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Fighting Shabab and the Presence of AMISOM in Somalia

By Abdiaziz Arab
Wednesday October 5, 2022

The recent remarks by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud about the fight against the terrorist group and anti-peace Al-Shabaab came at the right time, although some may argue it is too little too late. While addressing the nation, the president said, "Somalia has only one enemy, and it's Al-Shabaab". In this noble struggle against the terrorist group, the president defined the fight against Al-Shabaab and said: "there is no middle ground in the fight with Al-Shabab; you are either a fighter against them or an acquaintance with them". The president encouraged the nation to pick arms to liberate the country from terrorists. However, the president warned that people shouldn't interact with them socially, economically, and politically. So far, only tribal militias and some units from the Somali National Army (SNA) are fighting against Al-Shabaab, despite there being more than 22,000 soldiers from African Union Mission in Somalia, ATMIS has a United Nations Security Council mandate to fight Al-Shabaab. The million-dollar question on the lips of every Somali is: if AMISOM does not want to fight, which is in their job description in Somalia, why are they staying in the country? Also, we must ask ourselves: how has a six-month mission turned into a fifteen-year project and is still ongoing?

Similarly, after seeing the recent triumphs of our brave soldiers and tribal militias against Al-Shabaab, do we need AMISOM soldiers to stay in our country? In this short article, I will analyze AMISOM's presence in Somalia and argue that they have utterly failed to execute their mandate, and it's time for them to leave. But unfortunately, in his speech, the president shied away from pointing out the Al-Shabaab’s supply chain of human resources, which is a significant issue to tackle if we are to defeat the terrorist group both militarily and ideologically.  

History repeats itself

The current uprise against Al-Shabaab by tribal militias in central Somalia is a sign that Somalis had run out of patients with Al-Shabaab and are now determined to put them in the pages of history as they did to every invader who came to fight them. In fact, historians argue that Somalis have never been defeated. In the medieval era, the Portuguese fleet backed by Ethiopians on the land tried to colonize Somalia, but they were met with a fierce fight by Somalis, and consequently, both were defeated. Both Italians and the British tried to get hold of a foot in Somalia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; however, after decades of fighting, both left. The Americans and their allies in the early 1990s were met with the same fate, as they were forced to withdraw by Somali militias. If the Somalis wanted to fight Al-Shabaab, they would have defeated them a long time ago, but it seems because of Al-Shabaab's claims of being Muslims, Somalis were hesitant to pick arms and clear them from the land. Also, the absence of leadership and clear doctrine to fight Al-Shabaab contributed to the inaction against the group. Some analysts also argue that the fact the similarity of the group's Islamic ideology to the exported mainstream ones caused confusion amongst the Somalis that were willing to fight Al-Shabaab.

This kind of paradox which the mainstream sheikhs created, helped Al-Shabaab to flourish in Somalia. Besides, it confused the Somali people who love their religion and do not want to do anything that goes against its teachings. So, someone might say, why do we have to fight Al-Shabaab? Isn't it AMISOM's job to fight them, as they are the ones that receive vast sums of money to fight the group? 

Is AMISOM's Presence Helping Somalia or Hindering?

When President Hassan Sheikh remarked that "there is no middle ground" in the war against Al-Shabaab, he addressed to Somali people as well as the Somali stakeholders, including AMISOM. In this section of the article, I will examine whether the presence of AMISOM in Somalia hinders the peace process in the country or helps. On the 19th of January 2007, the first battalion of the African Union Mission in Somalia AMISOM from Uganda arrived on our soil with the UN Security Council mandate of six-month authorization to counter the militant group al-Shabaab. Fifteen years fast-forward, on the one hand, the size and equipment of AMISOM increased. But, on the other hand, instability, assassinations, car bombs, and suicide attacks skyrocketed. Originally a tiny peacekeeping force of Ugandan soldiers, AMISOM has since expanded in size and the capacity of the mandate and is now encompassed an estimated 22,000 soldiers from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, not to mention thousands of security experts, African police forces and other foreign military advisers.

According to Paul. D. Williams (2018), the author of Fighting for Peace in Somalia: A History and Analysis of the African Union Mission (AMISOM), 2007-2017, in the beginning, AMISOM "…force was never, from the outset, a peacekeeping operation, but rather a war-fighting and counter-insurgency operation. In 2010-11 AMISOM was engaged in urban warfare against Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, sustaining and inflicting casualties at a level that no UN force would have been prepared to do," he said. Undoubtedly, as Williams (an academic and scholar of Somalia) argued, AMISOM, from the start, had achieved some victories against al-Shabaab, especially in the battle of Mogadishu 2010-11, forcing al-Shabaab to withdraw from the capital.

On the other hand, according to Williams, AMISOM had encountered some challenges, such as; a lack of coordination between the military units of AMISOM dispersed throughout the capital and surroundings. Williams stated that the idea of AMISOM was "…to develop the Somali National Army (SNA) as their national counterpart, to the extent that it would be able to take over responsibility for national security including defeating Al-Shabaab". However, according to Williams, the SNA has indicated slight possibilities for accomplishing this, hindered "by the more local loyalties of its commanders [tribalism], corruption, and political divisions within the Somali government". Moreover, in a recent interview with the Foreign Policy, one Ugandan AMISOM colonel said: "[the peacekeeping operation in] Somalia is like cleaning a pig, you clean it, and it gets dirty [again]." These failures and the lack of progress from the Somalis' part also makes the AMISOM contingent to have failed to form an integrated army with standard military training, doctrines, and command. Although AMISOM lacked the mandate to protect civilians, they are obliged under the international humanitarian law obligations to protect civilians. However, due to the lack of guidance, commanders and troops on the ground were left to make decisions on when and how to use force. According to Harley Henigson (2018), a scholar of Somalia, the preliminary plans to develop protection of civilians (POC) hampered efforts to defeat al-Shabaab.

