Al-Shabaab steps up attacks in run up to the Somalia elections
Posted on September 19, 2016
by Muhyadin Ahmed Roble
*The Islamist militant group is determined to disrupt Somalia’s (s)election
process. It has been helped in this ambition by a number of factors.*
[image: AMISOM and other troops have struggled to stop recent al-Shabaab
attacks in Mogadishu. Credit: AU-UN/Stuart Price]

AMISOM and other troops have struggled to stop recent al-Shabaab attacks in
Mogadishu. Credit: AU-UN/Stuart Price

In the lead up to Somalia’s political transition, scheduled to take place
across this September and October, al-Shabaab has upped the ante. With the
country preparing to select new parliamentarians, who will in turn appoint
the president on 30 October, the Islamist militant group seems determined
to disrupt the process and has engaged in a spate of high-impact attacks
over the past few months.

Somalia’s initial plan had been to hold a popular one person-one vote
election this year, which would have been the country’s first since 1967.
In 1969, military general Siad Barre deposed the elected government and
then ruled the country for two decades before his regime collapsed and
civil war broke out in 1991.

Following a transitional period after the conflict, many hoped Somalia
would be ready for a direct election this year, but that prospect has been
delayed up to 2020
due to ongoing insecurity. That means that in the coming weeks Somalia will
instead engage in an indirect electoral
<> process in which the
political appointments will be made by clan-based electoral colleges.

[*Somalia is still fragile, but fragile is progress

Al-Shabaab appears determined to undermine this process. On Sunday, a car
in the capital Mogadishu killed at least six people, including a Somali
general. On the Friday before, militants attacked a town near the border
with Kenya, seizing military vehicles and reportedly killing at least seven
Somali soldiers. On 30 August, at least 20 were killed and 30 injured
in a suicide
bombing <> near
the presidential palace. A few days earlier, a car bomb and ensuing gun
attack killed ten people at a popular beach restaurant
in Mogadishu. And four days before that, suicide bombers
killed more than 20 people in a local government office in Galkayo city
located in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In 2016 as a whole, al-Shabaab has carried out over a dozen attacks,
eight of which have targeted Mogadishu, a city from which the group had
previously withdrawn in 2011.

*How al-Shabaab upped the ante*

Contrary to some suggestions that the group is on the decline, this upsurge
in attacks suggests al-Shabaab is still highly capable and determined to
destabilise an electoral process that would see state institutions

However it is not just the group’s resolve that has enabled it to launch so
many complex and successful attacks over the past months. Other factors
have contributed to this shift.

The first is that political campaigning seems to have acted as a
distraction. Many officials, including those in the security apparatus,
face uncertainty over their future given that they are political
appointees, and several appear to be preoccupied in their attempts to
influence the selection process. This has led to greater gaps in the
security system that al-Shabaab has been all too keen to exploit.

A second factor in al-Shabaab’s change of tactics has been the
intensification of US drone strikes, which have become a nightmare for the
group over the past two years. This year alone, at least two hundred
including some senior leaders and intelligence chiefs, have been killed in
drone attacks. Meanwhile, with drones flying over their traditional havens
in Shabelle and Jubba regions, morale has dropped.

[*Could America’s War on Terror creep across Africa?

A by-product of this threat, however, is that al-Shabaab has redeployed
large numbers of its fighters to Mogadishu where there is greater safety
from drones. This move back to urban areas has been possible due to the
lack of concerted ground offensives alongside the US airstrikes. Last
month, al-Shabaab fighters successfully attacked military bases
<> housing
government and African Union troops (AMISOM) south west of Mogadishu.

A third factor in al-Shabaab’s upsurge of attacks is it the fact that the
group has managed to greatly build up its arsenal with newly-acquired
weapons and ammunition. It has overrun three military
bases in the past two years and looted heavy weaponry including military
vehicles, mortars, missiles, and ammo.

In addition, the militants have received explosives and weapons from Yemen
which has helped it launch its most complex and effective vehicle-borne
improvised explosive device attacks so far. According to an officer with
Somalia’s intelligence agency, this military build-up has increased both
the group’s morale and capabilities.

Finally, the group’s resurgence could also be linked to the fact its fairly
new leader is still working to establish a reputation as someone who can
deliver impressive victories on the battlefield, two years after his
predecessor was killed in a US air strike.

[*Al-Shabaab has changed its tactics. AMISOM must do so too

*How to fight back*

Whatever the main reasons behind it, however, the recent upsurge in attacks
suggests al-Shabaab remains a resilient and unyielding force. And its
priorities in trying to disrupt the election process are clear, as
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud reaffirmed
<> during a meeting with
AMISOM commanders in Mogadishu last month.

Somali and AMISOM troops may have managed to minimise some of the damage in
recent months, but they will find it hard to prevent against al-Shabaab’s
suicide bombings and complex attacks in the coming weeks. The Somali
security forces have shown courage, but they are under-resourced and
under-equipped. Meanwhile, the 22,000-strong AMISOM force remains
disorganised, overwhelmed and overstretched. Both forces lack certain key
capabilities, especially in terms of air power and reconnaissance.

Despite repeatedly claiming that they will avert any disruption of the
elections, the Somali government and AMISOM seem to have run out of
strategies and options. Since the beginning of the year, there have been
talks of launching a joint offensive
to dislodge the militants from remaining strongholds, but so far nothing
has materialised and al-Shabaab continues to strike Mogadishu, the nerve
centre of government operations and activities, with impunity.

Somalia’s army is not yet ready to fight its own battles. AMISOM is accused
of lacking consistency and coordination between its various operations. And
US airstrikes seem to focus on militants believed to pose the greatest
external threats rather than those who pose the greatest threats to Somali
national security.

If al-Shabaab is to be contained in its bid to undermine Somalia’s
state-building efforts and political transition therefore, a coordinated
approach is needed. The only way to safeguard the electoral process is a
common military strategy and much better coordination, communication and
coherence between the Somalia National Army, AMISOM and the US.

*Muhyadin Ahmed Roble is the Editor of Radio Ergo and analyst of African
Affairs for the Jamestown Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter at
@MuhyadinR <> or reach him at <>.*
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