Friday, 10 July 2015

Somalia – A Past Failed Jihadist War, Its Reincarnation, Counter-Terrorism and Fiat Democracy; and, Why al-Shabaab Still Remains Undefeatable

The experiences in Somalia serve as an excellent case in point that limited (albeit sometimes inadequate) commitment to war inexplicably escalates violence thereby increasing the cost of war in tandem. The increasing cost of war in turn exerts greater strain on the limited economic resources of a nation thus consequently eroding the popular support for such a war besides crippling the political capital of the ruling regime. Democracies are especially vulnerable to small asymmetric wars as the high expectation of a quick and sure victory over a weak enemy is contradicted in actual reality by economic expediency and inelastic ethical tolerance for the prolongation of an escalating conflict (that continuously inflicts disproportionate casualties) hence draining popular support for the war and consequently compelling the government to withdraw prematurely from the conflict. In other words, small asymmetric wars are lost by Democracies at Home and not in the Battlefield. In Kenya, the war against al-Shabaab has proved the inherent difficulty in achieving maintainable domestic consensus for a protracted intertwined counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign in a foreign nation (Somalia).
Peacekeeping attempts in Somalia have repeatedly failed due to a combination of factors, chief among them being; manpower shortagesunsatisfactory arms control measures (which have been unable to stem al-Shabaab's arm imports), inadequate commitment to stabilize combat zones, absence of widespread support from the Somali population, and, policy failures which have allowed the Sunni jihadists to prolong and escalate their insurgent campaign.
The bitterest lesson learnt from the present multinational counter-insurgency campaign against al-Shabaab in Somalia is that an internally fragile organization can conduct a disorganized terror campaign that significantly raises the cost of war as the insurgent organization transforms into a potent adversary - thus the absolute necessity of preventing the escalation of the war during its nascent phases (if possible).
An Earlier Failed Jihadist Campaign
During the late 19th Century, the Great Powers of Europe annexed and partitioned the lands inhabited by the Somalis into protectorates with Italian Somaliland separating the British protectorates of Jubbaland and Somaliland. In 1899, Muhamed Abdullah Hassan (alias Sayyid) waged a jihadist war against the British rulers - who were non-Muslims - with the resolve of regaining autonomy and control of all the Somali protectorates. Sayyid was a dervish and his jihadist fighters considered themselves dervishes (unlike the present al-Shabaab which is monolithically Salafist-takfiri in ideological orientation). 
An estimated 10, 000 dervish insurgents faced off against a combined force of 2,500 British soldiers (during the start of the insurgency) who controlled all the lucrative ports of Somaliland, and also imposed heavy taxes and punitive levies on the local population. Nonetheless, despite their numerical inferiority, the British were able to dominate the two-decade long war through a combination of superior battlefield tactics, advanced military technologies and the external restriction imposed on the movement of the dervishes across the region (which was actually imposed by back-up operations and occasional patrols conducted by the Italian and Ethiopian troops within their respective protectorates). Nevertheless, the strategies and tactics adopted and used by the insurgents ensured the survival of their insurgency till their armies were completely destroyed in 1920.

The Flag of the Self-declared Republic of Somaliland.
Having learnt from its past; Modern Somaliland is presently the most stable region of Somalia, and since the collapse of the Central Somali Government (based in Mogadishu) in 1991, the region has gained considerable political autonomy with a comparatively stable government and a relatively prospering economy. Despite a series of electoral crises stalemating its infant constitutional democracy, and its occasional border disputes and strained relationships with the adjacent regions of Puntland and Federally-administered Somalia; Somaliland still has the best human rights record in Somalia and has also set-up several functional democratic institutions and the government still provides various essential basic services including administration and infrastructure - even though its autonomy has never gained international recognition.
However, other non-Somaliland Somalis consider the self-declared State as a treacherous entity created by one, Mohamed Egaal, and that its creation has led to the immense suffering of Somalis in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.  
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Mohamed Egaal was a Somaliland ethno-nationalist who served as the President of Somalia when Somalia signed the renunciation of NFD (Northern Frontier District of Kenya) with Kenyatta’s regime thereby ending state support for the Shifta insurgency in Kenya. Egaal was disinterested in the Greater Somalia aspirations, and he serves as an excellent example of a clannish leader who sacrificed nationalistic goals for narrow clan-based aspirations. The creation of Somaliland led to the marginalization of NEP (North Eastern province, a partial segment of the former NFD) by the successive Somali and Kenyan governments.
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Southern Somalia
Southern Somalia currently epitomizes every aspect of a failed state with a hopelessly unstable government unable to manage incessant civil disturbances and transnational terrorist activities. Repeated violence in the region has drawn in several peacekeeping missions including the UN and AU to suppress the unrest, with foreign mediators - from the Arab League, USA, EU, and from several NGOs - invited to intervene in the conflict to no decisive avail. 
At the core of the conflicts is a complex set of ethnic rivalries, class dynamics, clan politics, pervasive Islamism and political enmities stemming from disparate resource possession among the competing diverse socio-political groups.

