While the attention of the United States has recently been consumed elsewhere, the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group al-Shabab has been on the offensive. The group, which is based in Somalia, launched a brazen cross-border attack into eastern Ethiopia in late July. The force of at least 500 al-Shabab fighters was only repulsed after several days by the Ethiopian military.
According to Voice of America news, General Stephen Townsend, the outgoing commander of United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), does not believe the incursion was a fluke or a one-off. Townsend stated to VOA that al-Shabab has been emboldened lately by political turmoil in Somalia and by the decision of the previous U.S. administration to pull its forces out of Somalia back in December 2020. In a reversal of that decision, in May 2022, the current administration approved the new deployment of a small presence of U.S. forces to the country to target al-Shabab and its leaders.
Furthermore, in another sign of al-Shabab’s growing influence, the head of the terrorist group, Ahmed Diriye, is reportedly fourth in line to succeed deceased al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri, according to UN reports cited by VOA.
Containing the threat of terrorism in Africa
Al-Shabab remains a threat to the region. A 2021 report by the Council on Foreign Relations stated that al-Shabab remains capable of carrying out attacks across East Africa, despite efforts by the African Union and the US to counter the group and weaken its capabilities to operate in the Horn of Africa. Further, according to a UN report cited by VOA, al-Shabab is providing funds to al-Qaeda.
Al-Shabab started as an insurgent force in Somalia in the early 2000s. It has since grown to include some 5,000-10,000 fighters. The U.S. State Department designated the group a foreign terrorist organization in 2008, and al-Shabab leaders pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012.
Africa News reported that Ethiopia has long resisted al-Shabab’s incursions, but that recent turmoil in the country’s Tigray region has drawn its focus away from the terrorist group. Meanwhile, al-Shabab sees Ethiopia as an existential threat and legitimate target because of Ethiopia’s deployment of forces into Somalia to degrade the group. Those efforts will no doubt now increase, with the support of the small U.S. contingent in the region.
While the recent decapitation of al-Qaeda leadership has no doubt dealt a blow to the group, the resurgence of affiliates like al-Shabab shows that the fight against like-minded Islamic terrorist groups will continue into the foreseeable future.
Feature Image: Ethiopian National Defense Force Cpl. Melaku Shebabaw, right, stands perimeter watch during Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa’s training course in Hurso, Ethiopia, Dec. 27, 2006. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric A. Clement)
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