December 29, 2010

Is al-Qaeda Deploying to Mogadishu?

As reported last week, a great battle looms in Mogadishu’s future. In a capital where battles are more common that public services, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and al-Shabab continue to mobilize in hopes of scoring a decisive victory.

TFG and African Union (AU) officials have skillfully marketed recent gains against al-Shabab to boost the AU’s force level from 8,000 to 12,000. 1,800 Ugandans await deployment, and President Yoweri Museveni promises the rest as soon as America and the EU pay up. Although Museveni has clung to a 20,000 ceiling, he’s also declared Uganda’s ability to raise three million soldiers if he must.

Meanwhile al-Shabab has temporarily aligned with Hizbul-Islam to reinvigorate itself from a power rift. Friction between leader Sheikh Moktar Ali “Godane” Zubeyr and deputy Sheikh Mukhtar “Abu Mansur” Robow, considered the moderate of the two, has interrupted the group’s decision cycle going into a pivotal 2011. TFG and AU officials have vowed to “eradicate” al-Shabab’s presence from Mogadishu before the TFG and AU’s mandates expire in August and September, respectively.

Zubeyr and Robow have downplayed tensions at various times, and with al-Shabab continuing to operate in Mogadishu and northern Somalia, any infighting probably would’ve resolved itself. AU reinforcements proved immediate motivation as the group assimilated Hizbul Islam, its former ally and rival.

However, as also reported days ago, unconfirmed sources alleged that al-Qaeda leadership replaced Zubeyr after failing to resolve al-Shabab’s dispute. Though unverified, this information still warranted attention because of its implications. Instead it was swept away by al-Shabab’s call for global jihadists and conversion threat against President Barack Obama.

Zubeyr’s status remains unconfirmed.

So what is known? According to Sheikh Hassan Ya’kub Ali, al-Shabab’s spokesman in Kismayo, the group is mobilizing reinforcements from the southern port for battle in Mogadishu. And the man al-Qaeda supposedly chose to replace Zubeyr - Sheikh Ibrahim Haji Jama Mee'aad "al-Afghani" - heads the Kismayo administration. Mareeg questions whether these troops would differ from reinforcements sent to various parts of the country.

Though largely serving an operational/training role behind al-Shabab’s ranks, al-Qaeda may believe now is the time to enter the fight directly.

al-Qaeda doesn’t like to “fight.” Fighting wastes energy. After suffering massive casualties during the Afghan invasion, the group has evolved its force multiplication by streamlining insurgencies and terror campaigns for third parties - like free software. Most members killed in Pakistan are plotters. Although dying by the thousands, al-Qaeda also managed multiply Iraq’s chaos to the brink of civil war. And its leadership has enhanced al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magrib (AQIM), and al-Shabab’s tactics, profile, and recruiting.

But in a place like Somalia, where limited air-power could allow several hundred fighters to temporarily alter the balance of power, it’s possible that al-Qaeda is considering expending some of the estimated 500-1,000 operatives inside the state.

All possibilities must be considered as forces descend upon Mogadishu.

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