Rampant Insecurity has led to civilians taking up arms for self-defense.
For a decade (1995-2005), Somalia experienced the devolution of the civil war from inter-clan conflicts to intra-clan conflicts with increasing localization of (albeit shorter but still lethal) armed conflicts. The author hypothesizes that this state of affairs was caused by the consolidation of influence and loyalties by influential and wealthy clan personalities within their clans, as opposed to powerful clans endeavoring to consolidate their dominance over other clans.
Emergence of Violent Jihadists
Violent Jihadist elements.
From 2006 to 2009, the then internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG), alongside her AMISOM and Ethiopian allies, found themselves embroiled in an intense and remarkably violent armed conflict with militant jihadists – initially fighting as a confederacy of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) prior to its dissolution, and the emergence of the intractable and exceedingly lethal Salafist-takfiri militant organization, Al-Shabaab, under the leadership of Ahmed Abdi Godane. In 2009, the Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia thus creating a strategic security vacuum which was promptly exploited by Al-Shabaab as it began to systematically rout TFG and AMISOM troops from swathes of Somali territories.
Al-Shabaab consolidated its finances - sourced mainly from taxations and voluntary donations - prior to incorporating military advisers (both foreign and local) within its ranks; and training for both conventional and asymmetrical warfare as its logistics department secured large consignments of weapons from al-Qaeda and foreign state supporters such as Eritrea. 
From its cradle in Southern Somalia, al-Shabaab has been able to rapidly expand the scope and scale of its terror activities across the region through the creation of affiliates (such as Al-Hijra in Kenya and al-Muhajiroun [for the entire East African region]), and dedicated specialized units for external operations (such as Amniyaat [its intelligence arm] and Al-Quds [tasked with targeting Western interests in East Africa, and Kenya in particular]) while independently building alliances with regional jihadist organizations so as to extend and expand its international terrorist networks to Central Africa, Nigeria, Europe, Americas and Oceania (in particular, Australia).
War Flag of Al-Shabaab
Starting from 2009, Al-Shabaab initiated a vigorous recruitment campaign using both traditional and modern means (including the internet and social media) to rally clan militiamen and foreign jihadists under their banner; as they adopted modern asymmetric battlefield tactics in order to sustain their insurgency (especially after they suffered a continuous string of setbacks in 2011 till 2014).
Presently, the intertwinement of the interests and activities of the Somali warlords, domestic insurgents, obstructive external meddlers and transnational terrorists have greatly hampered the planning and execution of effective counter-insurgency campaigns besides obstructing conclusive resolution of the Somali conflict.
Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency – Learning from the Past
Somalia has been in a protracted state of conflict for over two decades and this fact exponentially obstructs foreign governments and compassionate external actors from stabilizing the nation besides eliminating international terrorism from the region. Regrettably, the insurgents have currently amalgamated their assets as well as gained considerable national political clout.
The general terrain of Somalia favours guerrilla warfare - a physical element that has enabled al-Shabaab to survive obliteration during its weakest moments. Through use of a combination of hit-and-run tactics alongside provision of false intelligence to the counter-terrorism forces, al-Shabaab has been able to draw counter-insurgents into ideal terrains for ambushes - where they have been able to inflict massive casualties on both the multinational and SNA (Somali National Army) forces. These guerilla tactics closely echo the hit-and-run operations and the surprise lightning raids that were often employed by the Somaliland dervishes to drain the British military of its resources besides circumventing open terrain combat.
The Terrain of Somalia favours Guerilla Warfare
Furthermore, during the campaign against the Somaliland dervishes, the Somalis within the British units were undependable, easily intimidated (by the dervishes); and worst, a significant number of them were double agents who fed the dervishes with intelligence about impeding operations. This fact significantly eroded the combat effectiveness of the British operations.  The aforementioned facts closely mirror the modern SNA which is predominantly made up of undependable, easily intimidated (by al-Shabaab) troops; and worst, its embedded with a significant population of double agents who feed al-Shabaab with intelligence concerning impeding counter-terrorism operations, hence significantly eroding the combat effectiveness of counter-insurgency operations. Worse still, some SNA soldiers often pledge loyalties to their respective clans more than to the nation thus diminishing unit cohesion as well as compromising combat effectiveness. Compared to AMISOM, the SNA is more disorganized with its operations suffering glaring dis-coordination while its disordered combat units engage in corruption and venalities.
