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As Somalia Leads the Fight, a Global Coalition is Needed to Defeat Al-Shabab

By Deeq S Yusuf
Thursday October 6, 2022

The war on terror in Somalia is entering a crucial stage as Somali security forces backed by allied civilian fighters continue to wage an all-out war against Al-Shabab taking back large swathes of territory, liberating villages and towns across south-central Somalia. As the military operations to stamp out Al-Shabab gains momentum each passing day, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s (HSM) calls for the elimination and total defeat of the Al-Qaida - aligned terrorists has received plaudits from security analysts in Somalia and across the world.

Galvanized by their President’s commitment and tough, no-nonsense approach to eliminating terror, the entire Somali population has put their weight behind the President with some even taking arms joining the fight in the frontlines. The organic uprising against the terrorists represents a turning point on the war on Al-Shabab, as the Somali security forces and allied civilian fighters, locally known as ‘Macawisley’ step up their efforts to rid the country of all forms of terror and violence.

In the fight against Al-Shabab, Somalia now has a determined President in HSM with the vision and political will to defeat the terrorists, a gallant depoliticized armed forces joined by volunteer civilian fighters willing to make sacrifices to liberate their country from the terror menace. At the international level, Somalia needs the support of a global coalition that should contribute in various capacities to help stamp out the terror group, and for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to lift the three decades-old arms embargo to enable the Somali National Army (SNA) effectively fight and defeat Al-Shabab.

Since returning to power for a second term in mid-May, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has been pushing for a paradigm shift in the fight against global terror urging world leaders to abandon the ineffective security model that relies on degradation and containment measures, but instead, aim for the eradication and total defeat of all terror groups, Al-Shabab included. According to HSM, the Somali army and people must use any means necessary to win the war on terror within its borders. The overall goal is not only to decimate but to demoralize the enemy beyond recovery so that they are unable to continue fighting.[1]

The outright elimination of global terror networks was a major talking point during President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s well-received and much lauded statemanly address at the just concluded 77th Session of the UN General Assembly. The President informed the UNGA session that Somalia is tackling the “persistent and complex challenge” of terrorism, which he said both contributes to and exacerbates all other crises, including food insecurity, the displacement of people from their homes and climate change.

“The unprovoked violence and senseless actions of Al-Shabab against innocent civilians across Somalia has highlighted the urgent need for an expedited, common national and international response to defeating them and advancing regional and global security[2]” said the President.

He noted that in addition to the efforts carried out by the Somali Federal Government, the Somali people have begun to rise up to defeat the evils of terror, helping to retake villages and towns in recent months.

“We are now confident that with enhanced public support our Government will eliminate terrorism from Somalia” observed the President during his address.

He added that the Somali Government will continue to work with all its partners, including the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), in the fight against global terrorism. “We are fully committed to doing the heavy lifting to secure our future[3].” Under President Hassan Sheikh, Somalia has adopted a multi-prong approach to combating terror including enhanced military operations, ideological war aimed at debunking the terrorists’ perverted view of religion and going after terror financing.

During its peak the Roman Empire’s art of war was one that demanded the ability “to prevail in large-scale battles of annihilation” in which non-stop escalation gave them utter dominance and unrivaled supremacy over its enemies. As such, the belief in total destruction of the enemy allowed them “to surpass the intensity of the enemy’s war effort” which severely limited the strategic options for adversaries of Rome[4]. Consequently, this military strategy placed the Roman’s enemies at a lose-lose scenario, where they either had to surrender to Roman dominance or got destroyed in a futile effort to resist. In the Roman battlefield lexicon, the terms “containment” or “degradation” of the enemy never existed as the total destruction and annihilation of the enemy was understood to be the only realistic path to victory. Simply put, if a nation’s army intends to secure the ultimate victory over its enemy (terrorists in the case of Somalia), it must fight like the Romans.

Von Clausewitz, a nineteenth century German military theorist, emphasized the need for a military to have absolute power when it comes to war, free from the corruption of politics and delays.[5] President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s policy of depoliticization of security forces has handed the SNA the impetus to focus on the country’s mortal enemy, Al-Shabab, unlike his predecessor who politicized the military when he deployed the armed forces to destabilize non-compliant Federal Member States (FMS) handing Al-Shabab the freehand to terrorize the Somali population. Further, HSM’s depoliticization of security has restored a sense of duty and patriotism within the ranks of SNA, which is now duty-bound to protect and free the entire nation from the scourge of violent extremism. More importantly, the depoliticization of security has immensely uplifted the morale of SNA as the gallant forces are now taking the battle to Al-Shabab with utmost ferocity, demonstrating valor and the unshakable determination to defeat the enemy.

