Somalia remains ‘a terrorist safe haven,’ State notes

Somalia remains “a terrorist safe haven” and Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, continues to control large areas of the country despite increased military, the US State Department concluded in its newly released Country Reports on Terrorism 2017.

“Through the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Somali National Army (SNA), and U.S. and partner military actions, al-Shabaab experienced significant military pressure during 2017, but the group still maintained control over large portions of the country,” according to State’s report. “Al-Shabaab retained the ability to carry out high-profile attacks using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), suicide bombings, mortars, and small arms.”

“Somalia remained a terrorist safe haven,” State notes. “Terrorists used their relative freedom of movement to obtain resources, recruit fighters, and plan and mount operations within Somalia and in neighboring countries, mainly in Kenya.”

State’s latest assessment of Somali follows an equally bleak report from 2016, which noted that “terrorists used under-governed areas in northern, central, and southern Somalia as safe havens from where they conducted, planned, and facilitated operations with little resistance,” and Somali security forces “remained incapable of securing and retaking towns from al-Shabaab independently.”

State blamed the failures in Somalia in 2016 “due largely to lapses in offensive counterterrorism operations.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal Shabaab gains in Somalia due to ‘lapses in offensive counterterrorism operations’]

As a response, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) increased its targeting of both Shabaab and the the Islamic State, which maintains a foothold in the country. In 2017, AFRICOM launched 31 counterterrorism strikes against Shabaab and an additional three strikes against the Islamic State, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. The 34 strikes in 2017 was greater than the combined total of 30 strikes that were recorded during the nine year span between 2007 and 2016.

However, the increased targeting of terrorist groups, combined with other measures such as improving governance, law enforcement and border security, as well as combatting terrorism financing and promoting the “Countering Violent Extremism” program, has failed to dislodge Shabaab, the primary actor in Somalia, from its safe havens.

The US military and CIA have been targeting Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, for more than a decade. While several senior al Qaeda, Shabaab, and Islamic Courts leaders and operatives have been killed in the campaign, it has not slowed Shabaab’s insurgency. Shabaab continues to control rural areas and small towns in southern and central Somalia despite military operations by the African Union and the Somali government.

Shabaab formally joined al Qaeda in Feb. 2012, when its emir, Mukhtar Abu al Zubayr, openly swore allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri. However, Zubayr sought to formalize the relationship two years earlier, but was told by Osama bin Laden to keep the oath of allegiance secret in order to minimize international pressure on Shabaab and keep humanitarian aid flowing into areas under Shabaab’s control. [See LWJ reports, Bin Laden told Shabaab to hide al Qaeda ties and Shabaab formally joins al Qaeda.]

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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  • Mark Matis says:

    So of course we have to welcome THOUSANDS of Somalis with open arms.

    And open wallets.

  • Paddy Singh says:

    Does the US really think that by targeting a few leaders of the Al Shabab in Somalia, they are going to decimate the terrorist organisation? They are like Alice in Wonderland, or maybe that is being too polite. No one has won a war without boots on the ground and even here American boots are still to be trusted – especially after Iraq and Afghanistan where they still have to show shades of victory.The African Union troops and those pf the Somalis are not up to the job. With the passing of time that is mostly characterised by sheer impotence and ineptitude on the part of the Yanks and their local allies, the terrorists will only go from strength to strength as they have been doing all over Africa.

  • Ken says:

    About the only thing that can be said about the terrorists is that they can terrorize but if they were to take over the country completely without resistance they would have probably little chance of running an economy or cooperating with any anyone other than terrorist states which would leave the people in desperate situations

  • Correction says:

    Actually the US and the UK won the war in Iraq. The US and the UK accomplished their 3 objectives in Iraq of taking out Saddam Hussein, wiping out ISIS in Iraq, and setting up NATO bases in Iraq.

  • Venessa bling says:

    the drone strikes will never stop al qaeda and its branches from their goals, the group have been under US air strikes since 2002 and no notable victory was achieved against them.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram