Abstract: There are reasons to be optimistic that the current Somali offensive against al-Shabaab could enduringly weaken the group. The operations have gained momentum and demonstrated that the Somali army has made large improvements over the last decade. The use of local clan militias as well as U.S. and Turkish drone support have acted as force multipliers, and the Somali government is finally making a concerted effort to go after al-Shabaab’s income generation. However, several factors should temper this optimism. Al-Shabaab has been defeated on the battlefield in the past and has reemerged as a strong actor. What will be key is to erode al-Shabaab’s ability to infiltrate government-controlled areas and to govern, tax, and implement ‘justice’ in these areas. In the past, this has been crucial to al-Shabaab resilience and income. Accordingly, there needs to be more focus on a ‘clear and hold’ strategy rather than just ‘search and destroy.’ In the long-run, there are several additional factors that will determine whether al-Shabaab can be definitively defeated. One factor will be the degree to which counterinsurgency operations can be extended from central Somalia into al-Shabaab’s southern strongholds. An additional factor will be the degree to which the Somali police can protect ordinary Somalis and businesses from being extorted by al-Shabaab. Another factor will be finding a way to continue to mobilize clan militias against the terrorists without creating the sort of clan rivalries and fragmentation and militarization of society that allowed al-Shabaab to emerge in the first place.

The Harakat al-Shabaab has defied all predictions of its doom and demise over the last 17 years. Today, al-Shaabab is the numerically strongest affiliate in al-Qa`ida’s network, still controls large amounts of territory, and is probably Africa’s strongest jihadi organization overall as well. The U.S. Department of Defense has assessed the organization to be the “largest, wealthiest and most lethal al-Qaeda affiliate in the world,” and some experts have mentioned al-Shabaab’s leader, Ahmed Diriye, as a potential replacement for al-Qa`ida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan on July 31, 2022.1 The Somali terrorist group continues to carry out terrorist attacks throughout Somalia, including a deadly bombing of the compound housing Mogadishu’s mayor’s office on January 22, 2023.2

Yet, the organization now faces new challenges. A new offensive by the Somali government has been launched across central Somalia. Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has even predicted an end to al-Shabaab’s insurgency by the end of 2023.3 Indeed, the offensive has seen many successes. So far, al-Shabaab is on the retreat, losing village after village, and the offensive remains popular in Somalia, with many Somalians having lost patience with the organization and especially its use of intimidation to get the local population to pay what al-Shabaab refers to as taxes, but what in many ways function as protection money.

It is important to note that al-Shabaab has faced challenges before and proved surprisingly resilient.4 The group was severely beaten by the Ethiopian forces intervening in Somalia from December 2006 to the start of 2009; it nevertheless reemerged stronger than ever. Al-Shabaab was largely driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, but still manages to both widely tax the city today and continue to launch heavy terror attacks in the capital. The militant group lost large territories in the period of 2012-2017, but it managed to survive and increase its income-generating activities.

Still, there are several new factors at play in the present offensive as compared with previous offensives. Al-Shabaab is facing a more comprehensive and Somali-led offensive, stronger local ownership over the operations, and a stronger focus on curtailing the organization’s income.5 Al-Shabaab can nevertheless still take advantage of the factors that ensured its resilience in the past: disunity among its enemies, its ability to infiltrate and even govern territories beyond its military control, and to ‘tax’ much more efficiently in these areas than the government.6 This article is an attempt to explore the factors that make this offensive different from past offensives and the factors that both enhance and inhibit the government efforts in order to highlight what will determine the future of al-Shabaab. This article proceeds in three parts. It first briefly outlines the evolution of the current offensive. It then examines reasons for tempered optimism about the current offensive and how it differs from past campaigns. The next section looks at the sources of al-Shabaab’s resilience and how this may blunt or limit what can be achieved in this campaign. Finally, the article offers some conclusions.

