Mogadishu security declines as armed forces stretched outside capital – By Mohamed Mubarak
In March, the AU and the Somali National Army (SNA) launched their long-awaited offensive against Al-Shabaab. As was expected, Al-Shabaab withdrew from most areas without putting up much resistance. On the surface, the Somali government has won a huge chunk of territory back from the insurgent group. However, the facts on the ground suggest something else.
It would seem that Al-Shabaab has been cut in half, with the allied forces controlling the main roads from Mogadishu to Beledweyne, and from Mogadishu to Baidoa. However, Al-Shabaab continues to ambush allied troops using these roads, and is known to cross from east to west of the main roads whenever it wants.
This is made possible because the allied troops occupy the main cities on the roads, with Al-Shabaab continuing to rule some villages. For instance, when the Djiboutian-led forces captured Bulo Burte on 12 March, Al-Shabaab started laying siege to the city from all sides.
It may take time for the allies to realise this, but it has already become clear: AMISOM numbers will need to be increased for it to continue to be effective and not so overstretched.
Mogadishu security problems
The departure of large numbers of troops from the Mogadishu area in recent months has resulted in the overall deterioration of security in the Somali capital. Here Al-Shabaab continues its operations without much trouble. Assassinations and hand grenade attacks occur quite regularly – sometimes on a nightly basis.
There are many security checkpoints in Mogadishu; however, to characterise them as security checkpoints is unfair to even poorly run examples of such things. It isn’t hard to envision Al-Shabaab operatives laughingly passing through with their materials (and plans) fully intact.
The men manning these checkpoints simply look at passengers, rarely asking any to come out for a body search. Strangely, drivers are almost never searched, nor are women. Furthermore, the contents of bags are never checked, nor are cars themselves thoroughly examined.
In addition to this, probably the most disturbing problem with security in Mogadishu is the fact that any men in government, army or police uniform can pass through checkpoints without being asked to stop and identify themselves. This opens the door to all manner of vulnerabilities, and Al-Shabaab has not been slow to exploit this problem.
Al-Shabaab has attacked many government installations, including storming the presidential palace, mostly by disguising its fighters in SNA uniforms.
At the forefront of security in Mogadishu and other areas directly ruled by the Federal Government is the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). This mostly local spy agency is tasked with, among other things, disrupting Al-Shabaab operations and arresting its members. However, this is also probably the most infiltrated government agency.
When Sheikh Sharif became president in 2009, he saw to it that the Islamic Courts were heavily represented in the army, police, and the then NSA. This opened up sensitive government institutions to infiltration by Al-Shabaab.
If that was not dangerous enough, Al-Shabaab defectors were directly recruited into the spy agency without much consideration. Defectors would be given the option of reverting to civilian life or joining in the fight against Al-Shabaab. It isn’t hard to imagine the option that an infiltrator would pick.
This is not to say that all defectors are still loyal to Al-Shabaab; however, this does not merit recruiting and arming them en masse and giving them the responsibility of keeping the peace.
Following complaints from the media and government officials, defectors were sent to rehabilitation camps from 2011 to 2012. Nevertheless, following the defeat of Sheikh Sharif in the September 2012 elections, the former commander of NISA, Mr. Fiqi, ordered hundreds of Al-Shabaab defectors in a rehabilitation camp to be deployed into the field.
There was a spike in attacks following the election, including an attempted assassination of then president-elect Hassan Sheikh. The increase in attacks is a direct result of inducting Al-Shabaab “defectors” into the main security agency.
A large portion of assassinations by Al-Shabaab have been aimed at NISA operatives, with the apparent aim of eliminating patriotic NISA members. The most recent assassination was on Sunday night in the Karan district of Mogadishu where two NISA members were shot by assailants who escaped on foot. For NISA to be effective, it must get rid of members with questionable loyalty.
Unfortunately, there is no initiative to fix this problem. No one has been fired for the worsening security and major security breaches nor is there an acknowledgement that a problem exists.
While expansion of government territory is important, it should not come at the expense of security in the most important and populous Somali city. Now that the bulk of the SNA and AMISOM are operating relatively far from Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab will have even fewer obstacles to inserting men and materials into Mogadishu.
And in case you haven’t seen them, here are photos of the SNA celebrating Armed Forces Day last week. Note how unarmed our armed forces are around our president. It is not that they don’t have weapons, but most are not trusted around the president while bearing them.
Winning back territory does not mean the Federal Government is in a position to provide security to itself and its old territory, let alone the liberated areas.
Mohamed Mubarak, a political and security analyst, is the founder of anti-corruption NGO Marqaati (Marqaati.org), based in Mogadishu @somalianalyst This article was commissioned via the African Journalism Fund.