Somalia: Al Shabab Loses Afgoye and Afmadow, Kismayo Next?

On Friday, troops from Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) captured the town of Afgoye from the rebel movement al Shabab, in what the Associated Press called “the biggest victory over al-Shabab since the pro-government forces took control of the capital last August” (more here). Further south, troops from the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF), who have been fighting in Somalia since October, took the town of Afmadow from al Shabab some time between yesterday and today (Kenyan troops also took the town of Hayo). The KDF’s next major goal is to capture the port city of Kismayo – al Shabab’s “last key bastion” – by August.

McClatchy says the importance of Kismayo lies in the fees al Shabab charges at the port. Its loss would therefore deprive the group not only of territory but of much of its income.

Brief fighting occurred in Kismayo earlier this week, when Kenyan warships reportedly came under fire and shelled the city in response. “For the past couple of months,” VOA says, “Kismayo has come under fire targeting al-Shabab from air and sea.”

Here is a map showing Afgoye, Afmadow, and Kismayo, as well as the capital Mogadishu.

Military conquests by the government and its allies are coming at the same time as some political progress – namely a framework for holding presidential elections by August 20. This combination has generated significant optimism about Somalia’s future. It is important to note, though, that there has been some criticism of and disagreement with that line. Dayo Olopade, for example, notes that the Kenyan intervention in Somalia has lasted much longer than Kenyan leaders first implied it would, and decries “unacceptable side effects” of the conflicts, namely bombings inside Kenya that seem to be reprisals by al Shabab and its sympathizers. Roland Marchal, meanwhile, asks important questions about what political arrangements conquerors will create in areas formerly held by al Shabab:

The question is, and we see that everywhere, what kind of political answer you give to the population after having beaten Shabaab. In Beledweyne and Boosaaso, two big cities that have been taken from Shabaab, the Ethiopians promoted their friends, their allies. That makes a lot of sense. But if you don’t have local reconciliation with clans that explicitly supported Shabaab – because they had some good interest to do that, some very real interest beyond the jihaadi rhetorics – if you don’t do that, then sooner or later you create tensions and new problems come up.

[…]

So if you look at the very short term, you may believe that there are still incidents, but there is no longer a battle, and therefore the situation is going to improve. If you take a longer perspective, however, then it becomes a very concerning issue. Look at Mogadishu: the number of people who were killed last week is basically the same as the number of people who were killed ten or twelve weeks ago, so that means that the intensity hasn’t diminished. What has changed is the targeting.

To put it in a nutshell: it is very dangerous for the Somalis and the international community to assess the condition of the current war with the parameters of what was the war in 2011. And I believe that is exactly the mistake the Ethiopians made in 2007. They had been able to crush Shabaab in December [of 2006] in a very easy and very radical manner, because they fought face-to-face, and of course Shabaab couldn’t confront a professional army and therefore lost with many casualties. But then Shabaab shifted to an urban-style guerrilla, and that created a new problem for the Ethiopian army.

What do you think? Where is this all headed?

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9 thoughts on “Somalia: Al Shabab Loses Afgoye and Afmadow, Kismayo Next?

  1. Yes, HSM will be soon lose the remaining urban areas they  used to control including Kismayo ( Nairobi promised that will happen just before August, nearly a year of their operation). Afogoe fell with the help of overwhelming power, more than 48 tanks, heavy war horses, and lots of TFG units, including the recently-enhanced ” Somali” ( Read: one particular clan) first army division. It also nearly resulted in the assassination of the president while traveling between Mogadishu and Afgoe.

    What are the lessons so far?

    1. You can easily capture major towns. However it takes a lot more effort to administer liberated areas and also secure the hinterland. Don’t count on it as long as we have vision-less leaders and we have them by the ton.

    2. The nascent ” Somali” army needs to really represent the different somali clans. Forming  whole divisions composed of one clan will only aggravate the situation in the long run ( are the powers that be listening?)

    3. Moving away from Mog-centric efforts when it comes to rebuilding the shattered nation ( is  Erdogan listening?)

    4. Real and tangible federal system, including neutral national capital is achieve( are the south-central politicians listening as well as political power-hungry elites of al stripes listening?)

    The chances of achieving those and many more is not on the horizon and the culprits are the usual suspects ( Somalis and non-Somalis). A friend of mine ones told me that he met with Ambassador Yamamoto as well as Ambassador Mahiga.  They literally laughed at his suggestions and told him that they have, at this time, Mogadishu problem the size of Texas. All the wise ideas ( neutral capital, across the clan security forces, equal share of anything received under the ” Somali” people, devolution of power, etc… Simply have to wait, on their view, when the transition end come August.

    Well, come August, all we’re going to have will be a president, speaker, PM & 200-odd MPs, $ 60-million constitution which will be rendered useless before the ink dries, Mogadishu-mad Turkish development, western-armed Mog-heavy militia, power-hungry elites from all regions, mostly not carrying with them their constituencies. 

    Under these conditions,  HSM ( or their incarnation) will, read my lips, reappear.

    • I’ve quoted a political scientist before on the need to actually create power before it can be devolved. I’m not convinced that central power really exists anywhere to devolve it.

      As for holding territory, I suspect that Kenyan and Ethiopian leaders are hoping that Mogadishu-based leaders and local Kenyan/Ethiopian-friendly groups will control things through force. They might make some noises about unity and rebuilding but it’s far easier and cheaper to just want buffers set up and the violence to stay in Somalia.

      In the outside world Turkey is probably far more concerned with Syria (and by extension Lebanon) at the moment, the U.S. can’t really make any big moves until mid-November or late January (depending on the results of the election). The other P-5 nations either can’t or won’t get heavily involved and the rest of the strong nations outside the Security Council are more inclined to avoid major initiatives outside their region.

      Does Eritrea have any public opinions on this?

  2. Sorry, I haven’t followed the conflict very well lately, if anyone could provide a very general update I’d be happy to hear it… What’s the deal with Harakat al-Shabab losing so much terrain? Why are they so much weaker than before and/or the TFG stronger, what has changed?

  3. More factors include internal divisions within al-Shabaab and between AQ’s cadre. Insurgencies can outmaneuver weaker forces and survive with fractured leadership, but holding territory and planning offensives against a more organized opponent becomes unfeasible. Commanders Zubeyr and Robow have fought over the group’s direction for years and everything has gone downhill since the depletion of Robow’s clan members during 2010’s “Ramadan” offensive in Mogadishu. Zubeyr was supposedly demoted after months of infighting but now allegedly commands AQ’s wing in East Africa. Rumors from both sides claim that Zubeyr set up AQ’s former operative, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, and that Zubeyr suspects an inside job. Split leadership, split territory, and split finances, coupled with a massive military effort by the AU, cost al-Shabaab’s its momentum.

    Now everyone is waiting to see whether 2009 repeats – whether the TFG’s future form has the makings of a working government and whether al-Shabaab will splinter into a new group.

  4. Pingback: Somalia: Media Narratives of Progress and Peril | Sahel Blog

  5. Pingback: Somalia: Kenyan Troops Begin Assault on Kismayo | Sahel Blog

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