In October 2017, the Somali Islamist terrorist group Al Shabaab used a truck bomb to kill an estimated 500 people – almost all of them innocent civilians – in the capital city of Mogadishu. It was Al Shabaab’s most murderous act in more than a decade of terrorist attacks against the government of Somalia.
The following month, November 2017, the U.S. Army’s Africa Command announced its most successful air attack on Al Shabaab bases. 100 Islamist fighters were reported killed.
It was one of 35 American air attacks on terrorists in Somalia in 2017; 31 targeting Al Shabaab and four targeting bases of Somalia’s ISIS affiliate. The tempo of drone strikes has increased in 2018.
Whatever these attacks have done, they have not deterred Al Shabaab, which continues to stage suicide bombings in Mogadishu, and hit and run attacks against Somali Army outposts, many of which are also bases for some of the estimated 500 U.S. special forces troops on the ground in Somalia. Two American soldiers have been killed; one this year, one last year.
On September 11 and 21 of this year, Al Shabaab attacked bases in southeastern and central Somalia. On October 16, another American air attack killed a reported 60 militants. On November 9, an Al Shabaab car bomb and guerilla attack on a Mogadishu hotel killed 22 people, most of them ordinary people killed on the street in front of the building. Inside, the terrorists killed the hotel manager, the son of the former owner, who was killed in a similar Al Shabaab attack in 2015.
11 days later on November 20, 2018, another American air attack on another Al Shabaab camp killed 37. As in the earlier American air strikes, Africa Command said there were no civilian casualties.
Despite this deadly give and take, and despite being expelled from most of their formerly dominated territories, Al Shabaab, say most recent reports by intelligence officers, scholars and journalists, is in terms of money and recruits, not just surviving, but growing.
To put that into perspective, one recent and respected estimate by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington guesstimates that Al Shabaab’s current fighting force is between 3,095 to 7,240.
Huh! You might say. That’s nowhere near enough to take over the country, and you’d be right. Unfortunately, it is more than enough to paralyze it and prevent Somalia’s 15 million citizens from enjoying anything resembling peace, prosperity or security.
Dan Joseph is a senior editor for Africa at the Voice of America, where he has worked for 15 years. Dan is the Co-author with VOA Somnalia Buresau Chief Harun Maruf of “Inside Al-Shabaab: the Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally.”