Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a Ph.D. candidate in world politics at the Catholic University of America. He is the author or volume editor of eleven books and monographs, including Bin Laden’s Legacy: Why We’re Still Losing the War on Terror. Chris Albon earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Davis.
In late September, African Union
(AU) forces surrounded the port city of Kismayo on Somalia’s southern coast.
The AU troops stood on the threshold of capturing the city from the al
Qaeda-affiliated militant group al Shabaab, which began the year as the
dominant military power in southern Somalia. On October 2, when AU troops
entered Kismayo and claimed control of the city after a long standoff, Shabaab
had lost its final stronghold.
It is worth noting, though, that the
AU troops were hit by a bomb blast as they
entered, which was Shabaab’s way of saying that it was still a force to be
reckoned with. As the group’s spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said, “This
is only an introduction to the forthcoming explosions.” As one of us noted at the time, in Foreign Policy, with the loss of Kismayo
Shabaab was returning to somewhat familiar territory:
Al-Shabab will try to repeat a maneuver that already
proved successful once before in Somalia. Back in 2006, an Islamist coalition
called the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), of which al-Shabab is an offshoot,
controlled most of the key strategic points in southern Somalia and had
encircled the U.N.-recognized Transitional Federal Government in the
south-central city of Baidoa. The ICU governed according to its strict
interpretation of Islamic law. It executed people for watching soccer matches
and imposed a number of other draconian restrictions (though wasn’t as harsh as
al-Shabab would later become). As the year neared its end, many observers
expected the ICU to undertake an offensive to wipe out the transitional
government’s final sanctuary. Instead, however, Ethiopia launched an invasion
of Somalia that not only received the approval of the United States, but
critical military support as well. Ethiopian troops entered the capital,
Mogadishu, on Dec. 28, 2006, and quickly reversed virtually all the ICU’s
strategic gains throughout the country before the end of January 2007.
The ICU promised an insurgency, and one soon gripped
Somalia. Al-Shabab split from the ICU during this period and eventually was
able to become the dominant force in the country’s south. By early 2011, the
situation looked much like it did prior to the Ethiopian invasion. Just as a
few Ethiopian troops protected the transitional government in Baidoa in 2006,
all that stood between the Somali government and certain death at al-Shabab’s
hands in 2011 was the protection of an African Union force composed of Ugandan
and Burundian troops.
Although Shabaab has now lost
Kismayo, it is hoping for a repeat of what occurred from 2007 through 2011:
that the country’s transitional government requires a foreign force to prop it
up, which serves as an irritant and gives rise to a powerful insurgency.
Whether they are able to do so, of course, remains to be seen.
African Union forces surrounded Kismayo, we have kept a database detailing
every publicly-reported attack known or suspected of being carried out by the
group and its sympathizers. This database runs from September 30, 2012, through
December 5, 2012, covering a total of 68 attacks. In this article, we map the
early part of Shabaab’s attempted post-Kismayo insurgency by providing a
visualization of this data.
by our count 144 people have been killed in these attacks and 300 wounded. See
Figure One for casualties caused by these attacks.
breaking down these figures, 125 were killed in Somalia and 19 in Kenya; 227
were wounded in Somalia, and 73 in Kenya. Our figures almost certainly underestimate the overall numbers of
killed and wounded in Shabaab-related attacks (though perhaps not in Kenya, as
we will explain subsequently), since we measure only attacks that were reported
in the press. Not only do some attacks in Somalia go unreported, but also in
many cases the press reporting did not include numbers of killed or wounded,
and thus we could not add concrete numbers to our database.
reason that the reporting on Kenya may not be an underestimation is because the
responsibility of Shabaab or its sympathizers for attacks around Nairobi is
often suspected but not known for a fact. Our database employs four different
categories of attack perpetrators: known Shabaab, suspected Shabaab, known
sympathizers, and suspected sympathizers. Of the thirteen attacks in Kenya,
four were carried out by suspected al Shabaab, while nine were carried out by
example, on September 30, AFP reported on a grenade attack at
a Nairobi church that killed a child and wounded nine other people. The article
noted that the blast, which triggered reprisal attacks against Somalis, “came a
day after Islamist Shebab fighters abandoned their last bastion in neighbouring
Somalia in the face of an assault by Kenyan and other troops.” AFP reported the
statement of Wilfred Mbithi, head of police operations in Nairobi, that
witnesses “saw two men of Somali origin running towards the back of the church
where the explosion occurred.” The article further notes:
No one has yet claimed responsibility for
the church attack, the latest in a string of grenade attacks, shootings and
bomb blasts that have rocked Kenya since it sent troops into southern Somalia
in October 2011 to crush bases of Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab fighters.
On Saturday, the Shebab retreated from
their last stronghold in Somalia, leaving the southern port city of Kismayo
that has been a vital economic lifeline for the Islamists.
Shebab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage had
warned that the militia would remain a threat.
All of this means that the article
is strongly implying that Shabaab sympathizers are the likely perpetrators of
the attack; but without a claim of responsibility, that cannot be known for
One makes clear that there is no discernible trend in terms of casualties
caused by Shabaab attacks: they cannot be shown to be either increasing or
decreasing over time.
We also measured attacks by target in
majority of attacks were against military targets. These include attacks
against AU, Kenyan, and Somali forces. Civilians were the second most popular
target, followed by government and police. There were also two attacks on
churches, both of which occurred in Kenya (in Nairobi and Garissa), and both of
which employed grenades.
We measured attacks by type in
The three most popular
attack types by Shabaab and its sympathizers were IED attacks, ambushes, and
shootings. Shabaab has also prominently employed grenade attacks,
assassinations, and massed attacks. Only one suicide attack was found in this
sample, a double suicide bombing at a Mogadishu
restaurant in early November. However, there were also unconfirmed reports that pro-government
forces captured a would-be female suicide bomber in late October as she was on
her way to carry out an attack at “a busy location in Kismayo.”
We will continue to monitor the
shape of Shabaab’s post-Kismayo fight against Somalia’s government, and may
publish an update at some future point.