On Monday, members of the armed group Al-Shebab attacked a U.S. military special forces base located in Baledogle, Somalia. While there were no immediate casualties as a result of the attack, the attackers used car bombs to breach the outside gates of the base. Though the blasts and the gunfire that followed were audible to nearby residents, the Somali forces were able to fend off the members of Al-Shebab and the attack was not successful. The base in Baledogle is a known source of many drone attacks that have been aimed at defeating Al-Shebab. The armed group is also responsible for another attack that occurred on Monday against an Italian convoy linked to the European Union’s efforts to train Somali soldiers near Mogadishu. Again, there were no reported casualties from the incident which also included the use of car bombs.
According to Al Jazeera, a resident witness who heard the Baledogle bombings described the attack to AFP news agency in the following quote: “Two heavy explosions occurred, the first one bigger than the other. There was also a heavy exchange of gunfire after the blasts.” Representatives from Al-Shebab describe the event in a way that highlights the valiant efforts of the attackers. According to BBC, a statement from Al-Shebab states, “After breaching the perimeters of the heavily fortified base, the mujahideen [holy warriors] stormed the military complex, engaging the crusaders in an intense firefight.” According to Al Jazeera, in a statement after the attack, representatives from the U.S. Mission to Somalia stated, “The security forces stopped this ultimately failed attack due to their alertness and swift response, not allowing the attackers to breach the outer defensive perimeters of the base.” According to BBC, U.S. ambassador to Somalia, Donald Yamamoto, emphasized the still-present threat that Al-Shebab poses to Somalia in the following statement: “This attack yet again demonstrates al-Shabab violently opposes progress towards peace and prosperity in Somalia.”
In terms of a response to the attack on the U.S. base, Somalian forces acted admirably to ensure that the Al-Shebab fighters did not threaten the security of the base further after the gate was initially breached. The response of U.S. ambassador, Donald Yamamoto, is also important and admirable, as it highlights the prevalence of Al-Shebab in Somalia even now and the threat that its attacks can pose to armed forces and citizens. However, the action taken against Al-Shebab in the form of drone attacks seems questionable. Since the armed group does pose a danger to Somalians, the decision to further equip and train Somali forces to better protect citizens from attacks such as those from Al-Shebab is responsible. However, provoking the armed group by staging drone attacks against them doesn’t seem to have a constructive goal besides perpetuating violence in the hope that it will snuff out Al-Shebab. There are more responsible and less violent ways to go about making peace with Al-Shebab, such as planning talks with representatives or even building up forces while refraining from launching attacks, that are far less dangerous for the citizens of Somalia.
Though Al-Shebab has now lost power over many Somalian areas it once controlled, its presence in the country still poses a threat. The armed group originally began as a radical part of the Union of Islamic Courts. In general, it supports a Wahhabi variation of Islam which, for the armed group, includes a strict adherence to a form of Sharia law and contrasts with the Sufi variation of Islam that most Somalians practice. Despite the group’s influence over many areas of Somalia, they were forced out of Mogadishu in 2011. However, though the group has been weakened since then, they still possess the power to conduct attacks against and pose a threat to the Somalian people.
In the coming weeks, it remains to be seen whether Al-Shebab will launch more attacks in Somalia to accompany Monday’s events. The response of U.S. forces in Somalia will be especially important in determining whether the exchanges between groups that follow will be primarily violent in nature.