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Countering Terrorism in Somalia: President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's new approach focused on achieving peace.

By: Sadik Warfa
Wednesday September 20, 2023

In the inspiring words of Abraham Lincoln, "Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then you shall find the way." President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has made the bold decision to lead the people of Somalia in reclaiming our beloved country from the grip of Al-Shabaab. Under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's leadership, we are filled with hope and confidence that victory is within our reach. The government has shifted its strategic objectives and is now focused not only on eliminating Al-Shabaab but also on implementing substantial measures to combat terrorism and bring stability to our nation. This is a challenging endeavour, but history has shown that success is possible, with one notable example being Sri Lanka, which managed to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after 25 years of conflict.

To win a war, a leader needs a grand strategy, and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud seems to have adopted one. A closer examination of his actions reveals a multifaceted approach, combining military action with diplomacy, economic initiatives, and information operations. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on September 22, 2022, he expressed confidence, stating, "We are now confident that with enhanced public support, our government will eliminate terrorism from Somalia."

In the realm of intelligence, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's government has implemented a two-phased counter-insurgency operation in collaboration with international partners to combat and suppress the activities of insurgent groups, primarily Al-Shabaab.

The first and ongoing offensive, which began in August 2022, marks a significant turning point. It was launched with the understanding that previous approaches to countering al-Shabaab had fallen short in significantly diminishing the group's influence. Unlike past efforts that relied on foreign forces, there has been a notable shift in strategy. A fresh offensive, now led by Somali forces, demonstrates a stronger sense of local ownership. This remarkable task is further strengthened by extensive military training generously provided by Eritrea, invaluable Turkish drone support, and vital assistance from the United States. Together, these elements are paving the way for a more hopeful and effective approach to securing a safer future for Somalia.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has also improved command and control structures, enhanced coordination between different units of the army, and reduced corruption within the military ranks. Most importantly, government forces have aligned themselves with local clan militias known as the "Ma'awisley." These Clan Militias are cost-effective and enjoy local support from clan members angered by Al-Shabaab's extensive taxation and extortion. They also possess intimate knowledge of the terrains used by Al-Shabaab.

The results of these efforts are already evident in recent attacks and takeovers by the Somali National Army and the Somali Police Force on Al-Shabaab camps in several parts of Hirshabelle and Galmudug states. These successful attacks were executed simultaneously to overwhelm, confuse, and disperse the defenders, all while taking great care not to endanger civilians in the vicinity.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has been actively involved on the ground, exemplified by the attack in Hirshabelle that followed his visit to Jowhar, the administrative capital of Hirshabelle.

Economically, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's strategy of liberating the port town of Harardhere and the nearby town of Galcad is a significant move aimed at diminishing Al-Shabaab's influence in Somalia and cutting off one of the militia's major sources of funding. These towns were notorious as a key base for pirates involved in hijacking merchant ships, making them a crucial financial hub for the militia. By taking control of these areas, the government aims to disrupt the flow of illicit funds to Al-Shabaab, thereby weakening its capacity to carry out acts of terrorism and insurgency. This not only reduces the group's financial resources but also helps enhance maritime security and international trade in the region, contributing to the economic stability of Somalia.

Furthermore, it's worth noting that both houses of the federal Parliament have recently passed the new anti-terrorism law. This legislation has been carefully crafted to furnish the government's security agencies with a robust legal framework, which will play a pivotal role in strengthening our efforts to combat terrorism. Its provisions are set to empower our military and government forces in their mission to protect civilians from potential future attacks by militias and to prevent these militias from regaining a foothold in the areas that have been liberated.

This law, along with other crucial bills like the Somali National Identification Bill, must be diligently put into action to grant the government a deeper insight into its citizens' identities and movements. It serves as a valuable tool for enhancing border security and thwarting the infiltration of foreign militants into our nation. By rigorously verifying the identities of individuals crossing our borders, we make it significantly more difficult for Al-Shabaab members or sympathizers to enter or exit Somalia unnoticed. What remains now is for our leaders not only to lead the charge in implementing these measures swiftly but also to encourage our citizens to actively participate by registering for their identification cards. Together, we strengthen our nation's security and build a brighter future for Somalia.

Additionally, in light of the awareness that Al-Shabaab has wielded influence over local Somalis through coercive tactics, such as compelling residents to adhere to their directives via their illegitimate "police force" known as the Hisbah, carrying out kidnappings, and assisting in the creation and placement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the government has issued a strong warning to the networks of international and regional entities that provide financial support, contribute to corruption and pay taxes or protection money that enable and support the group's detrimental activities. Authorities have also taken action by closing down hundreds of banks and mobile money accounts that are suspected to be linked to the group.

Internally, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has placed a strong emphasis on cultivating the support of local communities in the battle against terrorism. His approach involves engaging Imams and Sheikhs to combat extremist ideologies at the grassroots level, with the aim of nurturing a more resilient and harmonious society. This comprehensive strategy encompasses constructive dialogues and initiatives, equipping Imams and Sheikhs with the tools and knowledge needed for counterterrorism and deradicalization and leveraging their guidance, counselling, and support to deter radicalization and recruitment by extremist groups. It's important to underscore that these efforts are carried out in full respect of religious freedom and the right of individuals to practice their faith without interference. This approach reflects our commitment to both security and the values that define our society.

The Somali government has also offered amnesty to Al-Shabaab militants. In his speech, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud expressed his belief that Somalia belongs to all its people and pledged to work with defectors to build a better country. His reconciliation efforts may ultimately involve discussions with Al-Shabaab.

Quoting the words of Ulysses S. Grant, a general who led Americans to victory in the Civil War of 1865 and later became the 18th president of the US, "The art of war is simple enough: find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on." President Hassan Sheikh seems to be on a determined path, promising not to stop until Somalia achieves "final victory."

Looking ahead, it is crucial to recognize that in addition to implementing a well-planned and articulated strategy, the President must govern effectively and ensure that Al-Shabaab does not infiltrate his government. He also needs to mobilize clan militias against terrorists without inadvertently reigniting historical clan rivalries, fragmenting society, or further militarizing it—conditions that initially facilitated Al-Shabaab's emergence. Striking this balance is a formidable challenge but indispensable in securing a stable and secure future for Somalia.

In Somalia, there is a wise saying, "Far kaligeed, fool ma dhaqdo!" which, when translated, means 'One finger cannot wash the whole face.' While the President is determined to restore peace and has vowed a "total war" against Al-Shabaab extremists, it is time for neighbouring countries, diaspora Somali communities, and all nations to come forward and support him.

Somalia is indeed facing a critical moment in its history, and the fight against Al-Shabaab is a paramount challenge. As the President emphasized, neutrality is not an option in this battle. The choice before Somalia is clear: to defeat Al-Shabaab and establish a stable and secure state that upholds the rights and privileges enshrined in the United Nations Charter. This entails not only countering terrorism but also building a society that respects human rights, promotes peace, and fosters development. It's a challenging journey but one that is vital for Somalia's future and the well-being of its people.

The global community should further integrate its assistance into the humanitarian-development-peace nexus since not only is Somalia's security transition suffering from outstanding funding needs, but the country also requires financial aid to address other pressing issues such as floods, displacement of its residents, and food insecurity. Collaboration is key, and it is time to work together to build a safe and secure Somalia.

The writer, Sadik Warfa, is a former Minister of Labour of the Federal Republic of Somalia and Represented Mudug Constituency Federal Parliament 2016-2022


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