This led AMISOM to neither fight al-Shabaab nor protect civilians but prioritize government institutions and staff protection. The inclusion of old foes of Somalia, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, and the allegation of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) has turned many Somalis to distrust the African Union's mission in Somalia, Henigson argued. According to Henigson, life is hard to live under the harsh policies of al-Shabaab; some Somalis prefer to live in al-Shabaab-governed areas to AMISOM and FGS-ruled because they believe that Al-Shabaab-controlled areas are safer than government ruled provinces.  It is explicitly clear that the solution to our problems does not lie with foreigners like AMISOM or any other entity. Although comparisons sometimes mislead, ISIS came out long after al-Shabaab established itself and has proven to be stronger than al-Shabaab in the military, financial, and personnel. Yet, they were defeated in a short time. Someone may argue that the US and Russia defeated ISIS. That is half the truth of what happened in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS. Yes, Americans and the Russians provided air support, but the Iraqi troops on the ground were the ones that fought ISIS tooth and nail, street by street, and eventually cleared ISIS fighters from their country one by one. In stark contrast, the terrorist group al-Shabaab is flourishing in Somalia, particularly in some places in the South of Somalia and the Northeast mountains in Puntland State; it seems their resources, especially their human resource is unlimited. Don't we have to ask ourselves why we cannot break Al-Shabaab's supply chains?

 Destroying Al-Shabaab's chain of supply

Second, we must cut and disrupt the terrorists' chain of recruitment supplies by controlling madrasas, masjids, and all learning and worshipping places. According to reports, Al-Shabaab has a long list of youngsters who wants to be suicide bombers. In recent experiences from Iraq and other places, terrorists cannot be defeated only with military assault. We must ask ourselves; do we have a strategy to defeat Al-Shabaab other than a military one? Have we prepared an ideological war against the group? Because Al-Shabaab has an ideology, to beat them, military assaults alone may win us a battle but will not win us the war, which is crucial. Since 1991, the collapse of the National Central Government of Somalia, the country became an experimental ground where Islamist ideologies are tested. Extreme doctrines and peculiar interpretations of Islam that Somalis were not familiar with have been imported into Somalia by several Islamist groups.

With foreign money and support, these groups established schools, colleges, and universities of their own, with each group teaching the curriculum of the group that financed them. Some of these schools teach the curriculum of Saudi Arabia, and some teach Egyptian and UAE curricula. As a result, these schools produced and still produce Egyptians, Saudis or Emiratis who know more about the history and geography of these countries than their own country (Somalia). Because of the lack of a stable government that controlled, filtered, and united national curriculums, thus, some of these schools took advantage of the country's situation and taught children very much of the same ideology of Al-Shabaab, albeit a theoretical one.

Therefore, once these children grow up and graduate, Al-Shabaab recruiters are on hand outside the schools to recruit them. All Al-Shabaab needs to do is to apply the finishing touches and use the new graduates as suicide bombers and killers of innocent people because the jihadist ideology is already instilled in them. To my knowledge, until today, nobody inspects these schools and colleges which operate across the nation. Also, neither the Federal Government of Somalia nor the regional administrations have any power or accountability over these schools. These schools, in my opinion, represent the supply chain of human resources of Al-Shabaab. Therefore, we must inspect and closely monitor what the schools teach our children to defeat Al-Shabaab. The war on terror in Somalia should start from the grassroots, and it is a waste of lives and resources if we do not accompany our bullets with educational reforms. We should fight the terrorists with bullets on the one hand and control the education system on the other.

Similarly, no one controls the ideas spread in our mosques; the Ministry of Islamic Affairs is responsible for insinuating what is being taught in our mosques. We do not need any extremist views, Somalia is a Muslim country, and according to historians, Islam reached Somalia before it reached Medina. Therefore, we should never stand behind anyone, whomever it may be when it comes to Islam. But, by and large, if we do not gain control over our mosques and schools, we should kiss goodbye to our peace and life aspirations. The battle against Al-Shabaab should start in schools and mosques if we are to defeat this heartless enemy.  

In the final analysis, President Hassan is right that there is no middle ground for fighting and defeating Al-Shabaab, as it is every Somalis' job—and everyone must contribute to whatever they can in the struggle—no more harbouring the terrorists or collaborating with their poisonous ideas. Somalis must know that we will never be able to defeat Al-Shabaab until, first, we are all united and work together. Second, we must reclaim our schools and mosques and cleanse them from all sorts of extremist agendas and ideologies. Third, AMISOM must withdraw on short notice, as it is obvious that they are not willing to fight Al-Shabaab, and they cannot achieve now what they could not do in fourteen years. The president's remarks are apparent to Somalis and all stakeholders in Somalia; you are either with the Somali people or terrorists; there is no middle ground.

Abdiaziz Arab
Emai: [email protected]


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