The Current Offensive
The current offensive started in August 2022 in response to a realization that previous strategies against al-Shabaab had failed to bring about any meaningful weakening of the group, and perhaps a recognition that even a negotiated settlement with al-Shabaab demanded that the government negotiate from a position of strength. In fact, President Mohamud directly expressed that his government would, “in the right time,” negotiate with al-Shabaab.7 The offensive was launched in two regional states, Hirshabelle and Galmudug, the weakest regional states in Somalia. In these areas, the offensive has been impressive, leading to the fall in mid-January 2023 of Harardhere, a former pirate hub and a strategic city in Galmudug.8 Around the same time, Somali forces also captured the nearby town of Galcad, some 200 miles north of Mogadishu. In both Harardhere and Galcad, the al-Shabaab militants fled without putting up a fight, though in Galcad some of the militants returned to attack a Somali government military base before 30 of their fighters were killed in a U.S. drone strike near the town on January 20, 2023.9 Since the offensive began in August 2022, the government has reported killing hundreds of al-Shabaab fighters and liberating dozens of towns and villages across central Somalia.10

Reasons for Optimism: The Ways This Campaign is Different

A stronger Somali army is finally taking the lead.
In many ways, the new offensive is different than previous ones in Somalia. First, the Somali National Army and its Somali partners are leading the operations. In the past, offensives have tended to be foreign led.11 The development follows the strategic goal of the African Union and its partners over the last 10 years, in which Somali forces would be handed increasing responsibility for fighting al-Shabaab and intervening powers from the African Union would slowly withdraw from combat operations.

The Somali army has indeed steadily assumed a larger role since 2017.12 The role the Somali army plays today illustrates how far the country’s armed forces have come over the last decade, lowering the sky-high desertion rates it had in its early phase and lowering corruption in its ranks as well as removing ‘ghost units’—units that existed only on paper while commanders embezzled funds that were to be used for paying soldiers. The Somali army today is far from a strong army, but it is stronger than it has been since before the civil war.

Moreover, the Somali army is not fighting alone in the current campaign; it has extensive support from the United States, which uses drones and provides air power to aid the current offensive, as demonstrated by the January 20, 2023, U.S. airstrike near Galcad. In another example, Danab forces, special forces trained by the United States, attacked al-Shabaab near El Ba’ad, in the El Dhere district of the Galgaduud region in north-central Somalia, on December 23, 2022, drawing upon U.S. air support in the form of drones.13 There has also been extensive Turkish support, with Turkey deploying the now-infamous Bayraktar drone systems in October 2022.14 Both countries, together with Eritrea, are also training Somali forces. The forces of the African Union in Somalia, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS),a have also provided air support as well as a military presence that has forced al-Shabaab to hold some reserves in order to keep a check on them. However, ATMIS has also became unpopular in Somalia during this offensive because of its perceived passivity. Some Somali observers have viewed the ATMIS response as sluggish and slow.15

Clan militias are acting as a force-multiplier.
The most important allies that the government forces have are the local clan militias, dubbed “Ma’awisley,” that operate alongside the Somali army, and these are being used more intensively than they have been over the last two decades.b The extensive clan mobilization against al-Shabaab in central Somalia goes far beyond their contribution to past government offensives. In many ways, the current offensive in Somalia’s has parallels to the U.S. offensive against al-Qa`ida in Iraq in western Iraq during the Anbar Awakening in the mid-2000s, in that it is enlisting the support of local clan-based militias and clan leaders are breaking their bonds with the terrorists. The clan-based militias enjoy several comparative advantages vis-à-vis the Somali national army: They are cheaper and more numerous than the army, and they enjoy local support as well as extensive local knowledge, including of terrain. Moreover, the clan-based militias give the Somali government access to knowledge and understanding of local politics at the sub-clan level. The clan militias are, however, dependent on coordination with government forces and are extremely hard to coordinate as well as concentrate for larger attacks. Clan militias have also sometimes been hard to motivate in the past to fight far from their home areas. Moreover, they are hard to mobilize if clan leaders are not protected by the government and are open to al-Shabaab intimidation. Their training is also poor. This means that clan militias function best in coordination with and supported by the army, particularly when assigned to specific tasks—for example, securing liberated areas. Many of these militias are motivated by anger at al-Shabaab’s extensive taxation of clan members, and several of the clans in central Somalia are now clearly distancing themselves from al-Shabaab. For example, clan leaders are now often not willing to intercede to release al-Shabaab members from their clan from captivity in Somali national army prison camps.16

