06.08.2022: Mogadishu, Somalia
The scale of the Al-Shabab attack on Somali Galbeed (Somali State) has come as a surprise to many security and political analysts alike. It is clear that Al-Shabab has spent a lengthy amount of time preparing including recruiting, arming and training of new fighters as well as devising both military and political goals beyond Somali Galbeed and into Oromia among other regions within Ethiopia.
The strategy is clear: create chaos, divide and conquer.
A simple strategy that has continued to prove effective not just for Al-Shabab but other similar groups across the globe including Boko Haram among others.
Now, before we delve into what such events could mean for Somalia and the geopolitics of the wider Horn of Africa, let’s have an overview of recent events that have taken place at the disputed border between Somalia and Ethiopia at Somali Galbeed.
A major attack is repulsed
It was on the 20th of July when al-Shabab militants shut down telephone networks in the Bakool region of the Somalia’s South West State before conducting surprise attacks on the districts of Aato, Yeed and the village of Washaaqo. Strategically, these towns are all located on the border region between Somalia’s South West State and Afdheer which is located in Somali Galbeed region which resulted in engagement with Liyuu Special Force.
Al-Shabab strategically sent fighters who originate from Ethiopia’s Somali and Oromia regions according to intelligence reports from both the Somali and Ethiopian sides. Both regions have historically opposed the rule of Addis Ababa and the domination of the Habesha people in Ethiopia.
In other words, reigniting old ethnic tensions in Ethiopia.
Somali officials and intelligence officers believed that the Al-Shabab attacks on the towns and village were simply a diversion or distraction from the main attack to cross into Afdheer along the disputed border between Somalia and Ethiopia.
Officials from both sides of the border confirmed that the attacks preoccupied Liyu police forces and distracted them as other heavily armed al-Shabab units crossed the border unopposed.
Speaking to the VOA Somali, the governor of Bakool, Mohamed Abdi Tall told media that the militants who crossed the border did not participate in the Yeed, Aato and Washaaqo attacks.
Tall said the unit that entered through Aato was confronted and surrounded by Liyu police but made it through despite losing most of their vehicles. He explained a second al-Shabab unit that crossed the border from another front, east of El-Barde town, essentially attempted a pincer movement with the second incursion.
On Monday the 26th, Al-Shabab fighters clashed with Liyuu Forces in Lasqurun Village, near the border town of Feerfeer in Ethiopia’s Somali state. U.S. Military assessments suggest that the militants may have penetrated as much as 150 kilometers into the Somali State before being stopped by Liyuu police.
Speaking to the media, one of the witnesses said the militant fighters began their attack using car bombs and mortar shells, then used guns as they fought the opposing forces.
At the time of the attack, members of Somalia’s parliament were in the town to distribute food aid sent from Mogadishu to drought-affected residents according to reports but it was not clear if the government delegation was the target of the al-Shabab attack.
The Somali region said the operation against Al-Shabab fighters who entered the country on July 20 resulted in the killing of more than 100 militants, and destruction of 13 vehicles. The region’s security council said the militants were encircled in the Hulul village area.
However, fighting would be reignited on Friday when another battle unfolded in the border town of Aato between Al-Shabab fighters and the Liyuu Special Police of the Somali State.
Officials in Ethiopia’s Somali State have claimed that up to 170 militants were killed in the battle including three senior Al-Shabab commanders following airstrikes.
The Head of the Ethiopian National Defence Force Deployment Department, Major General Tesfaye Ayalew confirmed to the media that the following senior commanders were killed:
- Fuad Mohamed Khalif Shongole who was Al-Shabaab’s propaganda chief (
- AbdulAsis Abu Muscab who was Al-Shabab’s spokesman and;
- Cubeda Nuur Ciise who was the commander of Al-Shabab operations in Ethiopia and the Bakool region of South West State Somalia.
Shongole is wanted by the US and had a $5M bounty for his whereabouts.
Interestingly, Shongole would appear in an Al-Shabab propaganda video only days later claiming his death was a hoax and he was very much still alive.
Conversly, Al-Shabab have claimed to killed dozens of Liyuu police as well as overrunning a Forward Operating Base (FOB). They also claim to have captured members of the Liyuu as prisoners of war in pictures that the group shared on their social media pages & website.
Following battles, there have been voices expressing an interest in setting up a buffer zone within Somalia however Mogadishu has not commented on the matter albeit leader of the Somali region, Mustafe Omer would ultimately apologise for such claims, it seems as though the deployment of Ethiopian Federal troops into the Doolow district of Gedo and Beledweyne as well as the increased airstrikes in the border region indicate Ethiopia may have began a counterterrorism offensive in Somalia.
However, the question becomes how much does Mogadishu know about Ethiopian operations within its borders?
The conclusion the Somali Galbeed counterattack against A-Shabab seems to have drawn to a close. Somali Galbeed President, Mustafe Omer announced that over 800 militants were killed and over 100 captured in the operation which lasted two weeks.
