Al Shabaab after Kismayo

Article Highlights

  • Al Qaeda’s affiliates across Africa have apparently been increasingly seeking to coordinate their efforts. @kat_aei

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  • The fight against al Shabaab is not over in Somalia and now is not the time to declare victory.

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  • Now is the time to ensure that recent achievements against al Qaeda affiliates across Africa last.

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Click to enlarge Kismayo map.

Al Qaeda’s affiliates across Africa – Somalia’s al Shabaab, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – have apparently been increasingly seeking to coordinate their efforts. The United States would face an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist network that stretches across Africa if those efforts succeed. Al Shabaab has suffered major setbacks over the past year, including the September 28 loss of a major stronghold in the southern Somali port city of Kismayo, but the group has not been defeated. The fall of Kismayo could herald the collapse of the group’s quasi-state, but it may also serve to strengthen more radical factions within the terrorist group that prefer to focus on regional and global jihad. It will also strain the weak alliance of regional states and local groups, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and their proxies, whose unifying interest has been the fight against al Shabaab and not a long-term vision for Somalia, over which they disagree. The fight against al Shabaab is not over in Somalia and now is not the time to declare victory; instead, now is the time to ensure that recent achievements last.

Al Shabaab’s quasi-state in southern and central Somalia has been progressively reduced over the past thirteen months. Last August, the group suddenly vacated Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, announcing a tactical shift from holding ground to guerilla-type warfare. Ugandan and Burundian peacekeeping troops in Mogadishu, operating under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mandate, secured their newly-gained positions in Mogadishu and continued to push outward against al Shabaab. Kenya, increasingly concerned by al Shabaab’s reach from Somalia south into its own territory, launched Operation Linda Nchi in October 2011. That operation led Ethiopia to deploy forces into the major population centers in central Somalia and along its borders as well. By spring 2012, Kenyan troops were being incorporated into AMISOM, and planning was in place to capture Kismayo.

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About the Author


  • Katherine Zimmerman is a senior analyst and the al Qaeda and Associated Movements Team Lead for the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. Her work has focused on al Qaeda’s affiliates in the Gulf of Aden region and associated movements in western and northern Africa. She specializes in the Yemen-based group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, al Shabaab. Katherine has testified in front of Congress and briefed Members and congressional staff, as well as members of the defense community. She has written analyses of U.S. national security interests related to the threat from the al Qaeda network for the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN Global Public Square, and the Huffington Post, among others. Katherine graduated with distinction from Yale University with a B.A. in Political Science and Modern Middle East Studies.


    Follow Katherine Zimmerman on Twitter.

  • Phone: (202) 828-6023

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