Shabaab withdraws forces from Mogadishu

The New York Times reports on Shabaab’s withdrawal from the Somali capital of Mogadishu:

The Shabaab Islamist rebels abruptly pulled out of the bullet-ridden capital of Somalia on Saturday, leaving the entire city in the hands of the government for the first time in years and raising hopes that aid groups could now deliver aid to more famine victims unfettered.

Witnesses described truckloads of heavily armed Shabaab fighters driving away under the cover of darkness and the beleaguered residents of the capital, Mogadishu, pouring into the streets to cheer and jeer their departure.

Shabaab’s spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, announced the withdrawal on the Shabaab-run Andalus radio station. Portions of his interview have been published in various media outlets. Below is a more extensive quote sent to The Long War Journal by a Somali official:

“We have withdrawn Mogadishu but we remain in other towns. We aren’t leaving you, we will never abandon you but we have only changed our tactics in Mogadishu. Everyone of you will feel the change in the coming hours in every corner and every street in Mogadishu. We will defend you and continue the fighting.”

The NYT article postulates that the withdrawal from Mogadishu is due to a reported disagreement within Shabaab’s leadership hierarchy. But the Somali official told The Long War Journal that Shabaab could not have pulled off a successful retreat if its leadership was split. Keep in mind that Somali and African Union forces were caught off guard and were completely unaware of Shabaab’s planned pullout. The Somali official said:

I think al-Shabaab’s new move does not constitute their defeat nor a victory by the Somali government and the AMISOM forces but it represents a tactical shift made by al-Shabaab in tandem with the AMISOM’s very recent tactical shift, whose mandate has changed from peace-keeping to a peace-enforcing mission.

It is a human nature that people differ about their proposed approaches but as far as I am informed there is no any split within al-Shabaab’s leadership. Even with the slightest split I believe they would not have been able to complete such a major pullout from a whole town (90% of Mogadishu) undetected.

Despite the withdrawal from Mogadishu, Shabaab still remains in control of much of southern Somalia, including the southern port city of Kismayo and the southwestern city of Baidoa, which was once the seat of power of the Transitional Federal Government. Outside of Mogadishu, the Somali government maintains little control, save in some areas where the pro-government Sufi Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a movement holds Shabaab at bay. The African Union does not have the resources or the mandate to move against Shabaab in the outlying areas.

Keep in mind that Shabaab’s predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, pulled out of Mogadishu in late 2006 after the Ethiopian invasion. Shabaab then launched an offensive in the provinces, taking over most of southern Somalia. Its forces then re-infiltrated the capital and retook control. It remains to be seen if Rage’s statement is empty words, or a harbinger of more deadly fighting in the capital and beyond.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • CC says:

    Another missed opportunity… I know we can’t have drones everywhere but this would have been a perfect opportunity to chop off one of Shabaab’s limbs.

  • Neo says:

    It will be interesting where this leads. At one time Shabab could claim tribal and nationalistic interests against Ethiopian occupiers. Shabab made no contribution to the lives of people around them. The population has had its support answered by years of brutality, misery, and neglect. You can only maintain support through coercion for so long. This isn

  • mick says:

    do you think Al Shabaab might be replicating what happened in 2006? Maybe pullout of Mogodishu assuming that there won’t be a troop increase, and use it as a tactic to spread the TFG troops thin in Mogodishu as they try to consolidate Mogodishu with the little man-power, organization and stability they have, then launch a counter offensive which would essentially kill many of them, leave them isolated and damage their morale? We have to remember that in 2006, al-Shabaab was able to take Mogodishu not solely because they were powerful, but just as equally because of the inadequate organization, morale and lack of resilience of the troops. So again, maybe they know that the troops are incapable of truly consolidating Mogodishu, and they are going to let the troops do themselves in, whether it be from opening them up to exploitation, or letting them suffer the inevitable results of in-fighting, corruption and warlords who begin to fill the gaps. It could be a risky, but very sophisticated move by al-Shabaab

  • Somali Man says:

    the Defeat of alshabaab is a good news for every one, it creates an opportunity for the drought affected somali people since they will have access for humaniterian aid.
    it will also open an the window of opportunity to the TFG forces and its allied groups of AMISOM forces.

