On the early hours of Monday morning, January 13, al Shabab fighters stormed a small town in eastern Kenya, near the border with Somalia, killing three teachers and abducted others.
The al Shabab fighters also set fire to a police station and destroyed a telecommunications mast. According to local reports, the attackers spared the life of a female nurse due to her gender.
Since Kenyan troops entered Somalia in October 2011 to fight the al Qaeda-linked group after it blamed the group of a series of kidnappings , al Shabab has carried out more than 150 attacks on Kenyan soil, targeting buses, schools, police stations, schools and shopping malls, killing hundreds.
The most brutal were attack s on a Kenyan army camp in El Adde killing 200 soldiers in 2016, a 2015 attack on a Kenyan college campus that killed 148 people, a 2013 attack on a mall in Nairobi that killed at least 67, and a 2019 attack on a hotel in Nairobi that killed 21 people.
Al Shabab has seen the presence of Kenya troops in Somalia as invasion and it singled out the country as a soft target. The government has invested in the army’s operation in Somalia while giving leeway to Shabab attacks inside Kenya.
The al Qaeda-affiliated group has stepped up its attacks both in Kenya and Somalia in the last few months.
The Kenyan security forces are bureaucratic and under-resourced. There have been intelligence failures of Kenyan intelligence agencies, and security forces’ slow and shambolic response, and al Shabab sees these weaknesses and takes advantage.
Al Shabab wants to terrorise Kenyans and mobilise its supporters and turn Kenyans against each other to create religious division. While carrying out attacks in Kenya, al Shabab mainly targets Christians, and in Somalia, they kill fellow Muslims.
Last week, the group attacked a joint US-Kenya military base in Lamu and killed three Americans, a soldier and two contractors. The attack on the Manda Bay Airfield was al Shabab’s first attack against US forces in Kenya.
At least four students have been killed by al Shabab fighters at a school in Garissa county.
On January 2, al Shabab killed four people when it attacked a convoy of buses in Lamu.
In December, the group killed 11 people including 8 police officers after pulling them from a passenger bus along Wajir-Mandera Road. Also, in December, five security forces were killed when their vehicle ran over a roadside bomb in Wajir. In Garissa, two construction workers were killed.
Al-Shabab’s offensive shows it is recovering after suffering high casualties from US drone strikes and pressure form the African Union forces.
Last year, the group carried out an attack on a US-run military base in Baledogle in southern Somalia.
Al-Shabab is fighting to topple the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu, and implement its own version of Islamic law.
Formed in 2006, its initial aim was to fight Ethiopian troops after the overthrow of the Islamic Courts Union that ruled most of the southern and central parts of the Horn of Africa country.
Since then, it has been fighting successive Somali governments and the African Union troops stationed in the country.
It has been driven out of Mogadishu and other major cities by Somali forces backed by African Union troops, but it is still capable of carrying out high-profile attacks within and outside of Somalia. It has carried out attacks in several neighbouring countries, but Kenya, its western neighbour, has been the most vulnerable, despite the US significantly increasing airstrikes against the group and broadened its troop presence and involvement in Somalia in 2017.
The hard numbers: Who has troops in Somalia?
The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) is planning to cut 1,000 troops from its peacekeeping mission in the Horn of Africa country in February, and later completely withdraw.
Somali National Forces are expected to take over the responsibility of securing the country from al Shabab militants once Amisom complete its withdrawal.
Amisom draws its troops from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. Allowances for the troops are paid by the EU, and logistical support – from food to medical supplies – is provided by the UN.
Under a transition plan agreed in 2017, Amisom is required to conduct gradual handover to Somali security forces, secure main supply routes, reduce the threat posed by al Shabab and conduct targeted offensive operations that support the transition plan.
When President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo was elected in February 2017, he promised to rebuild and reform the country’s military which has been crippled by corruption and lack of modern equipment. Three years later, a lot has been achieved but much needs to be done.