Ideas that call for the total defeat of terrorists is gaining traction everywhere even in the US. In a report titled “Winning the War on Terror” Jim Turner, a ranking member of the select committee on US Homeland Security, says that fighting terrorism can only succeed with the adoption of strategies that aim at aggressively attacking the terrorists, effectively winning the battle of ideas, destroying the infrastructure that supports them and preventing the  rise of future terrorists.[6]

“Our strategy must be comprehensive - it must deal with every aspect of the challenges we face. And our strategy must be geared not only toward short- term gains, but to building and sustaining a global campaign against the evil we face so that one day we can say - “the war on terror is over and we have won.[7]” said Turner.

Experience in Iraq and Syria illustrates that terror groups can be totally defeated. Starting 2011, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, also known as Daesh, started carrying out attacks to bolster its ranks taking advantage of instability in both countries seizing the strategic cities of Mosul in northern Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria, which became its nominal capital[8]. By 2014, ISIS, which captured large swathes of territories across Iraq and Syria and then declared the formation of a caliphate, was within 30 miles of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. The Iraqi government mobilized its forces including the Kurdish Peshmerga and in a united front, staged a massive counter-offensive, reclaiming territory and wiping out the terrorists.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider –al- Abadi noted that Iraqi forces alongside the Peshmerga “fought determined pitched battles against a formidable enemy” liberating fallen cities, towns and villages from” Beiji to Mosul to Fallujah to Ramadi to Hit to Qaim” dealing a mortal blow to ISIS leading to total defeat of the terrorists[9].

Across the border in Syria, US-backed forces under the coalition of Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) pegged back ISIS securing a total victory of their own. Collectively, the Iraqi forces and the SDF with coalition support liberated 7.7 million people from the brutal terrorists’ occupation completely destroying the ISIS caliphate. ISIS was eventually defeated in Iraq in December 2017 and in Syria in March 2019. While some ISIS remnants have found their way in Somalia, HSM’s government can replicate the Iraqi and Syrian successes over terrorists by wiping out both Al-Shabab and ISIS and making Somalia a terror free zone.

Given that the fight against ISIS and ultimate defeat of the terror group in Iraq and Syria was supported by a US-led coalition of countries, Somalia would require a similar firm commitment from the International Community.

According to the US State Department, “eighty-five Coalition members had committed themselves to the goal of eliminating the threat posed by ISIS and had contributed in various capacities to the effort to combat ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and globally.[10]” The breadth and diversity of partners supporting the Coalition demonstrated the global and unified nature of such an endeavor.[11] Al-Shabab has been designated as the largest and wealthiest existing Al-Qaeda aligned group in Africa with the ability to not only strike against Somalia, but also neighboring countries including Kenya and Uganda where it carried out high profile attacks targeting innocent civilians. The terror group recently attempted to infiltrate Ethiopia but was thwarted by that country’s Federal and Regional forces.

While Somalia is already leading the fight and doing the heavy lifting to not only liberate the country but also keep the rest of the world safe, it needs the unwavering support of a global coalition to defeat Al-Shabab. Given that HSM has called for an international response, a global coalition similar to the one that triumphed over ISIS in Iraq and Syria is needed to finance the war against Al-Shabab, arm and equip the Somali Army as well as engage in other strategic operations.

Lastly, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should lift the arms embargo on Somalia so that the under-equipped Somali National Army and other domestic security forces can be supplied with state-of the art modern weaponry and communications systems that can escalate the war beyond Al-Shabab’s capabilities.

During his recent trip to Addis Ababa, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his counterpart, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia issued a joint communique calling for the UNSC to lift the arms embargo on Somalia to enable its security forces to defeat Al-Shabab. The two leaders argued that “the lifting of the arms embargo would ensure Somalia is sufficiently equipped to effectively address the security threat posed by the Al Shabab terrorist group.[12]” It is time the UNSC moved fast to end the arms embargo.

With the SNA and allied civilian fighters having a clear upper hand in the ongoing anti-terror operations, the Somali people should not let their guard down till the terrorists are completely wiped out from Somali soil. The war on Al-Shabab is entering its most decisive moment and victory is beckoning. A terror -free Somalia will undoubtedly solidify the President’s motto “Somalia at Peace with Itself and the World.” Victory to the SNA and the allied civilian fighters! The Great People of Somalia Shall Prevail!

Deeq S Yusuf
[email protected]


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