  • german observer says:

    They change their tactics… what may be that new tactic?
    A complete regression to guerilla warfare seems pretty illogical, as southern somalia is pretty flat, no good terrain for guerilla. And beside these tactics, Shabaab lacks in advantages.
    The Unionist have (as far as i remember) ~25000 troops, which now have to “clean” the conquered territories in Mogadishu (half of the city, so maybe one milion people to frisk), hold the line against attacking Shabaab and keep an eye on the starving population and the international aid. Thats in my opinion too much for the “small” force.
    I think Al Shabaab left some fighters and suicide-commandos in Mogadishu, preparing to strike the overstreched Unionist from the inside to prepare a breach for the outside forces.
    I would like to know more about the front in central Somalia (Ximan iyo Xeeb etc.). Would it be easy for Shabaab to overrun those small states with their troops from Mogadishu?

  • Neo says:

    I would be very curious what led to the pullout decision and any information on what really transpired. In the weeks leading up to the decision the famine had been putting a lot of pressure on general population. It is difficult to tell how much pressure the famine put on Shabaab. There seems to be some disagreement in the days leading up to this among Shabaab leaders as to what to do about letting aid through. It seems the locals were more inclined to let food assistance in than the outsiders.
    Without further information we can only guess. This would be a total guess, but it is plausible that Shabaab

  • Neonmeat says:

    It seems to me they have pulled out to allow the aid to flow to the people.
    They can then claim that is was they who ‘allowed’ the aid to come through to the starving populus.
    Then as other commentators have said they will just reinfiltrate at a later date.
    However if this is true:
    ‘the beleaguered residents of the capital, Mogadishu, pouring into the streets to cheer and jeer their departure.’
    Then perhaps we can hope for a more permanent exodus from Mogadishu.

  • Soccer says:

    The African Union do not have 25000 soldiers in Mogadishu. At most they have maybe 9,000. They will need at least 20,000 soldiers, at the LEAST, to secure Mogadishu and unite the population there. They also need to receive the attack helicopters the U.S. army promised them, they need to receive those shoulder-launched drones they were promised, and they need to have their mandate changed from one of peace to one of counter-terrorism and attacking a hostile criminal group.
    Do all of this and Mogadishu, much of Southern Somalia and the region will be much more secure.

  • blert says:

    neonmeat — you’ve nailed it.
    If we permit aid to flow it will be a cardinal mistake. Our food stuffs are sure to flow to the islamist army, instead.
    The brutal fact is that Somalia is Malthus proved right: absolutely no birth control and staggering TFR.
    The more food we send — the worse the suffering. One simply doubles the number of starving babies.
    If we permit the population to collapse — down to a level that can support itself — then the entire food-thief racket would collapse — and a normal ( by their standards ) society could stabilize.
    As it stands, the NGOs are co-dependents enabling mass suffering because they think that they can over rule the laws of nature.
    Jane Goodall once presented a full ‘hand’ of bananas to her troupe. The free food triggered an instant riot. The chimps — previously peaceful — went commando on each other to get the bananas. She correctly concluded that free resources trigger violence.
    And, of course, free food entirely destroys the local farming economy.

  • Ahmed ali says:

    somalia is challange to the world to tackle a failed. and the worlds is losing its effort to restore the country by creating political suecide that creates famine and population support to the rebels. the tactics of the rebels have worked so well for them and their pulled ouf of muqdisho will prove their point that since the capital is free and famine stricken regions are flowing in muqdisho can the international communities restore the state by stabilizing muqdisho. certaintly not judging from the way things are going as the rebel buys more time to regroup and healed from old wounds, they can then strike back anytime they want and capture the lands they retreat in a day or two. what the world needs to do is work on fixing the old problem that pave the way for the rebels and made them victorius over there arch enemy. At the end of the day the people of somalia will appeal to those who they think is in the best of their interest.


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