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Eritrea for mobile viewing US Counterterrorism Objectives in Somalia: Is Mission Failure Likely?

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Date: Friday, 01 June 2018

June 1, 2018
Executive Summary

Al Qaeda is expanding across Africa. The Obama administration made fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) the primary—nearly exclusive—focus of its counterterrorism operations after its June 2014 seizure of Mosul, Iraq. Theaters with a large ISIS presence (Iraq, Syria, and to a lesser extent Libya) received attention. Those with a minimal ISIS footprint, such as Somalia, did not.

Al Qaeda has taken advantage of American disinterest to expand the size and strength of its affiliates around the world. The Trump administration must reverse this policy, recognize the present and long-term danger al Qaeda poses to the US, and act against al Qaeda groups before the cost of action and the price of inaction rise too high. A small investment in Somalia today can yield a large return in the future in the form of attacks averted and wars we do not have to fight.

ORGANIZATIONal ShabaabAl Shabaab is al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia and operates p...Al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, is resurgent and set to make additional gains in 2017. It rebuilt its strength after the losses it sustained in 2012 and 2013 by exploiting the local grievances and conflicts of the Somali population. It aims to operate throughout East Africa and is actively building a support base in Kenya. It is also improving its attack capabilities. It managed to smuggle a concealed explosive device aboard an airplane last year that detonated, but fortunately failed to bring the plane down. This attack was a step-change in the group’s tactics that demonstrates its continued intent to conduct international and not merely local attacks.

Al Shabaab sits on a key line of communications between the Middle East and Africa—a link that al Qaeda has sought to maintain over the years. It interacts with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, as well as the network of al Qaeda and ISIS groups operating throughout Egypt, Libya, and Sudan and into Mali and Nigeria. Al Shabaab’s strength contributes to the strength of the al Qaeda network overall.

The US must invest more energy and resources in the fight against al Shabaab to prevent it from becoming an even greater threat. US strategy relies heavily on ground partners—the ORGANIZATIONAMISOMThe African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is a peacekeep...African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping forces and Somali security forces—to combat al Shabaab, and these partners need support. The Pentagon is recommending increased collaboration between US Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Somali forces, as well as reduced restrictions on airstrikes against al Shabaab. The Trump administration should accept this recommendation.

The US should also work with AMISOM forces to improve their operations and ensure that troop contributing states do not withdraw troops prematurely from the mission, which would rapidly collapse the gains made against al Shabaab.  recommended readAl Shabaab Leadership ProfilesThe Somali Federal Government (SFG) requires assistance, which the US should help provide, to regain legitimacy and address these challenges within the Somali border. Supporting the SFG’s initiatives and working to expand the Somali state would limit the space in which al Shabaab has freedom of operations. There is no need to deploy American combat forces to Somalia at this time, and a sound strategy of supporting and encouraging our local partners can obviate the need for such deployments in the future. ..............

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