Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, more commonly known as Al-Shabaab, remains the main security challenge in Somalia and one of the most significant threats to regional stability and security in the Horn of Africa given the recent uptick in the group's activity in Somalia and its growing expansion in the region. The terrorist attacks launched by the group are now claiming the lives of more civilians, military and government officials. This is in addition to targeting government interests and institutions inside and outside Somalia, which places a significant burden on the countries of the Horn of Africa and regional forces due to the risks and threats posed by the group. Despite regional and international efforts to counter Al-Shabaab in recent years, there are some challenges that prevent the elimination of the group or curtailing its activity and strike power. This leaves the door open for several future scenarios in the region.
Operational Map of Al-Shabaab
Implications of Al-Shabaab’s Expansion in Somalia and the Region
Local, Regional and International Reactions to Al-Shabaab's Increased Activity
Despite these efforts, it remains difficult to defeat Al-Shabaab militarily, in light of the developments on the ground and the challenges facing the federal government, which weaken its capability to eliminate the group.
Challenges to Anti-Al-Shabab Efforts
The Future of Al-Shabaab: Possible Scenarios
First Scenario: Continued Expansion and Activity of Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Neighboring Countries. This scenario is the most likely scenario given the group's ability to survive, expand, and attract new recruits. This scenario is also based on the group's ability to exploit the weak military, training and financial capabilities of the Somali national army, and the poor regional and international efforts to confront the group. In addition, the withdrawal of African forces from Somalia in 2020, and the worsening differences in the Somali political scene between the federal government and the states give this scenario additional likelihood. This is in addition to the continued financial support the group receives from terror sponsors and financiers in the region.
This scenario is backed by the Somali federal government's failure to take swift action to fight the group, lack of concerted and unified regional and international anti-Al-Shabaab efforts, the continued flow of financial and military support in the coming period, and the failure to dry up the group's sources of financing.
This scenario is likely to prove untrue in the following cases:
The cost of this scenario is high at the political, economic and security levels in light of the group's threat to Somalia’s national security and the security of the Horn of Africa region.
Second Scenario: The United States Intensifying its Military Operations against Al-Shabaab in Order to Eliminate it. This scenario is less likely, given Washington's continued dependence on drone strikes against Al-Shabaab without expanding the strategy to include ground operations against the group's strongholds and militants. Besides Al-Shabaab, the region's countries are threatened, at various degrees, by other terrorist organizations, including ISIS and the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army. In addition, the U.S. does not rely heavily on the Somali army at the present time. Moreover, there are indications that some of Somalia's neighboring countries are not ready to go to war against Al-Shabaab in light of the challenges facing the military capabilities of their armies. Reports released by AFRICOM indicate that it is difficult to eliminate Al-Shabaab in the foreseeable future at least.
This scenario can materialize in the following circumstances:
On the other hand, this scenario is open to failure if the United States backed down from fighting the group and limited its involvement to air strikes as a fixed strategy. Other hindrances to this scenario include the failure to expand the capabilities of the armies of the region's countries and the poor regional and international coordination.
The financial cost of this scenario is high due to the cost of air strikes and war against the group.
Third Scenario: A Concerted Regional and International Efforts to Assist and Train the Somali Army and Maintain the "AMISOM" in Somalia. This scenario is unlikely given the fact that some of the region's countries seek to keep Somalia a fragile and crisis-ridden state unable to recover and regain its regional role. This is coupled with the absence of an international will to pool efforts to eliminate Al-Shabaab. In fact, the existence of the group is being used a pretext for regional and international competition in the Horn of Africa, and a reason for the continued meetings of AMISOM force leaders to discuss the withdrawal plan from Somalia.
This scenario can turn into a reality in the following circumstances:
However, this scenario may fail as a result of impeded regional coordination and the failure to prop up the Somali army. AMISOM's planned withdrawal from Somalia in early 2021 and the lack of an international will to fight Al-Shabaab would also undermine this scenario.
This scenario is financially, politically and economically costly.
Fourth Scenario: The Formation of a Regional Alliance of Somalia's Neighbors to Fight Al-Shabaab. This scenario is the weakest and least likely. The reasons include the lack of regional will to take such a step, the weak funding required for this alliance, and the continued Somali concerns regarding the real intentions of some neighboring countries - especially Kenya - from this alliances and its implications for the sovereignty of the Somali state. Also, Al-Shabaab terrorism is not a priority on the agendas of some countries in the region. Furthermore, the group's presence in Somalia also contributes to the continued fragility of the Somali state, which is a strategic goal for some countries in the region.
What may help in turning this scenario into a reality is an African Union’s strong move towards forming and funding this alliance. This is in addition to sidelining some regional powers that seek to maintain the status quo in Somalia and the region, the need for U.S. and Western support for this alliance, and strengthening the Somali army's combat and training capabilities.
This scenario may fail if the coalition does not receive financial support and funding, and if regional powers refuse to join it. Among the other reasons that may lead to failure include the lack of U.S. and Western will and support, and the Somali state’s rejection of this alliance for fear of Kenyan and Ethiopian ambitions.
The cost of this scenario is exorbitant financially and economically, given the need for the funding necessary for the success of this alliance in achieving its goals.
