US Military engagement in Somalia, started by Obama’s administration, has vastly increased under President Trump. He has made Somalia a priority in a global effort to defeat Islamist terrorism and has thus increased the use of airstrikes and drones to combat the militants. This is being achieved in collaboration with AMISOM and Somali National Forces.
The US military has already conducted more airstrikes in 2019 than in any previous year and while it is difficult to assess the true impact of these airstrikes, experts, suggest that the group’s hold on its territory remains relatively strong.
Al-Shabab is thought to still hold large areas of rural Somalia and continues to mount attacks in urban centers. Most of these attacks have occurred in Mogadishu and the Lower Shabelle region close to the capital. There have been few attacks in the north of the country, although, to the north-east, some groups loyal to the so-called Islamic State are active.
Al Shabab has notoriously switched tact and now deploys asymmetrical warfare such as bombings, use of IED’s, raids and assassinations of Somali and international officials. It has also continued to be relatively successful in generating revenue from local clans, collecting taxes and running courts outside government-controlled areas.
The Somali government doesn’t publish statistics on militant killings. However, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (Acled) an organization that collects data on Al-Shabab attacks using local and international sources, has indicated that 2019 is already one of the highest years on record for fatalities from Al-Shabab attacks.
This is just below the figure for the whole of 2017, during which more than 500 people were killed in one attack in Mogadishu involving two lorry bombs. The government attributed this attack to Al-Shabab, although the group did not take credit.
“You cannot bomb your way to peace in Somalia. If the violence is going to be reduced there clearly needs to be a political process that allows people to talk to each other, rather than just shoot and kill,” says Mr. Keating, a US state department official.
It is clear that violence only breeds more violence in Somalia. It could be the result of radicalization due to collateral damage, or a genuine (although twisted) sense of nationalism by the Somali locals which inclines towards uprooting ‘foreigners’. Either way, a different approach might breed better results. If not dialogue with the militants, then a political process that allows for everyone’s grievances to be addressed might be the precursor to lasting peace in the horn of Africa country.