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Al Shabaab's Foreign Threat to Somalia by David H. Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso

Al Shabaab's Foreign Threat to Somalia by David H. Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso

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Published by David Shinn
"Al Shabaab's Foreign Threat to Somalia" by David Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso and adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University. The article, which is published in Orbis (Vol. 55, Issue 2, 2011, pages 203-215) can be downloaded here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00304387, and is a revised version of a paper delivered at FPRI's annual national security conference, in September 2010, co-sponsored by the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C.
"Al Shabaab's Foreign Threat to Somalia" by David Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso and adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University. The article, which is published in Orbis (Vol. 55, Issue 2, 2011, pages 203-215) can be downloaded here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00304387, and is a revised version of a paper delivered at FPRI's annual national security conference, in September 2010, co-sponsored by the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C.

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Published by: David Shinn on Mar 07, 2011
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04/10/2013

 
Al Shabaab’s Foreign Threat to Somalia
by David Shinn
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.
Abstract:
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. peacekeeping force established by the African Union began arriving early in 2007 to assist the TFG.
1
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,
1
See Paul D. Williams, ‘‘Into the Mogadishu Maelstrom: The African Union Mission inSomalia,’’
International Peacekeeping 
, August 2009, pp. 514–530.
#
2011 Published by Elsevier Limited on behalf of Foreign Policy Research Institute.
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seize power throughout Somalia, reincorporate Somali-inhabited areas of Kenya and Ethiopia, and create an Islamic caliphate.
Early Foreign Influence on Somali Islamist Movements
Militant Islamic influence has existed in Somalia for decades butdid not have a meaningful impact on the political situation duringthe dictatorial rule of President Siad Barre. With his overthrow in 1991,followed by the total collapse of the central government, a numberof different Somali forces quickly took advantage of the political vacuumand expanded their influence. For the first fifteen years or so, Somaliwarlords held most of the power, although various Islamic groups alsobecame more assertive. Some of the Islamist organizations were benign andhad a strictly Somali agenda. Others, including al Shabaab, developed aprogram based on Islamic power and increasingly became subject toforeign influence.Small numbers of Somalis studied the Salafi views of the MuslimBrothers in Egypt and Wahhabi teachings in Saudi Arabia beginning evenbefore Somali independence in 1960. As they returned to Somalia, thefollowers of these schools of Islamic thought had little initial successin propagating their views among Somalis who overwhelmingly followedSufi Islamic beliefs. In the 1970s, some of the Wahhabi believers createdThe Unity of Islamic Youth (Wahdat al Shabaab al Islamiyya) and TheIslamic Group (al Jama’a al Islamiyya). These two organizations merged in1982 and changed their names to The Islamic Union (al Ittihadal Islamiyya or AIAI). All of the adherents were Somali, although they imported Islamic fundamentalist concepts from Salafism and Wahhabism.AIAI conducted terrorist attacks in the Somali-inhabited parts of Ethiopiaand against an Ethiopian minister of Somali origin in Addis Ababa. AIAIreached the peak of its activity in the mid-1990s. Ethiopian security forcesresponded f orcefully, and AIAI effectively disappeared early in the twenty-first century.
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The failure of the Somali state offered an opening to both indigen-ous and foreign Islamist groups. Osama bin Laden moved to Sudan in 1992accompanied by one of his most trusted and talented al Qaeda lieutenants,Abu Hafs al Masri. Based on declassified al Qaeda documents, it is clear thatAbu Hafs, an Egyptian by birth, made multiple trips to Somalia beginning in1992. He met with Somali Islamists, assessed capabilities and made arrange-ments to provide training and arms for fighters. Abu Hafs apparently tookorders from al Qaeda’s headquarters in Khartoum. In January 1993, heSHINN
2
Matt Bryden, ‘‘No Quick Fixes: Coming to Terms with Terrorism, Islam, and Statelessness inSomalia,’’
Journal of Conflict Studies 
(Fall 2003), pp. 28–33; ‘‘Somalia’s al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI;Islamic Union),’’ (www.ctc.usma.edu/aq/pdf/AIAI.pdf ).
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Orbis 
 
created a team of al Qaeda veterans to conduct operations in Somalia. AlQaeda believed that Somalia offered a safe haven for its operations in theregion and encouraged it to target the United States in Somalia and theArabian Peninsula. The first al Qaeda operatives left Peshawar, Pakistan,transited Kenya, and arrived in Somalia in February 1993. The groupworked closely with AIAI and established three training camps inSomalia.
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Abu Hafs expected Somalia would become a low-cost recruitingground where disaffected Somalis in a failed state would readily accept alQaeda and enthusiastically join the fight to expel the international peace-keeping force, briefly led by the United States, which began arriving inMogadishu in 1992. Somalia appeared to be, in the eyes of al Qaeda, anotherAfghanistan. The reality of the situation was quite different. Al Qaeda under-estimated the cost of operating in Somalia. Getting in and out of the country was costly while expenses resulting from corruption in neighboring stateswere high. Al Qaeda experienced regular extortion from Somali clans andunanticipatedlosseswhenbanditsattackedtheirconvoys.Itoverestimatedthedegree to which Somalis would become jihadis, especially if there were nofinancial incentive, and failed to understand the importance of traditional SufiIslam. Unlike the tribal areas of Pakistan, it found a lawless land of shiftingalliances that lacked Sunni unity. The primacy of clan ultimately frustrated alQaeda’s efforts to recruit and develop a strong, unified coalition. The jihadiforeigners from al Qaeda concludedduring this early initiative in Somalia thatthe costs outweighed the benefits.
4
Al Qaeda did manage, however, to recruit a number of young Somalisto the jihadi cause and found wider acceptance at a few Somali locations suchas Ras Kamboni, a small Indian Ocean port town near Somalia’s southernborder with Kenya. The longer that the central government was unable toestablish authority throughout Somalia and the warlords fought amongthemselves for power, the greater the opportunity for the Islamic groups toincrease their following, in part by imposing stability. In the meantime, threeal Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies inNairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, took refuge in Somalia with thehelp of AIAI. Two of them have since been killed. Abu Talha al-Sudani of Sudan died in a 2007 battle with Ethiopian troops while American specialforces killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, born in Kenya of Yemeni heritage, on aSomalia
3
‘‘Al-Qaida’s(Mis)Adventures intheHornofAfrica,’’ HarmonyProject,Combating TerrorismCenter, West Point (http://ctc.usma.edu/aq/pdf/Al-Qa%27ida%27s%20MisAdventures%20in%20the%20Horn%20of%20Africa.pdf ); ‘‘Abu Hafs al-Masri,’(www.ctc.usma.edu/aq/pdf/Abu_Hafs.pdf ); David H. Shinn, ‘‘Al-Qaeda in East Africa and the Horn,’’
Journal of Conflict Studies 
(Summer 2007), p. 56.
4
‘‘Al-Qaida’s (Mis)Adventures in the Horn of Africa,’’ pp. 14, 19–23 and 42–43; ‘‘Al-Qaeda inEast Africa and the Horn,’’ pp. 57–58. Abu Hafs died in an airstrike on an al-Qaeda safe house inKabul, Afghanistan, in 2001.
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