Somalia’s Governance Problem

How Mogadishu’s Stagnation Benefits al-Shabab

A Somali traffic policeman stands guard near the scene of a suicide car bomb explosion outside the traffic police headquarters in Somalia's capital Mogadishu May 9, 2016. Feisal Omar / Reuters

As of late, Somalia’s counterterrorism efforts have enjoyed some notable successes. Security services in Puntland, an autonomous region of northern Somalia, fought off a large seaborne assault from al Shabab last March, killing 300 militants and capturing 100 fighters in the process. The same month, a U.S. airstrike killed more than 150 newly trained al Shabab combatants. A joint U.S.–Somali raid killed one of the organization’s senior members three days later.

But despite the recent victories against al Shabab, the group’s presence in Somalia has strengthened. Peacekeeping troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) had pushed the group from its major strongholds over the past five years, but their offensive has stalled. AMISOM still occasionally liberates areas from the group’s control, but is sometimes unable to hold onto them. Al Shabab, meanwhile, has managed to kill hundreds of AMISOM troops, and has overrun three of AMISOM’s bases in the last ten months.

The Somali conflict has turned into a stalemate that benefits al Shabab. The country’s government is still too weak, dysfunctional, and corrupt to establish widespread credibility. AMISOM has been generally effective but lacks sufficient troops to exert consistent military pressure against al Shabab, and the Somali National Army (SNA) is unable to pick up the slack. This has allowed al Shabab to survive and continue its terror campaign that costs lives and stymies progress. The Somali government and the international community need to act urgently to ensure the costly, fragile gains of the last five years do not slip away.


Barring strategic changes, AMISOM’S offensive has gone as far as it can. The force consists of about 22,000 troops from five countries, as well as almost 400 police officers. Yet it is trying to subdue a terrorist group that operates throughout a country nearly as large as Texas. Counterinsurgency doctrine suggests that, given Somalia’s approximately 10 million inhabitants, at least 47,000 effective troops are required, meaning AMISOM is facing more than a 50 percent

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