There is near agreement among Al-Shabaab adversaries and allies that the terrorist group has hit rock bottom. The Somalia-based outfit has all the hallmarks of a collapsing movement.
First, unlike other terrorist groups that enjoy global presence, it lacks factions outside Somalia. Besides, it has suffered diminishing foreign fighters.
Even in Somalia, it has suffered many setbacks, including major territorial losses. Since the Jihadists were kicked out of Mogadishu some years ago by African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), the group has been literally struggling to survive.
In the recent past, Somali National Army (SNA) and forces from the regional states of Jubaland, Galmudug, Puntland and Hirshabelle have reclaimed territory traditionally considered Al-Shabaab strongholds.
Early this month, Hareerdhere, Imaamd, Ba’adweyn, Qaycad, Sabeena and Gowrac towns were liberated in major military operations that resulted in the killing and capture of hundreds of militants. Somalia government’s war against Al-Shabaab is complimented by clan militias, very influential, especially in Hirshabelle and Galmudug.
Clan militias such as Abgal and Gugundhabe forced Al-Shabaab out of Middle Shabelle and Hiiraan, where they practised extortion and forced conscription. It is now restricted to its Jilib headquarters, a target of frequent United States airstrikes.
The aerial bombardments backed by ground operations have killed thousands of militants, including their leaders Bashir Mohamed Qorgab and Yusuf Jiis. That could destabilise or break the group — as happened to Al-Qaeda in 2011, when its leader Osama Bin Laden was killed, and the recent death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, which left the Nigerian-based insurgent group in shambles.
Al-Shabaab’s loss of territory is reminiscent of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) downfall moments. At the end 2017, ISIS lost its large caliphate in Iraq and Syria to concerted operations by American and Kurdish forces.
It lost a huge swathe, 34,000 square miles, in the Middle East, where it was implementing a pseudo-government structure. Similarly, Al-Shabaab is going to close shop in Somalia.
Thousands of militants have defected to seek alternative employment by joining Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) or seek political seats. In April, outgoing President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo appointed Al-Shabaab Amniyat Commander Farhan Mohamud Adan alias Qarole as Mogadishu Police Commissioner. More than 300 Kenyan youth defected in June and returned home for rehabilitation.
The Islamist group is now assassinating prisoners of war to protect its secrets. In 2017, it executed a Ugandan soldier held in captive — common with terrorist groups. In Afghanistan, when Taliban sensed defeat from a re-energised US force, it executed dozens of American PoWs under its custody.
These, and frequent infighting among its top leadership for positions, are clear indications that the group is folding up. That would be good news for Somalia, which is eager to regain stability and pursue reconstruction and development, and other Horn of Africa countries like Kenya, which desire peace.
Mr Cheruiyot is a social analyst. firstname.lastname@example.org.