Clan mobilization can, to a certain extent, remedy some of the weaknesses of previous offensives against al-Shabaab, namely the lack of local forces ready and willing to deploy to pacify liberated areas and prevent al-Shabaab from reestablishing a presence in such areas. In the past, al-Shabaab was allowed to reestablish shadow governance and taxation structures in supposedly ‘liberated’ areas and even gather funds from relatively high-security areas such as Mogadishu and Mogadishu port.17 A ‘clear and hold’ strategy where insurgents would have been prevented from entering a territory after it was liberated was neglected and a more kinetic approach focusing on destroying larger al-Shabaab units was prioritized—a ‘search and destroy’ focus. The local population in newly liberated areas was left to fend for itself, and al-Shabaab easily reinfiltrated such areas.18 The local anchorage of clan militias as well as their numbers and limited cost for the Somali government are factors that make them suited to prevent such infiltration; they know the local communities and can be present in a larger number than the Somali army.

U.S. and Turkish drone strikes are curtailing al-Shabaab’s command and control and freedom of maneuver.
A third reason for optimism is that al-Shabaab’s own coordination and control system also presents the Somali government with several advantages in the current offensive. U.S. drone strikes (or the threat of them) have complicated the operation of al-Shabaab’s tanfid (equivalent of a cabinet) and shura (equivalent of a parliament).19 While U.S. drone strikes have caused these effects for years, the current Somali government offensive has inflicted higher costs on al-Shabaab because the militant group needs command and control to face the government onslaught. In addition, Turkish drones have increased pressure on al-Shabaab.20

Al-Shabaab has lost momentum in neighboring Ethiopia.
A fourth reason for optimism is that al-Shabaab had lost its momentum in neighboring Ethiopia before the start of the offensive against it. The allegations of al-Shabaab infiltration in the Bale mountains, and of connections between al-Shabaab and youth violence in Oromia, remain unproven so far. Harakat al-Shabaab also failed miserably in Ethiopia in its July 2022 offensives against Afder and Ferfer, despite the fact that the Ethiopian army was engaged in a civil war in the northernmost region of Tigray. Notably, al-Shabaab had alienated local and strong clans in Ethiopia and has faced strong opposition from the local forces of the Somali federal state of Ethiopia.c Al-Shabaab, as an Islamist organization, in theory had a large advantage in the violence plaguing the Oromia countryside there, where conflicts have been interpreted in a religious way, with local Muslim Oromos accusing Christian Oromos of being manipulated and controlled by the Ethiopian central authorities and where violence has been initiated by Oromo groups naming themselves ‘Shabaab.’21 However, so-called ‘Shabaab’ groups in Oromia have so far not publicly revealed connections with the Harakat al-Shabaab, and the group has, perhaps due to the skepticism of any Ethiopian allies, so far (and despite rumors otherwise) failed to take advantage of Ethiopia’s problems.

The government is finally seriously going after the money.
A fifth reason for optimism is that unlike previous offensives, there are concurrent efforts against al-Shabaab’s taxation and governance in areas beyond its military control. Al-Shabaab has been extraordinarily successful in collecting funds and implementing sharia law in the government-controlled areas of southern Somalia in the past. Al-Shabaab’s sharia courts were functioning deep into government territories, proving that one does not need to control an area militarily to create structures of governance.22 In a crackdown on the group’s finances, authorities have closed down hundreds of bank and mobile money accounts allegedly linked to the group.23 Furthermore, the government is warning the Somali private sector against paying taxes/protection money to al-Shabaab, with stark warnings and ultimatums to the private sector that continue to support them.24 According to a Mogadishu-based observer, al-Shabaab sharia courts with responsibilities for government-controlled areas (often located outside these areas) were attacked in airstrikes, even before the offensive began, weakening the will of ordinary Somalis to bring civil cases to these courts.25

Somalia (Brandon Mohr)

Reasons to be Realistic: The Resilience of al-Shabaab and the Limitations of the Current Campaign
Despite the above factors working against it, al-Shabaab can draw upon advantages that have explained its resilience against similar offensives in the past. Indeed, in some areas, al-Shabaab today is actually stronger than it was in the past. Furthermore, there are limits to what can be achieved by using clan militias, and over-relying on them carries big risks. Moreover, the government has not yet significantly taken the fight into al-Shabaab’s southern strongholds.

