft, attack patrol boats, navy vessels, and target buildings. The RPG is fatal because patrol boats or planes may burn on impact which threatens the lives of the soldiers on board. The Al-Shabaab has effectively used suicide car bombers. A suicide car bomber is a car packed with explosives and driven to the targeted areas, and a suicide bomber blows it up. The explosives cause extensive damage to the building and kill several people. The targeted areas for this mode of attack include government building, hotels, offices of the United Nations in Somalia, police checkpoints, and presidential palace.
The Al-Shabaab is also reported to have less advanced SA-7s, the type of missiles used against an Israeli airliner in Mombasa, Kenya. These arms are received through the port of Kismayu which is under the control of the Al-Shabaab, and other smaller ports in the southern part of Somalia as well as overland supplies from Puntland (Ploch 8). The organization is also alleged to have acquired TFG arms either through forced acquisition or sold by the Al-Shabaab sympathizers in the TFG. Furthermore, the Al-Shabaab uses a range of destructive devices, machine guns, and AK-47 semi-automatic assault weapons. Other weapons include anti-aircraft systems, anti-tank batteries, pistols, heavy and light machine guns, shoulder-fired missiles, artillery batteries, and armored vehicles. The seaside battle presents a heavily armed Al-Shabaab because it has speed boats with well-trained militants armed with rockets and machine guns. The Al-Shabaab also has motorcycle commando units which shoot machine guns and pistols while riding at high speed. They also fire rockets and hurl grenades on enemy points. Internet and radio have been crucial in propagating their propaganda, recruitment, and fundraising. In addition to this, it is an adept user of strategic communications with the use of a website where videos and statements are posted online in Somali, English, and Arabic. The message of global jihad has also been communicated over the internet.
Al-Shabaab has many sympathizers in Somalia and other countries that have given the Al-Shabaab morale-boosting spirit. There are three main sources of weapons for the Al-Shabaab which include sources from Yemen, arms sold to the Al-Shabaab from Eritrea, and weapons obtained from AU troops in Somalia after a successful attack. Regionally, the main source of arms for the Al-Shabaab over the years has been Eritrea. According to the Small Arms Survey, Eritrea has supplied arms to Islamic opposition groups in Somalia such as the Al-Shabaab, ICU, or other militant Islamist groups (346). This nation has maintained sales to the Al-Shabaab which has assisted them in enhancing their attacks in Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda.
The several shipments done by Eritrea are trafficked through the town of Baidoa which has led to the strong sanctions by the United Nations Security Council for continued support to Al-Shabaab. Furthermore, Eritrea has acted as an entry point for weapons from Russia in transit to Somalia. For instance, the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group have documented weapons entering Somalia through Eritrea such as two SA-18 missiles seized from the Al-Shabaab which were tracked to a MANPADS shipment from the Russian Federation (Small Arms Groups 346). Despite the porous nature of Somalia's borders and lands, the loads from Eritrea are majorly through the air though other embargo arrive via sea and are taken to Mogadishu for use against the government troops, AU forces, and any other attack. In addition to arms supply, Eritrea has also provided financial assistance to the Al-Shabaab. These finances are used in running the activities of this organization which includes the purchase of arms.
The other source for the Al-Shabaab is stealing weapons from successful attacks on the AU troops or the TFG police and the army. After carrying out an attack, the Al-Shabaab usually take lethal weapons fr...
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