Abdi Aynte, a Somali journalist with Al Jazeera English, has published a superb analysis of the growing split in Somalia's al-Shabaab organization. He argues that Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Muktar Robow have effectively broken with the more radical leadership of al-Shabaab, especially Ahmed Abdi Godane. Sheikh Hassan wants desperately to become president of Somalia and is moving to create an alternative to both al-Shabaab and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Abdi Aynte emphasizes that Somali alliances are constantly shifting and the "self-immolation of al-Shabaab is a step closer to ending one of Somalia's most brutal episodes." Click here to read his analysis.
A number of non-Somali analysts in the Washington area have been arguing for the past two years that the United States should engage the likes of Sheikh Hassan and Robow in dialogue with the goal of bringing them into a Somali coalition government. I have argued against this idea for several reasons. The United States has no business engaging committed anti-Western jihadis such as Hassan and Robow even if they disagree with more radical al-Shabaab leaders. Somalis both in and out of the TFG have been in contact with al-Shabaab dissidents, almost certainly including Sheikh Hassan and Robow. That is their business. If the Somalis can work something out on their own, power to them. There is no place, however, for Americans (or other outsiders) in this discussion. They don't understand how the Somali system works and have no business speaking on behalf of Somalis. Nor is there any evidence that Somalis like Sheikh Hassan and Robow will accept anything less than complete control of the Somali government on their terms, which will certainly not be in the U.S. interest.