A new crisis in the Somali government erupted around the issue of presidential elections. As the parliament decided to extend its own term with three years, the government and presidential office followed suit by extending their own term with one year. The Transitional Federal Government originally only received a mandate from the United Nations until August 2011. By that time they were supposed to be able to organize some sort of election. The recent military gains, however, strengthened the governments belief that they should remain in control for another year to continue their work. This decision caused the simmering dispute between the Speaker of Parliament and the President to escalate once again. Both sides have been arguing heavily over several issues such as attendance of certain United Nations conferences that even lead to attempts to place the Speaker of Parliament under arrest.
The United Nations themselves at first condemned the actions of the government in extending their own term, but after Uganda put its foot on the ground and threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers currently deployed to AMISOM in Somalia, the United Nations changed their stance and came to support the extension of the governments term under certain conditions.
These conditions appeared during meetings organized by the Ugandan President Museveni. Museveni gathered the Speaker of Parliament, President Sharif of Somalia and the United Nations Special Representative in his presidential palace in Kampala in order to reach an agreement. The agreement that was eventually reached between the Speaker of Parliament and the president came at the expense of the current Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’. The agreement calls for the Prime Minister to resign within 30 days so that a new prime minister and cabinet could be formed and approved by parliament. The new cabinet will have to be built on the ‘4.5 formula’ which corresponds to equal shares of representation of the four major Somali clans and a half share of representation to the group of minor clans.
In order to maintain cooperation between the Speaker of Parliament and the President, the new government will also be required to have allies of the Speaker of Parliament in key positions. The portfolios of minister of defence and minister of internal affairs have already been mentioned as such key positions. While the agreement calls for ministers in the new government to ‘possess the education, experience and integrity to discharge their ministerial duties’ the reality is that the current cabinet is perhaps the most professional cabinet the TFG has already seen so far. While it is built mainly of career politicians there is a chance that a new cabinet could once again see militia leaders in key positions.
While this could still allow the TFG to function properly, it could once again create problems between different parts of the TFG military as these militia leaders in the government could once again refuse to support each other on the ground. While the agreement was welcomed by the Speaker of Parliament and the President, the people of Mogadishu have responded to it by rioting and protesting. Protests eventually calmed down at the request of the Prime Minister who declared that he will only resign if the parliament ratifies the agreement. If the Parliament does not vote in favor of the agreement, or if the Prime Minister refuses to resign after the Parliament does approve it, the TFG could end up in a constitutional crisis that could be impossible to solve from within.
While the government is going through this new crisis, the situation on the ground in the capital Mogadishu has continued to move in the same direction. TFG forces and AMISOM peacekeepers have been able to continue pushing Al Shabaab forces back. Several new bases have been conquered and AMISOM forces have even begun to evacuate bases in the southern parts of the city to move towards the new frontline. TFG forces have also reached the outskirts of Bakara market and made modest attempts to enter the market. The safety of merchants and their stores has, however, caused TFG troops to act with caution and ruled out large movements that would spark heavy fighting in this crowded area of the city.
The loss of terrain in Mogadishu has caused the Shabaab to abandon their frontline and bases. Several senior leaders and foreign fighters, such as the wanted terrorist Fazul Abdullah, have been killed in the fighting. Reports have also mentioned that Al Shabaab moved many foreign fighters out of the city towards the direction of Afgoye where Al Shabaab is known to have training camps and prepares its bomb attacks. While the fighting in Mogadishu has brought more territory under the control of the government, Al Shabaab has been able to mount several terrorist attacks within this territory. The most obvious example was the suicide bomb attack that killed the minister of interior affairs within his own home but attacks have also targeted AMISOM and Ahla Suna bases and the seaport of Mogadishu.
