The Somali government may have a “mole” problem.
The United States’ top representative to Somalia, James McAnulty, threatened to cut the latest rounds of infrastructural and military aid earlier this week in answer to the political infighting that has reached actual fisticuff levels in the capital city of Mogadishu. This on the heels of a violent month of targeted assassinations of parliamentary members and senior security officials. The international community appears to be losing confidence that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed will find a resolution. One must wonder how much ‘help’ Al-Shabaab is providing.
Spray and Pray
Prior to 2010, Al-Shabaab had most of the south-central portion of Somalia pretty much under their control. Then the group decided to attack and split the capital city of Mogadishu in late 2009, where they subsequently ran a very lucrative and pervasive corruption campaign within the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). So high from their swift and complete victories, Shabaab pushed a frontline offensive in August 2010 against AMISOM and TFG forces—intent on taking the whole capital. This offensive, known as the ‘Ramadan Offensive,’ failed. Miserably.
But, not to be taken without a fight, Shabaab fighters pushed through heavy losses until finally, in 2011, the now-deceased American jihadist Abu Mansur al-Amriki’s unit ‘Jaysh al-Usra’ (Army of Hardship)—one of Shabaab’s largest front-line groups—announced a withdrawal from urban areas. They then retasked their fighters and paramilitary units to engage in guerrilla operations. Soon after, in October 2011, a combined invasion force consisting of Kenyan and Ethiopian soldiers with a sprinkling of Somali militias occupied the southern port town of Kismayo, crippling Al-Shabaab by reducing their main source of exploitable income—import-export businesses based in gun smuggling and pirated commerce.
The next year brought about the capture of the Ethiopian-Somali border town of Beledweyne, a northern Al-Shabaab stronghold. Shabaab was pushed deeper into the Baidoa region as a result, further displacing and driving more anger into the “Movement of Striving Youth.”
Assassinations and revenge killings are nothing new inside the nefarious world of extremist, jihadi terrorism. Al-Shabaab is no different. After the proclamation announcing the guerrilla phase of the struggle, Shabaab wasted no time adopting new, surreptitious fighting strategies. As early as 2010, “The Youngsters” began bombing and conducting basic ‘spray and pray’ drive-bys. But as more foreign fighters poured into the martyrdom sandbox, suicide bombing attacks became increasingly popular.
With the influx of foreign fighters and the ‘silent nod’ from Al-Qaeda, Shabaab’s techniques began to get sophisticated, tactical. They maintained their corrupt connections within parliament and the local government. Their attacks became coordinated, precise. Al-Shabaab began targeting high-ranking national-security officials and operatives, including commanders from security and counter-terrorism groups like Alpha Group.
Politicians accepting any form of aid from the West—be it corporate or governmental—became prime targets. So too were any of those not ‘willing to serve the ummah,’ or nation. Looking at the timeline of attacks and the after-actions reviews, it isn’t hard to see that Shabaab has a vibrant intelligence-collection apparatus, its fingers deep inside the intestines and circuitry of the Somali government.
In November, 2014, there were four extremely swift and violent assassination attempts on senior parliamentary members and a Turkish engineer working for a contracted construction company. The first attack took place on November 8th. The Turkish engineer’s armored car was approached from behind by vehicles. They overtook the target vehicle and blocked the front, forcing the car to stop. Assailants rushed from their cars, firing controlled bursts of small-arms fire into the passenger- and driver’s-side windows, then departed. The Turk was unharmed. Witnesses claim that they had barely enough time to react to the eruption of gunfire before the attack was over.
The second attack was a bold “two-fer” that Al-Shabaab executed on the 11th of the month. Mohamud Abdi Addow Dhabarey, a Somali immigration official, was boxed in by vehicles in a similar fashion to the attack on the Turkish engineer. The assault team worked in groups and fanned in a tight arch from the passenger and driver’s side, pumping controlled bursts of fire into the occupant until they paused at the obliques of the target—the ‘breakpoint’ for a rolling assault on a vehicle.