Al-Shabaab still has lots of money, territory, and capacity to induce fear.
Al-Shabaab remains a wealthy organization with a sizable financial surplus. It has the finances to weather a storm. The wealth generated by al-Shabaab will provide a financial cushion that can be used to bribe clan elders, government officials, and security personnel and to ‘buy’ freelance operatives, such as unemployed youths in Mogadishu, for tasks that could even include targeted assassinations. As explored previously, al-Shabaab has until now been a much more successful ‘taxer’ than the Somali government in the south and also in areas under government control.26 The success of al-Shabaab taxation draws upon the credibility of its threats of violence: Al-Shabaab will tax businesses, construction companies, individuals, nomads, and the transport sector in particular while threatening to punish them if they fail to provide funds.

The protection of civilians against such threats has been neglected in Somali security planning in the past. The Somali police has a history of being donor-driven rather than seeking to provide security for all Somalis equally; protection for the civilian population, including protection against al-Shabaab harassment, has been neglected.d The Somali government has previously focused on searching for and destroying al-Shabaab units, and it has been Mogadishu’s past unwillingness and inability to do the much harder work of clearing and holding territory and protecting civilians in supposedly government-controlled territories that has allowed al-Shabaab to raise so much revenue through taxation and to carry out governance in areas even outside of its military control. Al-Shabaab’s continued ability to tax and govern is in turn a major factor contributing to its resilience in the face of the new military onslaught it faces.

The al-Shabaab strategy in the past has not been to confront enemy offensives directly, but rather to withdraw, hide, and then again infiltrate newly liberated areas. In this sense, one has to be careful not to equate the number of cities taken over by the government as proof of military success. Al-Shabaab might lose open battles, but it frequently returns after these battles, nevertheless. The current government has started a campaign against al-Shabaab’s taxation and seemingly takes al-Shabaab’s ability to generate income in areas under theoretical government control seriously.27 As already noted, there have been bans on the payment of taxes to al-Shabaab and public campaigns against such payment, and although there have been such warnings before, this is a crucial new element in relation to an ongoing offensive. However, weak protection of the Somali business community will inevitably allow al-Shabaab to tax again, and the current weakness of the police forces will make it likely that al-Shabaab can still generate income in the larger cities.

While the number of cities that have been liberated by the government and its allies in the Hirshabelle and Galmudug regional states is large, it is the ability of the government to secure these areas fully against al-Shabaab infiltration after their liberation and prevent al-Shabaab from gathering taxes in areas supposedly under government control that will be most important. Preventing al-Shabaab from punishing and pressuring ordinary Somalis, including in areas outside of al-Shabaab’s military control, will be the most valuable tool in winning loyalty among the population. The statements coming from Villa Somalia indicate there is serious contemplation over how to avoid past mistakes, and clan militias can provide the necessary numbers to create such effects in the countryside, but the results are not yet certain.

There are limits to what can be achieved by clan militias and over-relying on them carries big risks.
The use of clan militias carries its own risks as it can result in clan conflicts that interfere in the current offensive, or in other words ‘clanify’ the offensive. As happened in the early 1990s when Somali insurgent fractions deployed rural clan militias, these militias are hard to control, and arming local militias could create armed groups that fall into conflict even after a possible al-Shabaab defeat. A key factor in ensuring success in the current campaign against al-Shabaab will be finding a way to continue to mobilize clan militias against the terrorists without creating the sort of clan rivalries and fragmentation and militarization of society that allowed al-Shabaab to emerge in the first place.e The use of Ma’awisley could lead to a fragmentation of the Somali security situation, and members of some clans not involved in the current offensive have already shown some suspicions and hesitancy, for example in the southwest.28 Al-Shabaab has also been quite successful in the past in intimidating clan elders, kidnapping clan members to apply pressure, and isolating clan militias to defeat them one by one because of these militias’ coordination problems, all strategies that are open to al-Shabaab during the current offensive.29 There are indications that some of these strategies are already in use.

