Moalin Osman Abdi Badil, one of the regional leaders of al-Shabaab, along with several others, have been killed in a raid by Somali forces. This news was announced on Sunday and comes amidst fresh efforts to wipe out the terror organization which is proving to be the country’s greatest obstacle to peace. Somalia is not alone, however, as the US military is also working alongside it. Just a day before the raid, an American soldier was killed during an operation in Mogadishu – the first death of a US service member in the country since 1993.
Despite stepping up their efforts against the terror group, the Somali government has not been entirely belligerent in their approach. The president has offered members of al-Shabaab a sixty-day period of amnesty in which to surrender. On the weekend, as news of the raid broke, they urged members of the militia to “defect, as many of your brothers are beginning to do.” Al-Shabaab, for their part, has yet to comment on the loss of one of their leaders.
Regardless of what they have to say about it, they won’t take long in finding a replacement. Al-Shabaab, a militant Islamist organization with ties to al-Qaeda, emerged in 2006 and was able to prosper due to the weakness of Somalia’s government. It reached its peak in 2011, by which time it controlled parts of Mogadishu, the nation’s capital. That year, the Somali government, with the vital help of Kenyan troops, began to push the militants out of their strongholds. Kenya, however, would pay dearly for its intervention in Somalia; since 2011, more than 150 attacks by al-Shabaab have been committed on its soil. These include an attack on a college campus in 2015 which resulted in the death of 148 people and a raid on a mall in Nairobi in which at least 68 were killed. The United States have also been involved in helping Somalia, having provided more than half a billion dollars to train and equip the African Union forces battling al-Shabaab. They have provided more direct military support too; in September 2014, the US initiated a strike which resulted in the deaths of 150 militants, including the then-leader of the group.
A purely military approach to al-Shabaab is far from problem-free, however. Firstly, as the Kenyan government has found, it can result in revenge attacks in which many innocents are killed. Secondly, the wrong people can be targeted. Just this month, Somalia’s youngest MP, Abas Abdullahi Sheikh was shot dead when he was mistaken for a terrorist. He is not the first official to have been killed by “friendly fire,” according to BBC Somalia analyst Abdullahi Abdi. To prevent tragedies like this one from reoccurring, the Somali military needs to be more cautious in its use of force, at least by offering al-Shabaab members a chance to defect, as circumstances change. Part of ensuring that the circumstances do change, in that violent extremism is no longer an appealing way of life, is addressing the humanitarian crisis in the country. The UN has recently reported that over 6.2 million people in Somalia are in need of aid and that 600,000 have been displaced since November. Part and parcel of this crisis is the famine that is currently afflicting parts of Africa, a famine which, wherever it has occurred, has been primarily caused by human conflicts. Defeating al-Shabaab and ending the famine in Somalia are therefore closely linked, and any solution to one will necessarily impact the other. By removing the dire conditions in which terrorism can thrive, there will be fewer people available in the future when al-Shabaab next loses one of its leaders and needs a replacement.
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