Amisom troops are in Somalia for 12 years now helping the government battle al Shabab and expand its authority outside Mogadishu.
Amisom plans to withdraw complete from Somalia by December 2020, and, if this happens, there would be security vacuum. The Somali army is not yet ready to take over the responsibility of securing the country.
Security gains by Amisom and the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled in late 2020 and early 2021 respectively could be in jeopardy if Amisom goes ahead in its withdrawal plan.
Although the Farmajo administration undertook some reforms within the military, like paying soldiers regularly and increasing their pay, eliminating middlemen and cutting out commanders who siphoned soldiers’ meager salary, lack of capacity and basic supplies and weapons will hinder its performance against al Shabab group which has been weakened but still capable of conducting high-profile attacks against civilians as well as state installations.
When the African Union (AU) troops complete their mission in Somalia, a UN Security Council resolution was that a United Nations peacekeeping mission replaces them. That plan has now been scrapped. The AU troops will hand over the responsibility of securing the country directly to Somali forces. Already, some places like Warsheikh Forward Operating Base, Mogadishu Stadium, Somali National University and Jaale Siyad Military Academy were handed over to Somali forces.
How women contribute to al Shabab resilience
Somalia is ranked the fourth most dangerous country in the world to be a woman, fueled by a three-decade-long civil unrest. Women have borne the brunt of hardships as a result of poverty, conflict, and clan-based culture, according to UN Women, a UN organisation dedicated to gender equality.
Women face rape and other forms of violence both from the government and al Shabab militant group.
Al Shabab, since its formation in 2006, has inflicted serious sufferings and punishment for Somali women. The al Qaeda-linked group has stoned to death and flogged a considerable number of women, accused of committing crimes ranging from extra-marital affairs, to pre-marital sex, to theft.
Women are not given fair legal representation and they are not allowed to appeal. They are sentenced to death or flogged without clear evidence.
Despite women facing brutal violence, they form an important social base for al Shabab.
But why do women play an important role critical in the resilience of a terror group hell-bent on punishing them?
“While al Shabab imposes restrictions upon women, it can provide some security and its courts often uphold Islamic family law to their benefit,” a report by International Crisis Group said.
Some women recruit, fundraise, spy or smuggle arms for the group. Women’s cooperation with al Shabab is not out of sympathy. Their cooperation is a matter of survival.
“Where it controls territory it can, however, offer women and girls a degree of physical safety – hardly complete, but still appreciable – in a country where they are otherwise exposed to violence,” part of the report read.
Through its courts, al Shabab upholds tenets of Islamic family law that, to some degree, protect women’s rights in matters such as divorce and inheritance in a manner the official justice system does not. While many instances of forced marriage between militants and women and girls exist, for some families marrying daughters into al Shabab bring some sort of financial stability.
Women gather intelligence that enables military operations or extortion, or ferry explosives ahead of attacks, taking advantage of the fact that security forces tend to watch women less closely than they do men.
But women do not participate in military operations directly and they are not part of the group’s decision-making organ.
Although al Shabab deploys far fewer women suicide bombers than the Nigerian jihadi group Boko Haram, in some cases it used women to carry out suicide missions because they attract little suspicion.
In July 2019, a female bomber blew herself up inside Mogadishu mayor’s office, killing eight people, including the mayor, Abdirahman Osman Yarisow.
Al-Shabab, which claimed credit for the attack, said it was targeting the UN special envoy to Somalia who visited the mayor’s office and left an hour before the attack.
Due to poverty and seeking ‘better future’, young Kenyan women have traveled to Somalia to join al Shabab or have been recruited within Kenya to aid in the group’s attacks.
Although the Somali government did some progress; enrolling more girls to schools in areas under its control and increasing the number of civil servants, the country’s broken justice system offers women little.
The country’s parliament is yet to pass a bill that seeks to promote women’s rights.
Somalia: Facts and Timeline
We look at Somalia, a country that has been at war with itself, clans fighting for power for close to three decades and extremist group al Shabab fighting to topple the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.
