By William Tucker
When Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006, it was backed by the U.S. airpower, however U.S. dollars were not sufficient to prolong the occupation. The mission to unseat the Islamic Courts Union succeeded, but the occupation, however limited, was doomed to be short lived. In the ensuing years the African Union has backed the Transition Federal Government in Mogadishu while keeping the peacekeeping force from pursuing al-Shabaab, the ICU successor organization. This has left the TFG in control of a few small areas of Mogadishu, but hasn’t addressed the need to knock down al-Shabaab to a more manageable threat so that the TFG can actually transition into a permanent governing role. A nasty famine that has struck Somalia may have opened a window of opportunity to do some real damage to al-Shabaab. That is, if Somalia’s neighbors, along with the U.S., have the will to become more aggressive.
Considering recent events, this may well be the case. After al-Shabaab left Mogadishu, the TFG and AU forces seized the rest of the capital and some surrounding territory. For its part, al-Shabaab had allowed many of it’s fighters to tend to their families affected by the recent famine. This has forced the group to rely heavily on terrorist tactics as opposed to the more effective methods that has served the group so well. Following al-Shabaab’s recent preoccupation Kenyan troops invaded Southern Somalia. The claimed reason of invading in response to a spate of recent kidnappings doesn’t hold water as kidnappings and small attacks have been going on for years. The Kenyan incursion coming on the heels of al-Shabaab’s recent withdrawal from Mogadishu isn’t a coincidence.
Neither is the recent news regarding the presence of U.S. drones in Ethiopia. Over the past few years, the U.S. has built up tis intelligence network in the region. This network has allowed the U.S. to target al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab leaders specifically. With several different militaries on the ground in Somalia, and U.S. air support covering the country, al-Shabaab may find itself in real trouble. Of course, this is all predicated on international political will and the ability of the TFG to actually govern the country. Neither aspect is guaranteed. Indeed, it is still early and there is a lot of moving parts in this ad hoc coalition. What we should take away from this is the type and tempo of operations in the Somali theater are changing, but whether the change is for the better is yet to be seen.