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Ahlu Sunna Wal-jamea (ASWJ)

The ASWJ is a political, social, and militant group aligned with TFG and Ethiopian forces. They support Ethiopian operations against al-Shabaab, and find their support in Somalia’s Sufi population. The ASWJ had approximately 4,500 fighters as of 2011. The TFG and ASWJ signed an agreement on March 15, 2010, that gave the militia control of certain ministries, diplomatic posts and other key positions. The Ethiopian government and ASWJ leadership freely admit that Ethiopia provides training to ASWJ fighters. The specific nature of this training is unclear.

Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a, or ASWJ, a Sufi Somali militia trained and supported by the Ethiopian government, conducts operations against al-Shaba in Somalia to indirectly support Ethiopian security interests on its southern border. ASWJ, however, is only loosely affiliated with the Somali government and its security forces, further contributing to diverse clan-based militias vice a centralized national-security apparatus.

By the end of 2008, rival Islamist militia groups began to confront al-Shabab. Ahlu-Sunna wal-Jama, a Sufi brotherhood of moderate Islamists, called in late December for a government of national unity and attacked al-Shabab militias in Mogadishu. The desecration of grave markers by al-Shabab followers may have contributed to this conflict. Ahlu- Sunna wal-Jama also took control of two towns in central Somalia controlled by al-Shabab, including Ayro’s stronghold of Dusa Mareb.

During the fighting, both groups used small-arms such as AK-47s, PKM machine-guns, RPGs, anti-tank weapons, and 60mm mortars. In addition to the use of “technicals,” the ASWJ also utilized armored personnel carriers (APC) during the fight in Dusa Mareb, which it acquired from the Somali national army after it collapsed. Al-Shabab had more PKMs and 60mm mortars at its disposal, but the group lacked mobility and resiliency, which contributed to its losses. Furthermore, relying on the use of mortars in populated areas in both Dusa Mareb and in Guraceel had a negative effect on popular support. In addition to the use of APCs, ASWJ was able to defeat the better trained and numbered al-Shabab forces through more effective military tactics.

ASWJ reacted violently after al-Shabab challenged their form of worship and assassinated approximately 40 prominent personalities who had questioned the way they were ruling the region. While forces loyal to al- Shabab received support from the population due to their prior resistance to the Ethiopian occupation, there were signs that Somalis — at least in Galgaduud region and in Mogadishu — hade grown weary of their presence. This was manifest in the decision of Galgaduud’s clans and traditional Sufi shaykhs to throw their support behind the ASWJ.

Sufism had been in Somalia’s religious landscape since Islam first came to sub-Saharan Africa centuries ago. Organized Sufi groups in Somalia had rarely been involved in politics, except for the anti-colonial wars of the 19th century where they played a major role. In modern Somalia, Sufi religious organizations — such as the ASWJ — had been most active carrying out religious affairs within their communities. Only in mid-2008 did the ASWJ begin to constitute as a fighting force.

In terms of numbers, ASWJ could call on more armed fighters than al-Shabab, but they were not as disciplined or well-trained. The ASWJ’s poor training was a result of its fighters being drawn from clan militias, whose members usually do not have formal military training. ASWJ came out in support of Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad’s new unity government. In June 2010, the Somali government appointed a new cabinet. The new cabinet includes members of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, who signed an agreement with the TFG a few months earlier.

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Page last modified: 09-05-2013 17:36:37 ZULU