Although political crisis and terrorism still hinder the much needed progress, the country is now recovering from 30 years of anarchy. The government with the backing of African Union troops are gaining grounds against al Shabab.
Somalia borders the Gulf of Aden in the north, the Indian Ocean in the east, Kenya to the west, Ethiopia and Djibouti in the northwest.
Here are FACTS about Somalia:
Area: 637,657 sq km (slightly smaller than Texas)
Population: 15,000,000 (July 2018 est.)
Median age: 18.2 years
Ethnic groups: Somali 85%, Bantu and other non-Somali 15% (including 30,000 Arabs)
Religion: Sunni Muslim (Islam)
GDP (purchasing power parity): $20.44 billion (2017 est.)
Somalia is part of the Horn of Africa in the region of eastern Africa. Other countries include Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. This region is subject to repetitive cycles of drought and famine.
July 1, 1960 – The new country of Somalia is formed through the union of newly independent territories British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland.
1969 – Mohamed Siyad Barre leads a bloodless coup and becomes dictator.
1977-1978 – Somalia invades the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Ethiopia rebels and weakens Somalia’s forces. The two countries have fought on and off since 1960.
1988 – Somalia and Ethiopia sign a peace treaty.
January 1991 – President Barre is forced into exile after the United Somali Congress overthrows his military regime in Mogadishu.
December 1992 – Faction leader Ali Mahdi Mohammed and warlord General Mohammed Farah Aidid sign a cease-fire brokered by US envoy Robert Oakley.
December 1992 – Operation Restore Hope is launched by UN coalition forces and led by the United States in an attempt to restore enough order to ensure food distribution to the Somali people.
June 5, 1993 – General Aidid’s forces attack and kill 24 UN troops from Pakistan.
September 25, 1993 – An American Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter is shot down over Mogadishu, and three soldiers on board are killed.
October 3-4, 1993 – The Battle of Mogadishu: Two Black Hawk UH-60 helicopters are shot down during a raid on Aidid’s high-level staff at Mogadishu’s Olympic Hotel. Eighteen US soldiers and hundreds of Somalis are killed. Pilot Michael Durant is captured.
October 9, 1993 – Aidid calls for a cease-fire with UN forces.
October 14, 1993 – Pilot Michael Durant is freed.
January 1994 – Elder clansmen agree to a new cease-fire. Aidid and Mohammed do not attend the talks.
March 25, 1994 – US troops complete their withdrawal after a 15-month mission.
March 2, 1995 – The last of the UN peacekeepers are evacuated.
June 27, 2005 – Pirates hijack the MV Semlow, a ship carrying UN food aid, and hold the vessel for 100 days.
October 12, 2005 – Another UN ship carrying aid, the MV Miltzow, is hijacked and held for more than 30 hours.
October 2005 – Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi calls on neighboring countries to send warships to patrol Somalia’s coast.
November 27, 2005 – Pirates free a Ukrainian cargo ship seized 40 days prior off the coast of Somalia.
April 4, 2006 – The South Korean ship Dongwon-ho 628 is seized off the coast of Somalia. Four months later, the crew is released after a ransom is allegedly paid.
April 2006 – Somalia grants the US Navy permission to patrol coastal waters.
February 25, 2007 – Pirates hijack the MV Rozen, a cargo ship delivering UN food aid to Somalia. The ship and crew are released after 40 days.
2008 – The United States designates Al-Shabaab, a militant group in Somalia linked to al Qaeda, as a foreign terrorist organization.
June 2008 – The UN Security Council unanimously votes to allow countries to send warships into Somalia’s waters to combat piracy.
September 25, 2008 – The Ukrainian ship, the MV Faina, is attacked. Its cargo consists of 33 T-72 tanks, rocket launchers and small arms. The ship is released in February after pirates claim they have received a $3.2 million ransom payment.
November 2008 – The Saudi supertanker Sirius Star is hijacked. The ship is released in January 2009 after pirates claim to have received three million dollars in ransom.
