Defeat Accepted by Alshabab
In an audio recording released Monday (June 18th) on Radio Andalus, the mouthpiece for al-Shabaab, the group’s leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair, called on his fighters to stand firm on the battlefields, promising paradise to whomever dies defending their religion.
AMISOM Contingent Commander Brigadier Paul Lokech (centre) briefs soldiers before advancing on Afgoye on May 25th. Al-Shabaab’s loss of Afgoye is considered one of a series of recent blows to the movement.
“Victory remains in the hands of the mujahedeen,” Godane said in his message. “The world is teaming up to occupy Somalia under the pretext of fighting the al-Shabaab mujahedeen group.”
However, political and security analysts who have been monitoring the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab movement say Godane’s message is an attempt to raise morale among his fighters, and is nothing short of a confession that the movement is nearing defeat after losing several of its key strongholds in southern and central Somalia.
Al-Shabaab in an ‘unenviable situation’
Political analyst and expert on Islamist groups in Somalia Mohamed Hassan said the al-Shabaab movement is in “a state of utter frustration bordering on despair”.
“Godane’s message is a confession that his fighters have been defeated in the current battles in Somalia, so he is trying to boost low morale among the rebel ranks,” he told Sabahi.
“Al-Shabaab is in a difficult and unenviable situation, one that is highly dangerous as a result of military pressure from multiple fronts, which is why the movement is struggling to stay alive,” Hassan said.
“We call on all Somali tribes to join jihad and to support efforts of establishing an Islamic state that would represent an umbrella for all Muslims in the region,” Godane said.
“This [invitation] will fall on deaf ears and will not be heeded by Somali tribes,” said Mogadishu-based political analyst Abdinaasir Osman.
“Somali tribes do not support terrorism and there is no tribal support for groups that reject peace,” he told Sabahi. “The tribes stand by the state and proof of this is the meeting that brought together all the Somali tribal elders from all over the country in Mogadishu to select the delegates of the [National] Constituent Assembly and members of the new parliament.”
Osman said the Somali people, especially those living in areas under al-Shabaab’s control, have suffered and are still suffering from the movement’s hard-line approach and draconian measures, which is why there are no tribes sympathetic to the call of the al-Shabaab leader.
A downward spiral
Ali Ahmed, a security analyst and retired officer from the Somali army, said al-Shabaab is in a downward spiral facing mounting regional military campaigns against it.
“If the current military campaign against al-Shabaab continues in its intensity, then it is [highly] likely that this movement will cease to have a strong military presence in a matter of months,” Ahmed told Sabahi.
“What we see today is that al-Shabaab has found itself in a serious crisis and that it is suffering heavy losses, not to mention that its fighters are withdrawing without resistance from every town that the Somali armed forces and African Union troops are approaching,” he said. “This is an indication that the combat capability of the group has been weakened.”
During the past few months, al-Shabaab lost several key cities and towns, most recently Afgoye and Afmadow. Analysts say these victories achieved by the Somali army, with support from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and allied regional troops, compounded by al-Shabaab’s loss of its main strongholds and strategic cities, dealt a serious blow to the movement.
As Somali and African Union forces advance, all eyes are now on their last remaining stronghold, the port city of Kismayo.
“The national army, with support of friendly forces, are tightening the noose around al-Shabaab in the city of Kismayo,” said Colonel Daahir Abdulqadir, one of the commanders of the Somali Armed Forces in Lower Juba.
“We are preparing to launch the final attack on Kismayo because seizing this city represents the final blow to the group,” he told Sabahi.
Abdulqadir said al-Shabaab does not have the power necessary to defend the city and will likely flee to the thick forests outside the city.
‘Last nail in al-Shabaab’s coffin’
Since the United States announced on June 7th a $33 million bounty for seven of al-Shabaab’s top leaders, several media outlets have reported them fleeing Kismayo. Security analysts say these rewards will increase pressure on al-Shabaab.
“If Kismayo falls in the hands of Somali government forces, al-Shabaab would then be in a politically, financially and militarily desperate situation that would drive the last nail in al-Shabaab’s coffin,” Abdulqadir said.
The port of Kismayo is thought to provide substantial income to al-Shabaab and is considered to be a lifeline for the movement in terms of funding. Making matters worse for al-Shabaab are the internal divisions and deep differences among al-Shabaab leaders.
“Divisions within al-Shabaab are deepening due to current setbacks as the group loses most of its key strongholds,” said political analyst and activist Ahmed Aadan.
“This issue has come to the fore after the group announced it would join al-Qaeda last February, and since then, internal divisions have been on the rise day after day,” he told Sabahi.