Yet, the clans are to a certain extent already armed, and the limited geographical focus of the current offensive and the small number of clans involved, makes control and coordination with clan militias easier. Notably, al-Shabaab has attempted to clanify the conflict by mobilizing its own clan elders; so far, however, these attempts have been peripheral in the clan hierarchy and have largely failed.30

Southern Somalia remains a safe haven for al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab still has relatively safe areas in which to retreat. The current offensive mostly targets the periphery of the group’s territorial holdings, namely al-Shabaab-controlled areas in Galmudug and Hirshabelle. While al-Shabaab’s presence in those areas was notable and strong, they were not al-Shabaab’s main bastions. The areas that have been most consistently and tightly controlled by the group—in Middle and Lower Juba, as well as parts of lower Shabelle—is today the ‘Shabaab land’ of Somalia, where al-Shabaab taxes, trains, indoctrinates, and governs in the open. At the time of publication, there have only been limited offensives against al-Shabaab in these areas, including an operation in late January 2023 in South West State31 and an offensive against Jana Cabdalle, 60 kilometers west of Kismayo in Jubaland regional state, in the second half of January 2023.32

Political rivalries are part of the explanation. The current president of the South West State of Somalia, Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed (Laftagareen), was in many ways a creation of the previous Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmaajo’ (2017-2022), who interfered in South West State’s presidential election in 2018, sidelining President Mohamud’s current minister of religious affairs and former al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow in the process. Moreover, Laftagareen was allied with Mohamud’s political enemies during the 2022 selection process for the Somali presidency.33 The distrust between South West State President Laftagareen and Federal President Mohamud runs deep, and President Mohamud’s local allies have been moving to remove Laftagareen after his extension of his state presidency to the end of 2023, even leading to clashes in Baidoa on December 23, 2022; the conflict also follows clan cleavages.34 The coordination between the South West State, President Mohamud, and the Somali national forces are thus severely hindered by distrust and enmity, and clan mobilization against al-Shabaab is hindered by the clan-based cleavages created by the conflict in the southwestern state. This provides al-Shabaab forces in Hirshabelle with a potentially safe sanctuary when suffering setbacks there, as it is possible for them to flee into the South West State.

It is Jubaland that will hold the key to defeating al-Shabaab as it is the regional state where al-Shabaab has the most stable territorial holdings. Jubaland’s president, a veteran and pragmatist Aden Madobe, has quietly been watching the government offensives in Galmudug and Hirshabelle from the sidelines and is apparently only just starting to move in support of government efforts. Madobe is in many ways more of a pragmatist than an enemy of President Mohamud, but he might well play a waiting game, waiting for the success or failure of the government offensive elsewhere to decide whether to join in the offensive against al-Shabaab, although by late January 2023 there were signs he might be starting to genuinely engage in the fight. The problem of the Somali government is that it cannot defeat al-Shabaab without defeating it in its core areas in Jubaland.

The momentum of the current offensive should not be estimated based on the number of cities that al-Shabaab loses in central Somalia nor rough estimates of al-Shabaab losses. Al-Shabaab has in the past faced offensives that slowly pushed it out of Somalia’s larger cities. Yet, the core of al-Shabaab’s resilience and endurance in past years was not due to its ability to withstand such offensives but the offensives’ focus on ‘search and destroy’ rather than ‘clear and hold.’ Al-Shabaab has a unique capacity for rebel governance, including wealth generation, in areas militarily controlled by its enemies; this ability has given it the possibility to generate the fear and respect that is needed to generate income from taxation.

The key to the government’s success will not only be whether it can clear al-Shabaab out of supposedly liberated areas but also whether it can prevent them from reentering. In Hirshabelle and Galmudug, the newly mobilized clan militias might give the government the numbers to do just this, but such clan forces are hard to coordinate and need to be supported by the army. While such militias led to clan conflicts in the early 1990s, they will, because of the army’s limited numerical capacity to clear and hold, be an essential component of a future Somali security solution.

