Al-Shabaab’s strength and ability is weakening, but the group remains the biggest threat in the region, according to a senior American military official for east Africa. The threat of ISIS is also believed to have grown since 2014, according to a Marine Corps general.
In an interview posted on the U.S. Department of Defense website, Major General Mark Stammer — the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti — made the following remarks:
While there is some spillover from the conflict in Yemen, the biggest terrorist threat comes over land from Somalia in the form of al-Shabab, the general said. “While al-Shabab’s strength and ability to project are waning, they still have intent and capability to harm us. I don’t believe they have the ability to wage a long campaign, but they can definitely hurt people as they have demonstrated in Somalia,” Stammer said.
There have been setbacks, such as when al-Shabab launched terror attacks in Kenya, Uganda and Burundi, Stammer said. But there have been successes, too, the general noted. In July, a combined force of Somalia National Army, Kenyans and Ethiopians liberated the cities of the Jubba river valley, which had been under al-Shabab control for eight years. “They not only liberated it, but held it,” he said.
This deprives al-Shabab of revenue from the area and has freed up legitimate commerce for Somali citizens, Stammer said.
While the article suggests AMISOM and Somali forces have liberated and held all major cities in the Jubba river valley, Middle Jubba region remains completely under the control of al-Shabaab.
Stammer’s comments come as al-Shabaab continues to address another unexpected threat: ISIS.
In the last few months, small factions of al-Shabaab have pledged loyalty to ISIS, only to be openly threatened and violently confronted by other factions determined to root out “disunity” in the ranks.
On 5 December, Sudan Tribune reported al-Shabaab killed another prominent pro-ISIS jihadist in Somalia. The target, Mohamed Makkawi Ibrahim, was a Sudanese militant who was part of a group responsible for killing an American official in Sudan and later escaped from prison in Khartoum to Somalia.
In early November, Kenyan-born al-Shabaab commander and mastermind of the deadly Garissa University College attack, Mohamed Kuno “Dulyadeen”, allegedly defected to the pro-ISIS faction of al-Shabaab, according to Somali media. Kenya recently put a $215,000 bounty on Dulyadeen.
The fighting between al-Shabaab’s competing factions adds another layer of complexity to Somalia’s security environment. Since September, major clashes have taken place between other groups, with violence between Puntland and Galmudug in Galkayo killing over 40 and displacing 40,000 people, according to estimates.