The terrorist Al-Shabaab group will continue to pose a real threat to efforts to bring about security and stability to Somalia in particular, and the region in general. Addressing this threat requires redoubling regional and international endeavors to strengthen the institutions of the rule of law in Somalia, and intensifying regional and international cooperation to combat the group and its criminal and terrorist networks. It also is of paramount importance to end detrimental regional interference in this country's internal affairs. Some countries place their interests above of the Somali people's security and its right to a capable, prosperous and well-functioning state.
 MERESSA K DESSU AND DAWIT YOHANNES, is this the right time to downsize AMISOM? (Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, 28 February 2019), Available at: https://bit.ly/2OUt3Wc
 Claire Felter, Jonathan Masters, and Mohammed Aly Sergie, Al-Shabab, Council on Foreign Relations, 10 January 2020, available at: https://on.cfr.org/2OV0eZq
 These statistics were compiled by the researcher by monitoring all terrorist operations in which Al-Shabaab was involved from January 2020 to February 16, 2020. He relied on some Somali sites: Mogadishu Center for Research and Studies (https://bit.ly/2SKWScI), New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development (https://bit.ly/2UU0wUn), Shahada News Agency (site close to the AlShabab) (https://bit.ly/37vZJf0).
 “Al-Shabab takes over of a second area in the central Somalia region of Hiran,” New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, January 26, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2wl2AKU
 “Pentagon: Somali government forces not yet ready to stand on their own against Al-Shabaab,” New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, Mogadishu, February 12, 2020), available at: https://bit.ly/2uG0oxc
 “Al-Shabaab displays images of drone wreckage downed in Lower Shabelle,” New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, January 20, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/37uKwL5
 "UN: Al-Shabab Remains 'Potent Threat' in Somalia and Region," Voice of America news, 12 November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/38xVYa2
 “Al-Shabaab present in all institutions of the Somali state,” Qiraat Somali, January 23, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/38wBOxd
. International Crisis Group, Somalia: Why is Al-Shabaab still A Potent Threat?, 11 February 2016, available at: https://bit.ly/3bE8AOZ
“Leader of National Parties Forum: Al-Shabaab controls Mogadishu,” New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, February 2, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2OY35Rp
 Martin Plaut, "Why Al-shabaab Targets Kenya?," Eritrea Focus, 5 February 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3bE8bvX
“Al-Shabaab attacks affect education in north-eastern Kenya,” New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, February 1, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/38xxQnZ
 “Turkish President Erdogan reveals his ambitions for Somali oil,” Shahada News Agency, January 22, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2UVNLbO
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. “Al-Shabaab statement praises Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin in Mali,” Shahada News Agency, January 29, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2USGR7i
. Counter Extremism Project, Somalia: Extremism & Counter-Extremism, 8 January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39E2tsg
“UN says millions of Somalis need urgent aid”, New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, 15 January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2vA2dvx
“Famine threatens residents of the displaced camps in Mogadishu,” Mogadishu Center for Research and Studies, 25 January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39zhJGP
. Abdi Sheikh, "Car bomb attack wounds Turkish contractors, police near Somali capital," Reuters, 18 January 2020, available at: https://reut.rs/2SwqITB
 “Lapsset project at Lamu Port suspended after attack on U.S. base,” Shahada News Agency, January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2UX5H5U
. "How Kenya’s tourism industry has felt the impact of terrorist attacks?," The Conversation, South Africa, 23 January 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2vzaZKg
. Seth G. Jones, Andrew M. Liepman and Nathan Chandler, Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency in Somalia: Assessing the campaign against Al Shabaab (Washington: Rand Corporation, 2016) Pp. 21-32.
. “President Farmajo calls for lifting of arms embargo in his speech at the African Summit,” Egypt and Africa website, February 12, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/31ZZEPm
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“Kampala meeting discusses African forces withdrawal from Somalia,” New Somalia Foundation for Information, Research and Development, January 29, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/37vSZOe
.“Security alert in Kenya in anticipation of attacks by Al-Shabaab,” New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, January 11, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2Hpofnh
Mogadishu Center for Research and Studies, “Why does the Somali government refuse to include Al-Shabaab on the list of terrorist organizations?”, 25 August 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/38yWdlw
Mahmoud Ali Nour, “Is Establishing Awakening in Somalia a Sound Idea?”, Mogadishu: Mogadishu Center for Research and Studies, February 16, 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2OZ0Ptf
“Somali Army Commander Meets U.S. Officers at Baledogle Base,” New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, January 23, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/32202NE
These statistics are compiled by the researcher by monitoring all terrorist operations in which Al-Shabaab was involved from January 2020 to February 15, 2020.
Suhaib Abdul Rahman, “Features of the future of ISIS in Somalia after the killing of al-Baghdadi,” Hafriyat, November 25, 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/31ZrawM
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. Defence Web, AFRICOM commander visits Kenya, Somalia, to emphasize partnership, security, 14 February 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/38rIlt4
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. PETER FABRICIUS, "Somalia shoots itself in the foot," Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, 11 January 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2wl3neQ
“About 20 People Killed in Tribal Battles in Lower Juba”, New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, February 4, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2V1d786
. Claire Felter, Jonathan Masters, and Mohammed Aly Sergie, Op.cit.
 “Somali Government Accuses Kenya of Interfering in its Political and Security Affairs,” New Somalia Foundation for Media, Research and Development, 5 February 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2SxA69n
EPC | 19 Nov 2020
EPC | 11 Nov 2020
Ahmed Diab | 10 Nov 2020