Kismayo Falls: Silent Victory, Quiet War

With the world’s attention focused on high-profile conflicts such as Afghanistan and Syria, and humanitarian crises in Darfur and Haiti, the troubled East African state of Somalia seems to have fallen off the global radar screen, though its duress eclipses that of the aforementioned nations in terms of both intensity of conflict and human suffering. However, a major milestone on the road to national reconciliation and stability was achieved on October 5th, 2012 when Al Qaeda’s East African proxy, Al Shabab, was forced out of its stronghold in Kismayo by African Union peacekeeping forces. Although this is a huge development, the conflict is far from settled. In order to defeat an insurgency, counterinsurgent forces require the support of the local populace and a legitimate governing entity that provides the people with essential services. Currently, the Somali government is barely viable. In order to give Somalia a shot at stability, a multinational counterinsurgent force must finish Al Shabab and enhance the capacity of the government to discharge its duties.  

The Problem: 

After five years of ruthless, incompetent and fanatical dominion by Al Shabab, Somalia has the distinction of consistently gracing the top of Foreign Policy Magazine’s list of failed states. The group’s stated task is to turn Somalia into an Islamic theocracy, with Sharia Law as its charter. Opposing them is the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), whose task is to restore order and a peaceful environment to provide the popularly elected Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) an environment in which to function. For five years, a violent stalemate existed until the Burundian and Ugandan contingents of AMISOM joined forces with local Somali clans and handed Al Shabab its first strategic defeat, forcing them out of the capital of Mogadishu last year. On October 5th, 2012, the Kenyan contingent of AMISOM forced them from their one remaining urban stronghold of Kismayo, thereby denying them of the desperately needed funds generated from docking fees and taxes from the busy port there.  

The importance of funding for any terrorist organization cannot be overemphasized. Despite their relatively austere existence, financial capital figures prominently into Al Shabab strategic and tactical operations. Strategically, it allows them to purchase support and cooperation from prominent clan and militia leaders, even though they may disagree with, or even hate Al Shabab’s political platform. Tactically, money is the heart of Al Shabab’s offensive capability. It enables them to acquire resources used for combat operations and combat support such as weapons, equipment, manpower, fuel, food and information of intelligence value. They need these resources to enforce their authority and to continue their attempts to fight AMISOM and overthrow the constituted Somali government.

Al Shabab has relied on a number of revenue streams to support their operations: Many Somali expatriate communities around the world have Al Shabab fundraising cells, including the US. The cell collects from a diverse variety of benefactors and the funds are smuggled into Somalia and distributed through the group’s hierarchy. Some of the remaining Al Shabab territories have airports and sea ports that produce revenue in the form of landing and docking fees. Up until last week, their most lucrative revenue stream in this category was the port of Kismayo in Southern Somalia. That asset is now gone, which means Al Shabab is in desperate financial condition. 

Al Shabab’s Next Move: 

Al Shabab has an uphill battle in acquiring the finances to continue their crusade to turn Somalia into an Islamic theocracy. They can be expected to increase their piracy operations and international fund-raising efforts. Until last year, Somali piracy was largely monopolized by gangs composed of disaffected fisherman searching for work following the collapse of the fishing industry. Once it became apparent that Kismayo would fall to AMISOM, Al Shabab began easing into the piracy business. Soon, the public will see more hardened Islamic Zealots being arrested for piracy, rather than the clueless teenagers seen today. The nature of individual acts of piracy will also become more brutal, with more carnage and bloodshed, as is Al Shabab’s signature.  

Al Shabab will also become more involved in the oil industry. Recently, they forged alliances with the potentates in the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland. These remote, self-governing regions in Northern Somalia have discovered new oil reserves and Al Shabab is attempting to mediate between local authorities and some European petroleum companies. If they can properly exploit these nascent resources, they could potentially compensate for the loss of revenue from Kismayo. Another surge in funding is likely to lead to an Al Shabab resurgence and endanger any chance of the government standing on its own. 

Course of Action: 

Al Shabab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu was a major victory for AMISOM, the TFG and in fact the whole world. In order to continue the momentum, allied forces must support the TFG in finishing or neutralizing Al Shabab while helping the former provide good governance. This can be accomplished by further shutting down all Al Shabab revenue streams and degrading their offensive capability while shaping the environment to ensure that conditions conducive to a revival do not exist. Al Shabab sources of revenue and their offensive capability must be at the top of the TFG’s and AMISOM’s target list because they are Centers of Gravity (CoG), meaning they are sources of power that provide moral or physical strength, freedom of action or the will to act. Normally, a terror group’s CoG would be its ideology and relevant population groups, but in this case, Al Shabab’s radical ideology has already failed because it does not resonate with the majority of the Somali populace and has, in fact, alienated them.

Allied governments, including the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the US and Europe should engage in aggressive diplomacy to bring more forces into the AMISOM task force. This would enable AMISOM to expand its area of influence to the Somali hinterland where Al Shabab is still strong. Once established, they could protect the local populace and exploit their knowledge of the local situation and intelligence value then combine with local militias to destroy Al Shabab remnants.

Al Shabab financial resources can be degraded by reducing international donations to their fundraising cells. These cells are hidden within the Somali expatriate communities in the US and Europe and would fall under the purview of each nation’s law enforcement agencies. Since this money pipeline is one of Al Shabab’s most valuable assets, these nations should hold a conference and forge a diplomatic agreement for law enforcement cooperation involving Interpol, Europol and prominent international banks. The primary intent would be to jointly collaborate on  the identification, interdiction and neutralization of Al Shabab fund raising cells, followed by the seizure or freezing of related assets.

Disrupting Al Shabab’s attempts to exploit Somali oil reserves may be more difficult. Somaliland and Puntland are nearly functioning sovereign states and have their own powerful militias. This essentially eliminates the possibility of a Military intervention. The TFG and other Western governments should engage in diplomacy with the potentates in these regions and offer technical and resource support in exploiting their oil resources. In exchange they would oppose Al Shabab, and severely limit their options for funding.

The most important step that must be taken is the enhancement of the TFG’s capability of governing. The TFG’s primary task is to provide security and the rule of law and to develop, nurture and manage democratic institutions, but they must do so with a unique Somali flavor. As a nation that has known only dictatorship and anarchy, Somalia has no experience with such a concept. Therefore, embedded political and diplomatic mentorship is required to assist TFG leadership to reconcile Somali culture with a more service-oriented government. Currently, US personnel are allowed into Somalia only by Presidential decree. This policy must be revised to allow US and allied diplomats into Mogadishu to work side by side with TFG leadership. Today, there is no grand strategy in Somalia, either by the TFG or its partner nations. Rectifying this must be the first task, followed by a distinct, performance-oriented roadmap on how to achieve its desired objectives. This roadmap must include substantial engagement with the clans and sub-clans as they are arguably the Center of Gravity for rebuilding this nation. At the same time, these clans must be controlled or they would pose a risk of returning to the splintered Somalia of the 1990s. Perhaps most significantly, TFG personnel must accept the fact that their success is based not on their own personal enrichment, but on how well they serve the people, and that lack of performance will result in their being deposed, and quite possibly dead.

In order to give Somalia a shot at stability, a multinational counterinsurgent force must finish Al Shabab and enhance the capacity of the government to discharge its duties. This may sound simple, but accomplishing even simple tasks in a failed state can be extremely challenging and expensive. Seizing Mogadishu last year and Kismayo last week were tremendous steps forward, but much work is still to be done.

De Oppresso Liber

Categories: General
Eric Roitsch

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