Around that same time on the streets in the capital, the same scenario played out as the Somali Deputy Director of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Omar Talha, fell victim to one of Al-Shabaab’s hit squads. Talha survived the hail of gunfire, but his driver and bodyguard weren’t so fortunate. On the 12th, the Hawlwadag district’s Deputy Commissioner Yusuf Hilal was cut-off while driving through the Wadajir-district market, and both he and his bodyguard were felled by automatic Kalashnikov fire.
Plug the Leaks
What we can glean from just one month of killings conducted by Al-Shabaab is that it has become tactically inclined. Meaning, “The Youngsters” may have gotten wise to training. Look at their actions. All these attacks occurred where the targeted individuals were in transit, in their vehicles. Attackers used vehicles as the catalyst to the attack, bringing the target to a stop or slowing the target down enough to empty an AK-47 into their vehicle in controlled bursts.
These attacks happened in daylight and with no regard to the protective detail. This shows obvious pattern-of-life collection on Shabaab’s part, along with suspected target-itinerary intelligence provided by ‘leaks’ within the Somali government. According to sources and journalists in Mogadishu covering the governmental infighting, “There are strong indications of AS(Al-Shabaab) infiltrating government institutions.” One such example is the presidential-palace attack that took place on the 21st of February.
If the Somali government is as porous as the ones closest to its inner workings claim, what the international community is beginning to fear is true. So, how deep have these infiltrators gotten, and how high up the chain do the leaks originate? Taking another look at the failed SEAL/DEVGRU raid on codename: IKRIMA, one has to wonder: Was their mission leaked by moles within the Somali National Security Cabinet?
The raid took place in the port town of Baraawe. “Ikrima,” or Mohamed Abdikadir Mohamed—the man thought to be the Westgate Mall attack facilitator and suspected field commander within Al-Shabaab—was the intended target. U.S. officials said that the raid was “prompted by Westgate,” but never declared him a “high-value target.” Reports state that the SEALs, upon arriving at the target house, saw a lone terrorist on guard. The SEALs froze, dreading they might have just been found out. Yet, the young fighter took a drag off his cigarette and calmly turned around and disappeared—thought to have returned to his sentry duties.
Seconds later, the assault element described a “hail of gunfire” with “hand grenades“ being brought down upon them. The attack was sustained and concentrated with more reinforcements streaming down the main thoroughfare “like a swarm, with women and children with them.” The SEAL assault force, even though they made a visual confirmation of “Ikrima’s” presence in the target building’s window, were about to be completely overrun. The decision was made and the assault force broke contact—withdrawing from the target area. This clearly wasn’t the first dance for this town, as this was also the scene of a successful daylight raid by elements of U.S. Special Forces in 2009 to kill Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan.
The ‘500-meter target’ here is looking more and more like AQIM and its Tureg-influenced leadership, and that means Mokhtar Belmoktar, which means Libya. The strategy, if you can call it that, is looking like the United States wanting to help pacify Al-Shabaab in Somalia with the AMISOM coalition to allow them to establish stronger diplomatic and strategic ties. Thus the U.S. can, let’s say, connect a future ‘land bridge’ through the Central African Republic to our friend Goodluck Jonathon in Nigeria and his Boko Haram problem, collecting “allies of the willing” along the way.
At the same time, this would motivate the Ethiopians to get serious about Al-Shabaab, so in the near future they will allow us to utilize their western borders as a jump-off point into the heat-blasted desert of Sudan. All of this may not be needed, since earlier this year at the African Summit held in Washington D.C., the U.S. announced it would commit full support to the fledging government of South Sudan.
My suspicion is, the United States began to feel a lack of confidence in their AMISOM allies due to repeated operations in which the Ethiopian military lacked any kind of motivation to even contain Al-Shabaab, let alone commit to an engagement. The Kenyans’ terrible handling of the Westgate attacks, with reports trickling out that the Kenyan security forces decided to ‘keep the party going!’ by literally looting the very mall they were supposed to be clearing, may have contributed to that sentiment, too.
The cold, biting fact is, Africa has become the uncomfortable-looking constipated elephant in the room. Sooner or later, someone is going to have to wrap their arm in plastic up to the armpit, don the clown mask, lube up, and start scooping excrement.
Featured Image Courtesy: Reuters
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