On their end, Al-Shabab denied the claims made by Omer and instead conveyed that the group killed dozens of Liyuu police as well as capturing much more.
We cannot verify independent figures at this current time.
Now, I assume this all raises more questions than it provides answers, so let’s address of those points here.
- Why did Al-Shabab attack Ethiopia?
Well, the attack is very clearly a heavily orchestrated plan that was probably months or even a year in the making, therefore it is seems as though Al-Shabab has had an interest to expand into Somali Galbeed and beyond into Ethiopia.
Indeed, initially Al-Shabab fighters attacked the towns and regions of Aato, Yeed and the village of Washaaqo in the Bakool region. However, simultaneously, east of Ceel-Barde town, Al-Shabab entered Somali Galbeed, attempting a pincer movement with the second incursion.
These militants were not attacked initially and entered the Afdheer without any military confrontation.
The reality that many of the Al-Shabab fighters involved in the battle were from Somali and Oromo tribes that reside within Ethiopia indicate the militants were attempting to connect with ethnic groups within Ethiopia that have historically opposed Addis Ababa rule as a perfect cultivating ground to breed a new generation of Al-Shabab fighters as well as cement a foothold in mainland Ethiopia.
Aside from the strategic interest, one has to ask themselves why Al-Shabab decided to attack at this current time?
I believe we must look at the geopolitics of the region. Terrorism thrives in conflict and lawlessness. We can see this in Yemen, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan as well.
Tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia have increased dramatically in recent days and Somalia has unfortunately been dragged into the conversation.
The Presidential Spokesman Abdikarim Ali Kaar apologised for claiming in a press conference that Presidents’ Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and Abdel Fateh Al-Sisi did not speak about the Ethiopian Dam, which implied that Al-Sisi had lied.
Instead, following pressure from Cairo, the Spokesman clarified that the Presidents did discuss Egyptian concern regarding the Ethiopian Dam and agreed that both Mogadishu and Cairo were on the same page regarding the issue which is opposition to any unilateral decision by Ethiopia regarding the Nile River without consultation with Cairo.
For Al-Shabab, the possibility of conflict in the region on a greater scale benefits its own cause:
- Firstly, more discontent ethnic groups and clans within both Ethiopia and Somalia will form and most likely join Al-Shabab ranks as a means to articulate frustration.
- This has already been happening in Somalia where Al-Shabab strongholds continue to be in areas of minority clans or clans that have consistently felt wronged by the government in Mogadishu.
- Secondly, the conflict will reduce security in the region, meaning that Al-Shabab can benefit to roam more freely, setup training bases and import/export weaponry, coal, money and other contrabands.
In other words, the attack on Ethiopia will create even more increased friction between Somalia and Ethiopia as Addis Ababa has already begun deploying troops, meeting FMS leaders as well as increase airstrikes. Indeed, such actions are an infringement on Somali sovereignty & would ideologically allow Al-Shabab to use an ‘Anti-Ethiopia rhetoric‘ to harness more support, we have seen this during the 2007 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia which resulted in a strengthened Al-Shabab which controlled the Somali capital, Mogadishu by 2009.
Any conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia including the creation of a buffer zone in Bakool will play into the hands of Al-Shabab propaganda and would ultimately benefit the group.
Friction between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa is the goal of the group and the new government must act at once to stop this from coming into existence.
2. What has the Somali government done so far?
Well what we know publicly, the Somali PM has condemned the attack and has ordered his government to deliver aid to the region as soon as possible.
However, whether the Somali government has deployed or not has not been shared with the public and the current recent fighting between Al-Shabab fighters and Liyuu police in the Aato region indicate that Somali Federal forces were not involved in the conflict directly.
The reality is that up until today, there was not a Parliament-approved government in Somalia. The PM failed to deliver a cabinet within the original time frame and was forced to seek an extension of 10 days. The President, the Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lower House and other senior officials were struggling to agree on the number of Ministers, the Ministerial positions and posts.
In fact, some clans continue to remain discontent with the current distrubtion of governmental posts according to 4.5 system. Indeed, Vice President’s of both Jubaland and Galmudug have jointly criticised the cabinet in a joint statement. Similarly, a group of MPs and Senators from the Marehan Sade clan have also thrown support behind the calls made by both Vice Presidents.
Nevertheless, we have had a new government sworn in this afternoon in Mogadishu.
The government must act immediately. It has the tools at its disposal. Just last week we saw a new batch of SNA officers graduate from the TURKSOM. Over 5,000 soldiers are returning from Eritrea.
We have seen the work of Gorgor, Haramcad, Waran, Dufaan and Danab as well as regular SNA and NISA officers defeat the militants time and time again.
The battle in Mudug saw hundreds of Al-Shabab fighters killed last year.
I advise this new government to enter talks with Addis Ababa and Jigjiga and establish a joint military response with Ethiopia to eradicate Al-Shabab from the region.