Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Continued Threat of al-Shabaab in Mogadishu II

The Data
The latest report of the United Nations 'Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea' (access here) provides some interesting information regarding the military activities of al-Shabaab in Mogadishu for the year April 2011 to April 2012. The authors of the report sourced this information from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), as well as International NGO's and from open source information.The data they collected is contained in this chart:

The Trend
As is clear on the chart below the months preceding the official 'withdrawal' at the beginning of August 2011 by al-Shabaab from Mogadishu saw sharp decline in the number of attacks; a trend that continued until the end of October 2011. However, the month of November saw a sharp spike in the number of attacks, a total of 95 as compared to 19 for the entire of the previous month of October. The chart shows that even the loss of its last areas of control inside of the city, such as Dayniile District, al-Shabaab still managed to increase the number of attacks carried out.
The period covered by this data extends only to the end of April 2012 and therefore does not allow us to examine what impact the recent fall of the Afgooye and other areas surrounding Mogadishu that served as important bases and routes for the infiltration of men, weapons and other supplies into the city for al-Shabaab. However, as highlighted in the first part of this review the Islamist militia has successfully undertaken numerous attacks in and around Mogadishu, including an ambush on a convoy carrying the President Sharif Ahmed of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG)  and the ambush and killing of the police chief of the Elasha Biyaha neighbourhood of Mogadishu.

While reports continue to herald an improvement in the security and of a "relative peace and calm" in the city following the recent gains by the TFG and AMISOM, these are perhaps a little premature. Instead it would perhaps be more accurate to ascribe this general sense of security, not to an absence of al-Shabaab, but rather due to the fact that the city is no longer an active war zone with forces fighting for control over neighborhoods. The change in tactics by al-Shabaab - from urban warfare to an urban insurgency - may have less of an impact on the day-to-day lives of civilians but it still nevertheless represents a considerable security threat inside Mogadishu.

Thoughts concerning some particular al-Shabaab tactics:

Grenade Attacks
The chart above demonstrates that the use of grenades by al-Shabaab to attack targets has occurred with greater frequency post-August 2011. This method of attack requires little-to-no organisation or planning and requires only a grenade and a person to throw it, and has been used to effect against both military and civilian (examples here and here) targets.

This method of attack is well-suited to the urban environment, the grenade being easily concealed and carries with it the prospect of killing and wounding multiple persons at one time and also allows the attacker a possible opportunity to escape in any ensuing confusion. It is likely that this method of attack will continue to be used by al-Shabaab so long as it continues to maintain a network of fighters and supporters within Mogadishu and can continue to supply them with grenades.

The report provides a figure of 208 "recorded and verifiable" attacks in Mogadishu for the period January 2011-June 2012 although it also notes the Monitoring Group considers the actual figure to be "higher than available estimate.". Despite some uncertainty over the numbers the report does make clear that al-Shabaab continues to employ a range of improvised explosive devices as part of its military campaign in Mogadishu including: improvised explosive devices (IED), remote controlled improvised explosive devices (RCIED), vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) and suicide-bombings - both person-borne (SBIED) and vehicle-borne (SVBIED).

While the report does not provide a month-by-month account of all IED attacks in Mogadishu it nevertheless provides numbers for suicide attacks (SBIED and SVBIED) - 9 over the period covered. Given the skill and resources necessary to conduct these attacks it is perhaps not surprising that al-Shabaab has used these tactics selectively to and focused their use to target high-ranking TFG officialsgovernment buildings  as well as the military forces of the TFG and AMISOM.

Of concern is the continued demonstration by al-Shabaab to adopt and develop new tactics and techniques in its use of all types of IEDs. The report notes that al-Shabaab has experimented with various types of home made explosives (HME) using different mixtures, as well as developing shaped-charge IEDs designed to pierce armoured vehicles as well as pressure-plate designs and various trigger methods including the use of phones and radio. Interestingly, the report also mentions experimentation with a phone detonated magnetic IED. However, despite these efforts to improve the effectiveness of its IED arsenal the report notes that construction remains crude. This may also be attributable to what the authors suggest is the small number of Somali explosives experts within al-Shabaab, a number that they claim is supplemented by an even smaller number of foreign instructors

Despite ongoing battles and military pressure being placed upon al-Shabaab in other parts of Somalia it is likely that a continued effort will be made to use IEDs in Mogadishu due to their relatively low cost, relative ease of manufacture and the continued heavy concentration of potential targets both in and around the city: TFG buildings and officials; AMISOM; United Nations offices and workers; other civilians working on behalf of foreign governments and organisations.

The use of snipers by al-Shabaab in Mogadishu always served a two-fold purpose, both to kill TFG and AMISOM personnel but also as a form of psychological warfare. In Septeber 2011 al-Katai'b Media, the media wing of al-Shabaab, even released a 15 minute video entitled "Shoot Oh Banii Ismaa'il" that highlighted the use of snipers by the Islamist militia to target soldiers of the TFG and AMISOM. 

Following the swift and orderly withdrawal of Al-Shabaab from Mogadishu in August 2012, AMISOM and TFG forces occupied important tactical and strategic locations, depriving Al-Shabaab of vantage points for sniping. Between 1 April 2011 and 31 August 2011, the Monitoring Group recorded 43 sniper-related incidents, while from 31 August to April 2012 no such incident has been reported.
Given this loss of tactical advantage it is not surprising that reports of the activities of al-Shabaab snipers on the front-lines elsewhere in Somalia have appeared, including most recently on Twitter. It is likely that al-Shabaab will not resume an extensive use of snipers in Mogadishu until urban warfare resumes on a medium-to-large scale in the city. Unmentioned in the report, although certainly of interest was the defection in May 2012 of a sniper from among the Ethiopian forces in Somalia whose skills and experience will no doubt be of welcome use to al-Shabaab. 
Defected Ethiopian Sniper

The 'Mogadishu Incident Review" found on page 166 of the report for 2011 by the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, and on which this article is based may contain some omissions and errors in its documentation of al-Shabaab attacks in the city between April 2011 and April 2012.  This is made evident by the failure to record any suicide-bombings in the month of October, despite a devastating suicide vehicle-borne IED (SVBIED) attack occurring outside government buildings at the K4 intersection in Mogadishu on 04 October 2011. While this attack is referenced elsewhere in the document (see page 168) the failure to include this event in the chart may raise questions regarding the over-all accuracy of some of these figures. 
(Thanks to @FreelanceJRNLST

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