Yesterday, two men drove a truck laden with explosives into a building in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Al Shabab, a Muslim rebel movement in southern Somalia, has claimed responsibility for the attack. This attack attracted major attention because al Shabab only withdrew from Mogadishu in August. The bombing symbolizes the inability of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and their allies from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to control the capital. E.J. Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group ably explains this point, as quoted by Scott Baldauf at the Christian Science Monitor.
“The unfortunate reality is that this was to be expected,” says Mr. Hogendoorn. “This was announced by Al Shabab when it withdrew from most of Mogadishu. Essentially, they could not fight AMISOM or the TFG conventionally, so they would adopt asymmetrical warfare tactics such as suicide bombings.”
But while expected, Hogendoorn says, “this raises questions of the capability of the TFG, and it also raises questions of the capability of the AMISOM to protect the areas under their control.”
As AMISOM forces establish their presence further out into Mogadishu, and as the TFG begins to administer more parts of the country, Hogendoorn says, “inevitably this will increase the risks that its security forces take. They are more exposed to attack.”
However, what’s bad for the TFG is not necessarily good for al Shabab. The choice of target could provoke a political backlash. The blast claimed the lives of government employees, but also “killed scores of college students queuing up for results of a scholarship program that would have allowed many Somali students to study in Turkey.” Turkey is not only a Muslim country, but is also headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish leader, one of the most popular figures in the Muslim world, visited Somalia with his family in August to show solidarity during the country’s famine. I don’t know how many ordinary Somalis have heard of Erdogan, but I would imagine that there are a good number, even among the government’s opponents, who are horrified by this act of violence against Muslim students heading to a Muslim country ruled by a popular Muslim leader.
The attack, then, may be yet another instance where all sides in Somalia lose, especially the innocent civilians who are now dead.
Would have been better if that CSM headline wasn’t so misleading – al-Shabaab never left Mogadishu. I do think that al-Shabaab has reached a point where the only good is anything bad for the TFG, but provoking Turkey feels like a miscalculation. Maybe Erdogan will become more active in Somalia’s fledgling army and police force. I’m also concerned that TFG and AU officials are declaring al-Shabaab’s “defeat” too publicly. The group is weakening but on a relative, asymmetric scale.
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This is unrelated, people are creating a link between kidnappings in Kenya and al-Shabbab.
The rationale being that al-Shabbab wants to use Westerners as human shields against potential drone attacks.
I could see them do it but it sounds more likely that it was either a Kenyan group or criminals. Regardless, if true it isn’t a very good tactic. It increases pressure on Kenya to help fight Al-Shabab, the U.S public would be willing to see the government do more in Somalia and wouldn’t deter drone attacks.
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