Al-Shabaab still poses big threat to region, say experts

Leaders urged to focus on  denying terrorists chance to recruit.

Sunday March 13 2016

Some of the weapons seized by the Australian Navy on the Somalia-bound boat on March 6, 2016. The Australian Navy seized more than 2,000 weapons including assault rifles, rocket launchers and general purpose machine guns in the 'stateless' boat intercepted during normal patrol of the Middle East-Eastern Africa coast waters. PHOTO | AUSTRALIAN NAVY

Some of the weapons seized by the Australian Navy on the Somalia-bound boat on March 6, 2016. The Australian Navy seized more than 2,000 weapons including assault rifles, rocket launchers and general purpose machine guns in the 'stateless' boat intercepted during normal patrol of the Middle East-Eastern Africa coast waters. PHOTO | AUSTRALIAN NAVY  

By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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Funding cuts, implementation of an arms embargo on Somalia and a slow de-radicalisation campaign are combining to re-energinise Al-Shabaab.

The revelations follow a recent report by a top US military official who said despite continued drone and ground attacks on the militants, the group still posed a big threat to the region.

“Al-Shabaab’s efforts will be aimed at removing external influence from Somalia and compelling troop-contributing countries to re-evaluate their involvement in the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom),” Gen David Rodriguez, the head of US Africa Command told his country’s Senate Armed Forces Commitee.

“In future, Al-Shabaab may seek to adapt to financial and territorial losses by broadening its terrorist agenda throughout East Africa.”

According to Gen Rodriguez, recent successes by Amisom have been hampered by overstretched resources and a weak Somalia national army.

The statement was made on Tuesday, a day after the US armed forces said they killed several militants at a training camp in Somalia.

The Pentagon said the terrorists may have been planning another assault on Amisom troops.

“The strike was conducted using manned and unmanned aircraft. The fighters who were scheduled to depart the camp posed an imminent threat to US and Amisom forces,” Pentagon Spokesman Peter Cook said on Monday.

The US has pumped about $600 million (Sh60 billion) in the war against Al-Shabaab.

Last year, it announced a further $100 million (Sh10 billion) to focus on strengthening intelligence-sharing, border protection, equipment supply and training of security agencies in Kenya and Somalia.

STRONGER ARMY

Yet the Somali government admits it needs a stronger army to destroy the terrorists.

“The best approach is to push for a coordinated, coherent international support for rebuilding and strengthening of the Somali National Army. That is the most reasonable long term solution to this menace,” Somalia Ambassador to Kenya Gamal Hassan told the Nation. 

The fear that Al-Shabaab had strengthened was laid to the bare last week when leaders of troop and police contributing countries met in Djibouti. The terrorists have attacked civilians and military bases inside Somalia in the recent past.

The leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Nigeria, Burundi and Sierra Leone condemned attacks in Mogadishu, Leggo, Janaale and El-Adde.

They stressed the need for an affective Amisom command and control in order to achieve synergy against Al-Shabaab.

“The region’s focus should be on building institutions capable of deterring the spread of extremism, protecting populations, enabling economic prosperity and expanding the rule of law and human rights,” Gen Rodriguez said.

Some experts say the region could draw more benefits by focusing on stopping recruitment by the terrorists than combating them, to reduce the militants’ might.

“Tackling a group like Al-Shabaab needs a whole range of measures and efforts. Alongside the focus on what are often called hard security measures, we need to prevent its rise as an organisation that youths want to join,” Ms Martine Zeuthen, an expert on prevention of radicalisation from the Royal United Services Institute told the Nation.

“Breaking the foundations of the organisation so that it cannot fight is vital. That involves preventing access to recruits, training, equipment, finance and ideological support.”

Ms Zeuthen’s team is funded by the EU and works with religious organisations, youth, police and state officials in Nairobi, Coast and North Eastern regions to discourage radicalisation.

However, leaders from troop-contributing nations conceded that Amisom needed more money.

“The summit notes with concern the decision by EU to reduce financial support to Amisom troop allowance by 20 per cent,” they said in a communique.

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