Robust U.S. military campaign to defeat al-Shabab in Somalia lacks political will, analyst says

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President Trump has declared that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is “100%” defeated.

It seems unlikely he will ever say the same about Somalia’s al-Shabab. Words such as “eradicate” and “eliminate” — staples of the lexicon used by the Obama and Trump administrations when laying out their ultimate goal in the battle against the Islamic State — are largely absent from the discussion surrounding al-Shabab, the al Qaeda affiliate estimated to control roughly 20% of Somalia and boasting at least 5,000 trained fighters.

Analysts say America’s limited policy will never result in a declaration of total victory in the little-understood war, and measuring tangible success in one of the most historically unstable, unpredictable corners of the world will be difficult.

The result: Al-Shabab is not seen as strong enough to make a serious effort to supplant the U.S.-allied government in Mogadishu, but there is also little immediate prospect of ousting the group from its strongholds in southern Somalia and in small pockets of neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.

“They’re not making the effort to fully beat them,” said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who closely tracks the war in Somalia. “I don’t think you’ll ever see President Trump mentioning Somalia in terms like he did with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. … You can see that the effort isn’t designed to deal al-Shabab a death blow.”

‘Strategic footprint’

The U.S. has waged an intensive air campaign against the group for years and has conducted at least 33 strikes in Somalia this year against al-Shabab and Islamic State targets, according to Pentagon figures. The bombing seems destined to continue for at least two more years. Pentagon leaders are looking at a 2021 handoff to the Somali government and its regional allies.

But over those two years, the approach to al-Shabab likely will remain nuanced. Rather than a crystal-clear end goal to obliterate the group, as was the case with the Islamic State’s “caliphate,” the campaign of airstrikes in Somalia is aimed at providing a safe environment for the Somali people, deterring al-Shabab from expanding and promoting regional security, military leaders say.

“The desired end state in East Africa is one in which terrorist organizations are not able to destabilize Somalia or its neighbors, or threaten U.S. and international allies’ interests in the region,” Maj. Karl J. Wiest, spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, told The Washington Times.

“The effects of our kinetic activities serve to degrade al-Shabab and ISIS-Somalia leadership, disrupt how they communicate and impact their ability to conduct operations,” he said. “We believe the U.S.’s small

Source: The Washington Times