The offensive in the Gedo region on the other hand has grinded to a halt. At several times pro government forces have abandoned their positions due to disputes about pay, only to have Al Shabaab forces move back into the regions that were only recently liberated by the government forces. Al Shabaab forces have also started putting up fierce resistance in Garbaharey and Luuq districts, Shabaab forces are currently even launching determined assaults on Garbaharey and it is not entirely clear whether TFG forces will be able to hold on to the city. One of the main reasons that brought the Gedo offensive to a halt was the arrest of several officers of the TFG troops by Ethiopia.
The reason for these arrests, which also included Member of Parliament and militia commander Barre Hiiraale, was that certain commanders were disobeying orders and refused to follow the objectives of the offensive. The split between Somali commanders and the Ethiopian forces was likely caused due to disagreement over the direction the offensive should take. Barre Hiiraale’s history indicates that he would wish to push south towards Baardheere and Kismayo, while other commanders and probably Ethiopian troops would prefer to liberate the Bay and Bakool regions that are closer to the Ethiopian border. These commanders have now been released and a thousand newly trained troops are expected to join the Gedo offensive. Even if these measures are able to hold Al Shabaab troops back from retaking Gedo, it is unlikely that these extra troops will carry the offensive much further.
The TFG has also launched an offensive in the Juba region south of Gedo. The TFG forces backed by the Ras Kambooni Brigade and Ahla Suna militia entered the region from two separate positions along the Kenyan border with the intent of capturing the coastal town of Kismayo. The offensive took place through Dhobley and Kulbiyow which are each located on a separate route that leads to Kismayo. The most southern of these assaults, in Kulbiyow, was particularly short-lived. After being able to assault terrorist training camps in Isole Giuba, Al Shabaab forces took back Kulbiyow and pushed the TFG forces back into Kenya. Along the northern approach TFG forces have been able to establish control of a few more smaller villages, but this part of the offensive is now also coming under threat of an Al Shabaab counter attack. Reports have shown that Shabaab forces are gathering and preparing for an assault on Dhobley which could potentially put a full stop to the TFG’s venture into the Juba region.
Further away in the Hiiraan region Al Shabaab forces have also encountered more resistance from Ahla Suna fighters as well as from the Shabelle Valley militia. Al Shabaab has reportedly been forced to give up control of several villages in the region and the Shabelle Valley militia is said to be marching north towards the regional capital of Belet Weyne which is currently held by the Al Shabaab.
As mentioned previously, Fazul Abdullah Mohamed was recently killed at a checkpoint in Mogadishu. The Al Qaeda member that was wanted by the United States for his involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings was known to be a part of Al Shabaab. Within Al Shabaab he has been responsible for intelligence as well as training of recruits and planning operations. Fazul was killed when his vehicle suddenly turned up at a government checkpoint in Mogadishu, rumors are now arising that Abu Zubeyr, a senior Al Shabaab leader, organized for Fazul to arrive at the checkpoint so that he would be killed. Apparently Fazul had come back to Somalia with a mission to replace the Somali Al Shabaab commanders with foreign commanders since they believed the Somali leaders to be responsible for the recent losses. While some observers quote the death of Fazul Abdullah Mohamed as an opportunity in the fight against Al Shabaab, his death is unlikely to have an influence on anything but morale on both sides. The actual capacity of Al Shabaab to organize and mount attacks has not been threatened.
The recent territorial losses of the Al Shabaab have caused a return to different tactics. Since the TFG strategy is based on gaining terrain, while pushing the Al Shabaab back without destroying its capabilities, the Shabaab forces have returned to tactics of ambushes and suicide attacks. This type of violence is much more difficult to control for the TFG than the conventional type of warfare that it had been engaged in for the last year. While the TFG continues to make territorial gains, it may in fact have guaranteed its own inability to create a secure environment in Somalia since defeating Al Shabaab in a conventional war would have been the most efficient solution for the government. The procedure of attacking towns and allowing Al Shabaab forces to withdraw only causes a situation in which the Islamist fighters without territory are pushed into an insurgency role that translates to terrorist tactics the TFG can’t control.
Written by Sim Tack
Source: The geopolitical and conflict reports