Somalia: Al Shabab’s Post-“Withdrawal” Bombings in Mogadishu

Last August, the southern Somali rebel movement Al Shabab announced a “tactical withdrawal” from the country’s capital Mogadishu. The move occasioned celebration within the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia, which supports the government. Many observers, however, predicted that conflict in Mogadishu would not cease, but would simply change character, shifting, in the words of Reuters’ Richard Lough, to “a wave of al Qaeda-style suicide attacks.”

That prediction has proven correct. By my count, there has been at least one suicide attack in Mogadishu per month since October, excepting January (October, November, December, February, March). Targets have included a hotel, government ministries, and the presidential palace. In January, a suicide attack targeted Ethiopian troops in Beledweyne. The latest suicide attack in Mogadishu, moreover, was followed earlier this week by mortar attacks on the presidential palace (see also here).

Mogadishu is not the only theater of conflict in Somalia – or East Africa – right now. Al Shabab has lost territory to Kenyan and Ethiopian forces since Kenya invaded Somalia in October. Kenya itself has seen some spillover from the conflict, with bombings in October and March in Nairobi (possibly linked to Al Shabab or to its sympathizers). Al Shabab has conducted raids into northern Kenya. Attacks in Kenya have real importance for the shape of the overall conflict involving Al Shabab. The bombers – if they are indeed affiliated with Al Shabab – perhaps hope to weaken Kenyan government resolve or turn ordinary Kenyans against the operation in Somalia.

In any case, I am not trying to rank the relative importance of bombings in different locations. But within the context of Somali politics, attacks in Mogadishu convey a particular message, both militarily (they show that military conflict is still ongoing in the capital), and symbolically (they underscore the TFG’s inability to secure the capital, and in some cases to protect its personnel). If the fall and winter provide any indication, more attacks in Mogadishu are yet to come, and al Shabab’s “withdrawal” is less meaningful than many hoped it would be.

7 thoughts on “Somalia: Al Shabab’s Post-“Withdrawal” Bombings in Mogadishu

  1. Shabaab certainly are weakened by the AMISOM and allied forces. But their ultimate strength is as a result of the weak powers that be in south central Somalia.  Where there are some semblance of peace ( Puntland/Somaliland), they’re less of a threat. However, the more the world takes those ” oases of peace” for granted, the more chances the same problem will, without doubt, occur over there and with vengeance . Yes, we need a central authority to thwart such threats. Problem is, we don’t have the leaders with charisma, karma, populism, resolve, courage. The late TFG President, H.E. Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed ( who sadly passed away early this morning in the UAE) was one but he was hamstring by less-supportive international effort, the Somali clan conundrum ( our biggest Achilles heels ) and the fact that the decisive leader was operating outside his power base, thousands of kilometers to the chaotic south. Many efforts to fix Somalia are buried in that locality. Ask the US, the Canadians, the Pakistanis, the Africans, the list gies on. Even with all those problems, I’m sure he would have done the job given the goods. Well, we are paying the price now. Go fix it!

    The greatest tribute is the one from your age-old nemeses and I quote here the words of former western-trained Ethiopian General Nigatu  Wassihun ( last commander of the 603rd Corps, the last unit before Addis was over-run by the victorious EPRODF). The general was detained by the enraged Mengistu and was cell-mate with President Yussuf. He saved his life after the fall of Mengustu from the marauding soldiers. here, I quite his words at a function to showcase the memoirs of the late Major-General Demissie Bulto, Ethiopia’s best war general and who fought and became admiring nemeses with the late Presidebt:


    Col. Abdulahi’s army was marching to Addis Ababa emboldened by his success at controlling vast territories and dawning of Ethiopian fighter jets and capturing the famous Ethiopian fighter jet pilot, Col. Legesse Tefera. It took three days for the then Col. Demissie Bulto to reorganize the retreat ting Ethiopian army, turn it into a fighting force, and drive the Somlian army beyond the border. Gen. Wassihun concluded that what prevented the elite Somalian force and its prized leader was the strong leadership of Gen. Demissie and the heroic deeds of many under his command. The military operation in the South against the Somalian army is one of the marbles yet to be chronicled in the annals of war in Ethiopian history. ( end quote)

    This week, the fallen leader will be given the grandest send off by his people. He left his 428-page memoir 

    R.I.P. President Yussuf.