A paradoxical problem is that one of the keys to al-Shabaab’s survival is not in Hirshabelle and Galmudug, where the current offensive is ongoing, but in the areas that the government has controlled over time, such as Mogadishu, where al-Shabaab has developed the capacity to extensively tax and to a certain degree even govern with shadow sharia courts.35 As long as such semi-territorial control exists, taxation is possible, and al-Shabaab will generate wealth that will enable it to survive. The further conundrum is that the entity most important to thwarting such al-Shabaab activities, the Somali police, as well as the regional state police need to be up to the task to provide services to protect ordinary Somalis from al-Shabaab extortion. Developing the capacity and capabilities of the Somali police clearly seems to be a necessary piece to help the Somali government consolidate/maintain its gains, and build on them. Unfortunately, capacity building in the police in the past has tended to focus more on ‘tick the box’ exercises involving theoretical matters and organizational charts rather than capacity to provide services and protection to the average Somali. Al-Shabaab also has, for now, the ability to continue its operations in South West State and Jubaland, notwithstanding the launching of some operations in these regions against it.

All this means that it is likely that al-Shabaab will survive this offensive, but it might lose territory. The problem is that this has happened in the past and resulted in al-Shabaab rebounding, partly because the government failed to protect the population in government-controlled areas from al-Shabaab intimidation. The key to enduring success against al-Shabaab is to protect ordinary Somalis, and it remains to be seen if the government and its allies are ready to effectively oversee this task.     CTC

Stig Jarle Hansen is a professor of international relations at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU). His focus is on jihadism in Africa, and he is the author of the critically acclaimed books Al Shabaab in Somalia (2013/2016) and Horn, Sahel and Rift: Fault-lines of the African Jihad (2019). Hansen has appeared on news outlets such as CNN, Al Jazeera, and BBC, and has acted as a consultant for various governments and institutions.

© 2023 Stig Jarle Hansen

Substantive Notes
[a] In April 2022, the African Union replaced AMISOM with a new mission named ATMIS—the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia—consisting of military, police, and civilian dimensions.

[b] Clan militias were, however, particularly important in the Somali civil war of the 1990s.

[c] Al-Shabaab’s rivalry with the Ogadeen clan over control of Kismayo port in 2009 and 2010 led to hostilities between the clan and al-Shabaab that cause tensions to this day. Ogadeen clan members in Ethiopia are still quite resistant, if not hostile, to al-Shabaab attempts to infiltrate the Somali region of Ethiopia. Stig Jarle Hansen, Al Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[d] Many of the evaluations of the Somali police force, as well as many of the research articles, are based on top-down approaches, which at times have led to a drastic overestimation of their capacities. However, local civil society organizations and journalists provide more realistic assessments. Waheid Siraach, “Somali Police Force in Need of Forward-Thinking Leadership,” Hiiraan Online, September 24, 2022.

[e] Samira Gaid recently noted in this publication that “the ‘clannization’ of Somalia’s conflict was evident in 1988, two years before the onset of the civil war, when adversaries encouraged social mobilization along clan lines and ultimately led to the overthrow of the military regime. … The aftermath of state collapse witnessed the reemergence of clannism as the dominant political currency, with political value placed on the greater numerical strength and the superior fighting prowess of clans compared to other Somali actors. In this new political reality, minorities and the marginalized were automatically disadvantaged given the premium placed on military capabilities that in turn were dependent on a particular group’s access to funds and weapons. It is against this backdrop that the al-Shabaab insurgency exists and thrives.” Samira Gaid, “The 2022 Somali Offensive Against al-Shabaab: Making Enduring Gains Will Require Learning from Previous Failures,” CTC Sentinel 15:11 (2022).

[1] Jake Harrington and Jared Thompson, “Zawahiri’s Death and What’s Next for al Qaeda,” CSIS, August 4, 2022.

[2] Harun Maruf, “Somali Forces End Al-Shabab Siege on Mogadishu Mayor’s Office,” Voice of America, January 22, 2023.

