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Al-Shabaab (Al-Shabab) - 2016

The security situation worsened during the first half of 2016, as Al-Shabaab stepped up asymmetric and conventional attacks. At the same time, the Somali security forces, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and other partners also inflicted heavy losses on the group, especially in March and April. On 15 January 2016, al-Shabab fighters stormed a Kenyan army camp in El-Adde. In February, the Somali president said 200 soldiers lost their lives in that attack, a claim denied by the Kenyan government. Security observers said heavy losses in these and other recent raids are damaging the effectiveness and reputation of the African Union force, AMISOM.

Mogadishu witnessed an increase in assassinations, especially in April, with Somali government personnel targeted the most. There were three complex attacks during the reporting period. Attacks at the Lido beach in Mogadishu on 21 January and on the Somali Youth League hotel and peace garden on 26 February killed more than 45 people, including a United Nations national staff member, and injured 80 others. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the incidents, as well as for a coordinated twin bombing in Baidoa, Bay region, on 28 February, which killed 30 people and injured 60. In another worrisome development, a pro-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) website reported on 25 April that ISIL fighters in Somalia had carried out their first attack in Somalia, hitting an AMISOM convoy with an improvised explosive device on the outskirts of Mogadishu. AMISOM acknowledged the explosion, but denied that the convoy had been hit.

There was an increase in mortar attacks, including against the presidential compound, Villa Somalia, and airports co-located with AMISOM and United Nations offices. The AMISOM protected area of Mogadishu International Airport sustained mortar attacks on 1 January and 11 February, resulting in injuries to two AMISOM soldiers. Villa Somalia was similarly targeted on 7 January, 1 and 25 February and 3 and 7 April, leaving at least 12 people dead and 22 injured, including a member of Parliament. Kismaayo airport sustained mortar attacks on 14 and 27 February, while several rounds landed in the perimeter of the Baidoa airstrip on 21 February. There were no casualties from those attacks.

Two unsuccessful bombings demonstrated new tactics on the part of Al-Shabaab. On 2 February, an explosive device hidden inside a laptop computer detonated on a commercial flight from Mogadishu to Djibouti. The late departure of the plane saved many lives, given that the timed explosion occurred before the cabin was fully pressurized. The suicide bomber was ejected in mid-flight from the plane, which landed safely in Mogadishu. Two passengers sustained minor injuries. On 7 March 2016, at Beledweyne airport, a small detonation occurred during a luggage search by AMISOM soldiers. Explosives were found hidden inside computer equipment, which was scheduled to be shipped as cargo to Mogadishu.

The Pentagon said a US airstrike against al-Shabab in Somalia 07 March 2016 killed more than 150 militants. The Somali army commander in the region, Colonel Mohamed Omar, gave a death toll of 69 militants killed and 42 wounded, citing reports by local residents. The airstrike hit Al-Shabab's Raso training camp between the villages of Dharyiow and El-Dibi in the central Hiran region. Witnesses said the aircraft made two passes over the camp, firing three missiles each time. Normaly al-Shabab doesnt gather more than 100 fighters in one place for security reasons.

Al-Shabab commanders were at the camp to oversee the graduation of hundreds of trainees when the airstrikes occurred. Analysts said the strike was a major coup but that African Union troops in Somalia still have a long fight ahead of them. Both manned and unmanned aircraft were used in the strike. The United States watched the camp for several weeks and noticed the fighters were training for a large-scale attack.

Radical militants with the al-Shabaab group overran an army base near the Somali capital of Mogadishu, allegedly killing over 74 soldiers on 21 March 2016. The Somali National Army (SNA) and UN peacekeeping troops regained control of the base after Islamist fighters launched the deadly overnight attack in the village of Laanta Buuro.

Somali militant group al-Shabab took control of the strategic port town of Merca, 100 kilometers south of the capital, residents and officials said on 11 July 2016. The government troops and the African Union peacekeepers who have been controlling the town left at dawn, giving al-Shabab militants a port on the Somalia coast. The AMISOM and government troops withdrew from the town at dawn this morning and now heavily armed al-Shabab militants are manning the citys major check-points. It was not clear why African Union troops and the Somali army withdrew from the area, but this came hours after al-Shabab fighters temporarily overran the Somali government military base in Laanta Buur, a former prison about 40 kilometers west of Mogadishu.

Somali authorities say they are countering a resurgence from al-Shabab rebels after years of progress in driving back the militants. Abdihakim Mohamoud Haji-Faqi, the countrys defense minister until 2014, attributes this to strategic changes on the part of the militant group. Al-Shabab has changed strategically their operations, from face-to-face fighting to targeting military bases, or targeting civilians, such as hotels, so they can terrorize the civilian population, Haji-Faqi said 28 April 2016.

The former director of Somalias National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), Ahmed Moallim Fiqi, said 29 August 2016 that collaboration between federal and regional levels generally is "nonexistent and, at best, minimal." He said "Al-Shabab can attack any region without fearing that another regional administration may come to their rescue. That gives al-Shabab freedom to choose their targets and put the weight of their force against whoever challenges them."

"Al-Shabab benefits from division whether that is among the security agencies, regions or clans," former NISA director Fiqi said. The militants represent a mobile organization like birds or fish. They have mobile equipment. They are not static. One day, they are in one region. The next, they are in another. Its inevitable: They will attack."

However, the current NISA chief, Gafow, said the problem is not politics or policy but rather the nature of the insurgents themselves. "Let me ask you a question: What can you do about someone who wants to die?" he asked. "You can [only] do something about someone who wants to live but wants to kill you."

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Page last modified: 20-11-2016 17:04:06 ZULU