      • No, Shabab’s presence in Puntland and Somaliland are minuscule in comparison to south-central Somalia. But the fact that they’re Shabaab-free ( and famine-free) should not be taken for granted. As they escape the fighting in the south, those two areas are certainly great prospects for hiding and recruitment, particularly in the rugged mountain areas.

        Why is terrorism less in Puntland relatively speaking? The credit goes to this departed leader. Someone who never liked his policies wrote the following excellent obituary:


         He foresaw this (terrorism) threat, decades back! …Few men could have assembled the resolve and valour he demonstrated in tackling the evil of terrorism and extremism. He risked losing limbs and legs to stand up to what he believed in, and stood up to bullying political Islamists where others have waivered. With what become of Somalia’s Islamists, few today disagree with his verdict on them.

        However, never right off HSM. they will capitalize on anything, even an earthquake. Those two oases of peace don’t need foreign boots on the ground. They need help in draining the swamp AND quickly. After all, above them is Yemen and under them is south central Somalia. Be warned.  

      • I assumed as much considering that Al-Shabaab wants to unite Somalia under them and their anti-entertainment policies*.

        * A lot of similarities with some 17th century revolutionaries in Europe on that. That sort of thing rarely goes well with people in neighboring states.

  2. Great piece here. My continuous question is this: outside of Mogadishu, what local security forces are there other than Al-Shabaab? There are clan militias in some areas–but not all of them.

    Therefore, what local forces are available to provide security in the even Al-Shabaab is not doing it?

    This is a huge problem. Any comments on that issue?

    • Outside Mogadishu and the two northern parts of Somalia,  there are the Ethiopian-backed ASWJ and Kenyan-backed array of forces. The interest of both countries is to safeguard their borders. They may do the job of finishing off the Shabaab in the short-term but create horrible monster in future. Then you have the peaceful agricultural people of Digil & Mirifle ( Bay/Bakol) who genuinely want to accomplish what Puntland/Somaliland did but will always be messed up by their stronger enemies from within and without. Add to the mix the diaspora-led mushrooming mini-states ( sometimes three presidents in one small district!) and we have our worst nightmare. 

      The international community will only add more fuel into the fire if they embark on arming this militia-for-hire. Do not lift arms embargo under the current situation. When and if the bellow situation is achieved, and peace returns to Somalia, lift it and create ONE NATIONAL Somali Army compressing of all the regions and seamlessly-woven and vetted clan balance.

      To be realistic, the future Somalia’s chances are federal, decentralized form of governance comprising of NOT more than 4 or 5 parts ( NW, NE/southwest/central/south AND a neutral capital city with clear mandates ( even if it is Mogadishu). Anyway, that is the de-facto situation in Somalia at the moment for some. A decade from now and under the above realistic regional set-up, and with passing the torch to new political generation, perhaps we may return back to our pre-barre Somalia minus its deficiencies.

      For those of you who think Somalia was always a lost cause, please 


      Check out this video on YouTube:

  3. These types of attacks were already coming down the pipeline after al-Shabaab moved its numbers out of Mogadishu, but they also correspond to Kenya, Ethiopia and the AU’s troop movements on their flanks. The militants cannot abandon the capital entirely, otherwise the AU can dig in and start to press its battalions outside of city. Whether the AU bites and deploys an excess of troops to quell the perception of instability remains to be seen, especially given its regular delays. Al-Shabaab is stumbling, but the insurgency may succeed in concentrating the AU’s numbers away from its central and southern territory. The AU and TFG then risk spreading their forces too thin before August’s scheduled election, which will enhance or seriously impair the military campaign depending on the outcome.

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