Likewise, the British were unable to enforce arm embargoes thereby failing to stem the flow of weapons to the dervishes; while presently, AMISOM, SNG (Somali National Government) and Allied Forces have been unable to enforce arm embargoes thereby failing to stem the flow of weapons to al-Shabaab. This failure to clip the supply lines and communications networks of al-Shabaab has helped the jihadists to preserve their forces as well as endure a decade-long guerrilla war phase.
AMISOM Setbacks
AMISOM itself also suffers several setbacks including inadequate weaponry, manpower shortages, political instability in troop-contributing nations, and, ineffective military tactics unsuitable for combating insurgents versed in the art of guerilla warfare. Its combat ineffectiveness can also be attributed to resource limitations, poor organisation, and inadequate coordination during kinetic operations.
Self-inflicted Harms
Lack of effective enforcement of arms sanctions have ensured that the terrorists will never be disarmed in the near future; and the fact that the international community has intentionally created legal loopholes (by allowing East African nations to directly import weapons into Somalia) which allows the jihadist insurgents to import munitions from foreign sympathizers, has guaranteed that its arms embargo will always be infringed. The main foreign suppliers of weapons to al-Shabaab still remain Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Yemen, Eritrea and Egypt. 
Likewise, al-Shabaab is still using weaponries abandoned by Ethiopian forces during their 2009 withdrawal - including Soviet tanks, Russian-made APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers) and an assortment of aviation resources (including helicopters). Recently, al-Shabaab has been able to acquire anti-material munitions alongside infrared-guided anti-tank missiles and shoulder-fired SA-6 and SA-7As (medium altitude) surface-to-air missiles thereby enabling their mechanized combat units to deter and counter armoured ground and aerial offensives.
Internal Strife
The dervishes were drawn from disparate clans, and internal divisions soon manifested itself, thus prompting Sayyid to forcibly infuse discipline and organisation besides forming a centralized military system accountable to a hierarchical leadership. This enabled Sayyid to rebuild internal cohesion as well as boost the morale of his fighters, and thus prolong and escalate the conflict.
Recently, al-Shabaab executed an internal purge aimed at stifling dissent, infusing discipline; and, reordering and re-organizing the terror organization into a cohesive centralized military unit assured of a functional hierarchical (command) structure and leadership, thus consequently enabling the Sunni terrorist organization to restore the morale of its fighters as well as prolong (and also escalate and expand) its terror campaign in the region.
Ghosts from the Past
Sayyid’s attempt to reorder the Somali political order as well as his religious fanaticism, misrule, despotism, bloody carnages against rivals tribes, and, indiscriminate plundering of rival clans helped foment a backlash against him with Sheikh Mahamed Salah (of the Salahiya order) openly challenging him during the  Tree-of-Bad Counsel crisis. This created an internal crisis within the dervishes’ ranks, with fighters loyal to Sayyid defeating the rebellious troops, and the dervishes emerging from the conflict as a unified and fortified organization able to rearm with modern weapons and consequently overwhelm its adversaries and dominating the Somali hinterland.
This echoes the aftermath of al-Shabaab’s internal purge when the Salafist-Takfiri organization emerged from the crisis as a unified and fortified organization able to re-arm with advanced weaponry, and adopt new combat tactics and strategies, which would later on enable it to launch a series of offensives in mid-2015 that allowed it to overwhelm segments of both AMISOM and SNA, and thereby dominate the Somali hinterland – from where they have been able to expand the scope and depth of their terrorist campaigns in both Kenya and Somalia.
Lessons for Democracies – Cost of War Directly Tied to Popular Support
The experiences in Somalia serve as an excellent case in point that limited (albeit sometimes inadequate) commitment to war inexplicably escalates violence thus increasing the cost of war in tandem. The increasing cost of war in turn exerts greater strain on the limited economic resources of the nation thus consequently eroding the popular support for such a war besides crippling the political capital of the ruling regime.
Democracies are especially vulnerable to small asymmetric wars as the high (and popular) expectation of a quick victory over a weak enemy is contradicted by the actual reality where economic expediency and ethical tolerance for the prolongation of an escalating conflict (that continuously inflicts disproportionate casualties) drains popular support for the war thus compelling the government to withdraw prematurely from the conflict. In other words, small asymmetric wars are lost at Home and not in the battlefield.
In Kenya, the war against al-Shabaab has proved the inherent difficulty of achieving maintainable domestic consensus for a protracted intertwined counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaigns in a foreign nation (Somalia).

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