By William Tucker
Two months ago, Kenyan forces invaded southern Somalia with the ostensive purpose of creating a buffer region between al-Shabaab and the Kenyan border. The Kenyan military has thus far not stated how far into Somalia they will go, but it is widely expected that they are intent on attacking the port city of Kismayo. This past weekend Ethiopian forces, at the invitation of Somalia’s nascent Transitional Federal Government (TFG), entered central Somalia and captured the town of Beledweyne. In the surrounding areas of Beledweyne, there are reports that the Ethiopian backed Ahlu Sunna is fighting al-Shabaab as well. Other nations such as Burundi, Uganda, and Djibouti have pledged to increase their troop contributions to Mogadishu as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission.
As I stated a few months ago, Somalia’s neighbors have been getting nervous, but also see an opportunity to do real damage to al-Shabaab in the middle of a famine. It’s not just Somalia’s neighbors that are contributing to the battle against al-Shabaab either. The U.S. has been active in Somalia for many years now and has an incentive to back the African Union’s mission there. The degradation of a capable fighting force such as al-Shabaab could have an effect on al-Qaeda and other associated terrorist groups that have taken refuge in Africa. Although there appears to be wide cooperation within Somalia, the region has a long and troubled history with militancy. The goal of destroying al-Shabaab is unlikely; however if this most recent attempt degrades the group sufficiently, then the TFG may actually have a chance to move forward.
Map: Central Intelligence Agency 2009. All marks in red and blue, and all associated mistakes, belong to the author.