Al Shabaab’s Foreign Threat to Somalia
by David Shinn
is an adjunct professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs at GeorgeWashington University. He served for 37 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including asambassador to Ethiopia and State Department coordinator for Somalia during the internationalintervention in the 1990s. This article is a revised version of a paper delivered at FPRI’s annualnational security conference, last September, co-sponsored by the Reserve Ofﬁcers Associationin Washington, D.C.
This article focuses on the threat to Somalia by al Shabaab (The Youth), an extremist organization that controls most of southern and central Somalia. It learned its strategy and tactics from al Qaeda and the Talibanand relies heavily on a relatively small number of foreign ﬁghters, most of whom are Somalis with foreign passports from the large Somali diaspora. The non-Somali contingent probably numbers only about 200 to 300, although it brings battleﬁeld experience from Afghanistan and Iraq and provides al Shabaab with expertise in bomb making, remote-controlled explosions,suicidebombingandassassinations.Someoftheforeignersoccupykeypositions in al Shabaab. The connection between al Shabaab and al Qaeda is growing stronger but has not yet reached the level of operational control by al Qaeda.Al Shabaab’s draconian tactics, which are imported from outside and are anathema to most Somalis, and its foreign component may be its undoing.
l Shabaab now controls nearly all of central and southern Somalia andmuch of the capital of Mogadishu. It opposes Somalia’s TransitionalFederal Government (TFG), which has the backing of the UnitedNations, AfricanUnionand Arab Leaguebutwhich controlsvery little territory.Thousands of troops from neighboring Ethiopia supported the TFG insideSomalia from late 2006 until they departed at the beginning of 2009. A peacekeeping force established by the African Union began arriving early in 2007 to assist the TFG.
That force now numbers about 8,000 troops fromUganda and Burundi, all located in Mogadishu to protect TFG ofﬁcials andkeep open the port and airport. The goal of al Shabaab is to topple the TFG,
See Paul D. Williams, ‘‘Into the Mogadishu Maelstrom: The African Union Mission inSomalia,’’
, August 2009, pp. 514–530.
2011 Published by Elsevier Limited on behalf of Foreign Policy Research Institute.