AMU Homeland Security Opinion

Al-Shabaab Consolidating Power

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By William Tucker
Somalia_map_states_regions_districts.jpgIn any geographic location, whether it is a nation-state or region, people will compete for the resources available, and militant groups are no exception. In the case of Somalia multiple groups compete for the sparse resources and of course they fight for power as well. It doesn’t matter that two militant groups have the same ideology, tactical, or strategic goals – if they occupy the same region they will compete. This competition is often over territorial control, funding, weapons, training, and the occasional support from a sympathetic nation-state. Each of these elements is readily apparent in Somalia. As a failed stated, Somalia is rife with Islamic militants, criminal groups, and pirates all fighting for power against each other and the fledgling Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

Currently the most powerful militants in the country are al-Shabaab, a local movement with ties to al-Qaeda, and Ahlu Sunnah Waljamaah (ASWJ), an Ethiopian backed Sufi group and occasional ally of the TFG. Lately, the TFG and ASWJ have had a difficult time coming to a power sharing agreement giving their rival al-Shabaab room to maneuver. As such, al-Shabaab has placed considerable pressure on the umbrella organization Hizbul Islam forcing it to split. Hizbul Islam was created in February 2009 and immediately launched an offensive designed to remove the TFG from Mogadishu which ultimately failed. Since that failure the organization has seen infighting and defections ultimately leading two of the four factions under the umbrella to swear off the organization completely. One faction ultimately joined al-Shabaab while the other remains independent – for now. Two days ago another faction announced it was leaving Hizbul Islam and was joining al-Shabaab. In light of this defection Hizbul Islam exists in name only leaving al-Shabaab as the leading militant group controlling most of Southern Somalia.
While al-Shabaab controls most of the south it does not mean that the group will be able to capitalize on its new found strength immediately. In the failed 2009 offensive against the TFG, al-Shabaab fought along side Hizbul Islam meaning that simply absorbing another faction will not guarantee success. It does mean, however, that al-Shabaab is in a better position to acquire the items they previously had to compete for with Hizbul Islam. Now that al-Shabaab is in a better position it must consolidate power within its ranks before launching another offensive for Mogadishu. Time is not indefinite for al-Shabaab, however. The TFG and ASWJ are acutely aware of these new developments and may be forced into a shotgun marriage to deal with this potential challenge. Time is not on their side either.

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