The Heat Is on: How the Somali Government Is Succeeding the Fight Against Al-Shabaab

President HSM visits Adan Yabal, a former al-Shabaab stronghold in Hirshabelle on March 26 2023 | Photo Villa Somalia FB


In the last seven months since the President of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mahmud declared war against al-Shabaab, the Al Qaeda allied terror group in Somalia, many major issues changed including the group’s status across the country. Before he became president for the second time, the group enjoyed control of a large territory that they used, and still use to some degree, for revenue generation, command and control, planning grounds, and training facilities for their terror attacks inside Somalia, neighbouring countries, and the wider region.

Although the President was initially encouraged by fed-up locals, to officially declare war in his first days in office was not an easy decision. The group has seen their best days as they did not receive much offence from the previous administration while the U.S. Government, a key ally in the war against the group, pulled out their special forces from the country as well as limiting their air campaign.

Knowing that in his first term 2012-2017, President Mohamud liberated large parts of Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle from the group, it was obvious that declaring total war against the Al-Qaeda allied offshoot will be his immediate priority, but no one predicted it to be his first.

Vital to engage with our allies

President Mohamud travelled constantly to the region and Western capitals to sell the cause that Somalia is ready to eradicate al-Shabaab from the country and their support is most needed at this time. He successfully got the U.S. Administration on board as it is vital for global counterterrorism efforts and paid special attention to Somalia for a long time.

In February this year, Somalia hosted a regional summit focusing on al-Shabaab and regional security. The summit which was attended by leaders of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti was a success as they all affirmed their support and unity in fighting terrorism. Already there are unconfirmed reports that the neighbouring countries will deploy non-ATMIS forces to support the current offence per President Mohamud’s request.

SNA Efforts with support from international partners

Now, After Six months with very limited power in terms of weapons, logistics, and finances, the Somali National Army made an unexpected success by pushing the terror group from nearly all of Galmudug and Hirshabelle states, while Jubaland and Southwest states are mobilising and readying their forces for similar campaigns. The leadership of H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud pays well for Somalis, the region, and international partners who supported his plan and strategy without hesitation.

The regional and international support for Somalia is something to cheer for. The U.S., UK, EU, Turkey, and a few Arab states offered their support and promised to stand with Somalia and its leadership in this fight. The air support provided by the U.S. Command in Djibouti made a remarkable contribution by limiting any al-Shabaab ground offensive while the Turkish-made drones led by well-trained Somali Government officers coordinated with ground forces to support their offensive on many fronts. The Masaajid Ali Gaduud battle in Middle Shabelle proved how Intelligence-led airstrikes are critical for the ground forces to succeed.

Sustaining liberated areas and the future of SNA.

Al-Shabaab has vacated many important cities they governed for the past 15 years. According to the statistical report made by the Centre for Analysis and Strategic Studies (CASS), a think tank based in Mogadishu, al-Shabaab lost more than 1,200 fighters in the past six months under this campaign while also losing tens of millions of dollars due to a combination of lost territory and a government policy that targeted their financial infrastructure.

The operations by Somali Government forces against al-Shabaab in Hirshabelle and Galmudug gave some glimpse of hope that for the next few years, Somalia may produce well-trained, structured, and disciplined troops to replace the AU forces vacating Somalia within the agreed timeframe. Defeating al-Shabaab by Somali forces is not the only task at hand but also their readiness to overtake the security task from ATMIS successfully when they eventually leave.

As is evident from the President’s efforts, the central regions of Somalia will be declared free from al-Shabaab’s presence soon. however, security stabilisation, a recreation of local governance, and aid delivery will be paramount for the success of the second phase of this campaign.  

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of this publication

Abdurahman Sheikh Azhari
Abdurahman Sheikh Azhari
Abdurahman Sheikh Azhari is a reader of National Security at the National Security Institute in Somalia as well as a Researcher on Security and Counterterrorism issues in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

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