[3] “Hassan Sheikh: We will end Al-Shabaab insurgency in Somalia this year,” Garowe Online, January 3, 2023.

[4] Christopher Anzalone, “The Resilience of al-Shabaab,” CTC Sentinel 9:4 (2016).

[5] For more coverage in this publication on the Somali offensive launched in 2022 against al-Shabaab, see Samira Gaid, “The 2022 Somali Offensive Against al-Shabaab: Making Enduring Gains Will Require Learning from Previous Failures,” CTC Sentinel 15:11 (2022) and Paul Cruickshank, “A View from the CT Foxhole: Harun Maruf, Senior Editor, Voice of America Somali,” CTC Sentinel 15:11 (2022).

[6] “A Losing Game: Countering Al-Shabab’s Financial System,” Hiraal Institute, October 2020.

[7] Mohamed Hussein Gaas and Stig Jarle Hansen, “Ending ‘Forever War’ in Somalia,” Raad Policy Brief 2 (2022).

[8] Abdulkadir Khalif, “Somalia seizes key port town from Al Shabaab,” East African, January 16, 2023; Harun Maruf and Hussein Hassan Dhaqane, “Somali Forces Capture Two Towns from Militants,” Voice of America, January 16, 2023.

[9] Maruf and Dhaqane; Maruf.

[10] Maruf and Dhaqane.

[11] Stig Jarle Hansen, Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[12] “Reforming the AU Mission in Somalia,” Briefing 176, International Crisis Group, November 15, 2021.

[13] “Somali Security Brief,” Gulf of Aden Security Review, Critical Threats, December 23, 2022.

[14] Bashir Mohamed Caato, “Somalia: Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drones join offensive against al-Shabab,” Middle East Eye, October 1, 2022.

[15] See ATMIS, “2/3. During the ongoing series of offensive operations, #ATMIS is offering air support to …,” Twitter, September 23, 2022. For a critical view of ATMIS, see Saladin, “@ATMIS_Somalia, according to General Bihi, did not help …,” Twitter, January 16, 2023.

[16] Author interview, Raad Peace Research Institute Director Mohamed Husein Gaas, January 2023.

[17] See Jay Bahadur, Terror and Taxes: Inside al-Shabaab’s revenue-collection machine (Nairobi: Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, 2022).

[18] Stig Jarle Hansen, Horn, Sahel and Rift: Fault-lines of the African Jihad (London: Hurst, 2019).

[19] See Cruickshank.

[20] See Ibid.

[21 Author interview, former intelligence officer in Ethiopian service, date withheld.

[22] Stig Jarle Hansen, “Into Darkness? Scrutinizing Economic Explanations for African Jihad,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, October 27, 2021.

[23] Maruf and Dhaqane.

[24] “Security Ministry warns traders against paying tax to Al-Shabab,” Garowe Online, March 13, 2018. See also SNTV News, “The Ministry of Commerce has warned traders …,” Twitter, October 15, 2022.

[25] Author interview, Mogadishu-based observer, date withheld.

[26] Bahadur.

[27] “Somalia Warns Traders Not to Pay Off Islamist Militants,” Agence France-Presse, October 15, 2022.

[28] Author interview, observers in Somalia’s South West State, January 2023.

[29] Stig Jarle Hansen, Al Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[30] See, for example, Christopher Anzalone, “Al-Shabaab claims that Murusade clan members in Dirri, Galguduud have organized …,” Twitter, October 17, 2022; Christopher Anzalone, “Al-Shabaab claims elders of the Mohamud Hiraab clan declared to ‘defend their religion (Islam)’ …,” Twitter, October 8, 2022.

[31] “Somalia: More than 300 terrorists killed in recent military operations – Information Minister,” Middle East Monitor, January 25, 2023.

[32] Maruf.

[33] Christopher Anzalone and Stig Jarle Hansen, “The saga of Mukhtar Robow and Somalia’s fractious politics,” War on the Rocks, January 30, 2019.

[34] “Somali Security Brief.”

[35] “A Losing Game;” Hansen, Horn, Sahel and Rift.

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive updates from CTC.

Sign up