Monday, August 8, 2011
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera English asked me to comment Aug. 6 on al-Shabaab's retreat from Mogadishu.
I responded that this is the first time since al-Shabaab took control of most of Mogadishu that it had been completely forced out of the capital.
Al-Shabaab has been losing ground for months to the African Union (AMISOM) force in Mogadishu supplemented by forces from the Somali Transitional Government (TFG). But while al-Shabaab is no longer in the capital, it still controls most of south/central Somalia.
At some point, unless al-Shabaab forces continue to weaken, they will try to return to Mogadishu. This is an opportunity for the TFG but it may not be able to take advantage of the new situation.
The implications of this development are significant for the 100,000 or more Somalis seeking emergency food aid who recently moved into the AMISOM/TFG controlled part of Mogadishu from areas controlled by al-Shabaab. Until several days ago, there was fighting in part of Mogadishu, making it difficult for international relief agencies and Somali non-governmental organizations to feed these internally displaced persons.
With the departure of al-Shabaab, it should be much easier to care for the needs of these Somalis. On the other hand, the removal of al-Shabaab from Mogadishu will not make it any easier to provide food to famine victims in those areas of south and central Somalia still controlled by al-Shabaab. This is where the need is greatest and al-Shabaab continues to impose severe restrictions on the ability of international organizations to operate in territory it controls.
It remains to be seen if this major setback will cause long-term damage for al-Shabaab. There have been fissures among the organization’s leaders for a long time. Al-Shabaab’s mishandling of the drought and famine has exacerbated those divisions. The withdrawal from the capital of Somalia is another blow that may result in even more serious fracturing of the leadership.