April 8, 2009 – Somali pirates hijack the US-flagged cargo ship Maersk Alabama. The captain, Richard Phillips, offers himself as a hostage in order to protect his crew.
April 12, 2009 – Phillips is rescued when US Navy SEAL snipers fatally shoot three pirates and take the fourth into custody.
June 19, 2011 – Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo resigns. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali is appointed as an interim leader until a new prime minister can be appointed.
July 20, 2011 – The United Nations declares a famine in the southern Somalia regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle.
July 22, 2011 – Terrorist group Al-Shabaab reverses an earlier pledge to allow aid agencies to provide food in famine-stricken areas of southern Somalia.
August 2, 2011 – The United States updates guidance so humanitarian organizations will not be penalized for aid inadvertently falling into the hands of terrorist group Al-Shabaab.
August 8, 2011 – US President Barack Obama announces $105 million in emergency funding for Somalia.
August 11, 2011 – The United States announces another $17 million in emergency aid for Somalia.
September 5, 2011 – The UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit releases a report saying a total of four million people in Somalia need humanitarian aid and 750,000 people are in danger of “imminent starvation.”
October 4, 2011 – More than 70 people are killed and 150 injured when a truck filled with explosives drives into a government complex in Mogadishu. Most of the victims are students, who were registering for a Turkish education program, and their parents. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility.
February 2, 2012 – UK Foreign Secretary William Hague visits Mogadishu becoming the first top UK official to visit Somalia in 20 years.
September 10, 2012 – Somali parliament members select Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president. The vote marks a milestone for the nation, which has not had a stable central government since Dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown 21 years ago.
January 11, 2013 – French forces attempt to rescue a French intelligence commando held hostage in Somalia by Al-Shabaab. The raid leaves a French soldier dead, another soldier missing and 17 Islamist fighters dead. French President Francois Hollande later acknowledges that the operation “did not succeed” and resulted in the “sacrifice” of two French soldiers and “maybe the assassination” of hostage Denis Allex. Al-Shabaab later declares that it has killed the hostage in retribution for the raid.
January 17, 2013 – For the first time in more than two decades, the United States grants official recognition to the Somali government.
May 2, 2013 – A report, jointly commissioned by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network, shows that 258,000 Somalis died in the famine between October 2010 and April 2012. Half of the famine victims were children younger than five.
June 19, 2013 – An attack on the UN headquarters in Mogadishu leaves at least 14 people dead and 15 others wounded. Al Shabab claims responsibility for the attack.
March 5, 2016 – A US strike in Somalia kills as many as 150 suspected al Shabab fighters, according to the Pentagon. Both manned and unmanned aircraft are used.
February 8, 2017 – Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who resigned as prime minister in 2011, is elected president.
February 23, 2017 – President Mohamed names Hassan Ali Kheyre prime minister.
March 2017 – US President Donald Trump authorizes the military to carry out precision strikes targeting al-Shabab. Prior, the US military was authorized to carry out airstrikes only in self-defence of advisers on the ground.
October 14, 2017 – At least 300 people are confirmed dead after a double car bombing in Mogadishu. Less than two months later, authorities announce that the death toll has climbed to 512.
November 3, 2017 – For the first time, the United States conducts airstrikes targeting ISIS militants in northeastern Somalia. Unmanned drones make the two airstrikes.
July 25, 2018 – Somalia announces it will pursue its first prosecution for female genital mutilation, after a 10-year-old dies following the procedure.
December 4, 2018 – The US State Department announces that the United States has re-established a permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia more than two decades after closing its embassy in Mogadishu.
July 24, 2019 – A suicide bomb attack on a government building kills at least six people and leaves six others injured, including Mogadishu’s mayor Abdirahman Omar Osman. Osman dies from his injuries on August 1.
December 2019: 80 people were killed when al Shabab struck a car suicide bomber at a security checkpoint in the outskirts of Mogadishu targeting Turkish construction workers. Most of the dead were civilians.
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