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Al-Shabaab emerged as an autonomous organization in December 2006. Initially, the group served as the military wing of the Islamic court union. The group's primary purpose is to overthrow the Somali government and institute a society founded on its understanding of Sharia law. As a result, the group is frequently involved in the conflict with the United States since the country advocates for the political and economic stability of Somalia.
The current paper discusses al-Shabaab motivations, financial and non-financial sources of income, use of media, legitimacy of its objectives, importance of the group activities to the United States, the response of the United States to the group, and also provides recommendations on how the United States can deal with the group more effectively.
Description and Origin
The first leader of the movement was Aden Ayro, who had previously joined an Islamic movement named AIAI in 1991 (Assowe, 2011). The AIAI movement was disbanded in 1997, which prompted Aden to join another movement that later became ICU (Howard, 2014). Aden helped in recruiting and training members to fight. In 2006, the United Nations-supported Ethiopian troops to drive ICU from Mogadishu (Patrick, 2011).
Even though the ICU was completely crushed, al-Shabaab's operations remained active. After the invasion of Mogadishu, the movement developed a great resentment against the United States and all its allies. At the beginning of 2008, the movement strengthened its relationship with al Qaeda. This alliance prompted an attack by the United States, which killed Ayro.
Ahmed Godane became the top leader of the movement. His first move in office was to praise al Qaeda and align the purpose of the group to global Jihad. Consequently, al-Shabaab adopted al Qaeda principles and strategies. The group has since then conducted several brutal attacks in neighboring countries that have troops in Somalia. These attacks are aimed at compelling neighboring countries to withdraw their military troops from Somalia. The first attack of the group was conducted in Uganda in July, where the group conducted suicide bombings that killed 74 civilians (Assowe, 2011).
The movement gained attention when al Qaeda declared that the two organizations have merged. Nevertheless, the two organizations still identify as different organizations. The group formation was facilitated by the country becoming a failed state when the president was ousted, and control of the country was taken over by warlords from different clans (Howard, 2014).
The primary motivation of the group is to enforce its harsh understanding of Sharia law in the country. Some of the principles advocated by Sharia law discourage several types of entertainment and shaving of beards amongst other practices. Thus, the group wants to remove all foreign fighters from the country, so that they can establish a society founded on Somali principles (Patrick, 2011).
However, this goal has been hampered by the presence of military forces from neighboring countries. For instance, AMISOM, which operates under the African Union and is sanctioned by the United Nations, has an army from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Burundi in Somalia (Assowe, 2011). AMISOM denotes the peacekeeping mission aimed at eliminating the al-Shabaab threat from the east African region.
As a form of retaliation, al-Shabaab has acquired different goals of driving the international military forces out of the country; this has been achieved by targeting individual countries. The group attacked a bar in Uganda, where people had gathered to watch the 2010 world cup killing 74 innocent citizens (Howard, 2014).
The attack was the first conducted on foreign soil and was prompted by the fact that Uganda has the largest number of military personnel in AMISOM. The subsequent attacks were conducted in Kenya, where the group seized a mall for approximately five days and killed over 70 civilians including children (Patrick, 2011). Thus, the group is being fueled by the desire to remove all foreign military from the country.
The second cause of the group activities includes the disrupted cash flow. A raid by the Kenyan forces on Kismayu deprived the movement of its main supply of income, which is charcoal. Thus, the group strongly retaliates against the neighboring country, since it holds the state responsible for ending its primary source of revenue. Furthermore, piracy and extortion activities are intended at revitalizing the income the group obtains.
Besides, the group is motivated by revenge. While AMISOM is conducting operations in the country, many civilians of Islamic origin are killed in the process. Al-Shabaab performs its attacks as a form of revenge for Muslims that were killed during the fighting. This is because the organization has placed itself as a fighter for the rights of Muslims (Assowe, 2011).
Financial and Non-financial Sources of Al-Shabaab
The group obtains revenue from both local and international sources. First, al-Shabaab has imposed heavy taxes on businesses under their control that operate in regions. These companies remit monthly taxes so that the group allows them to function in the areas (Howard, 2014).
Second, various international sources have been accused of funding the terrorist group, since they have vested interests. For instance, the Eritrean government has been accused severally of supporting the organization with both financial and non-financial sources. The government is thought to support the organization so that it can upset Ethiopia, a regional enemy of Eritrea. In 2009, the United States imposed sanctions on Eritrea for its role in funding the terror group.
Third, the organization obtains a significant amount of revenue from the illegal sugar that is exported to Kenya. Kenya consumes approximately 800,000 tons of sugar. Nonetheless, the country can only produce 500,000 tons of sugar annually (Patrick, 2011). The shortage is obtained from Somalia through illegal schemes.
Forth, al-Shabaab acquires a significant amount of revenue from piracy and extortion. The group has been linked to piracy operations rampant in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean (Assowe, 2011). The group asks for huge ransoms from the hijacked ships. Unfortunately, some of the hijacked ships belong to Western countries that have adequate capital and machinery. Consequently, al-Shabaab demands huge payments from the countries owning the hijacked ships. On several occasions, the group hijacks ships transporting military equipment. This equipment is used to conduct further attacks.
Moreover, the movement uses a traditional system of sending money that cannot be detected called Hawala (Howard, 2014). This system is based on the trust of brokers where one person deposits money on an agent, and the agent calls to another agent in the needed location to give the money to the receiver. Also, the governments of Syria, Yemen, and Qatar are thought to be sources of finance for the group.
Furthermore, the group took control of a major pirate base in the country that is operated by a different Islamic group and came to an agreement that al-Shabaab will receive 20% of all the money obtained by the group from conducting piracy operations (Patrick, 2011). This move provides the group with considerable income, which it uses in conducting its operations.
Use of Media
The group uses various forms of media to pass a message to its members and the public. Notably, the organization uses social media including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. For instance, the group actively used Twitter until 2013 when Twitter feeds in the English language were closed (Howard, 2014). The group uses Twitter to counteract the tweets provided by the perceived enemies. The group uses these avenues to post pictures and information that cannot be provided by AMISOM.
For example, when the Kenyan defense forces claimed that they had managed to compel the group to retreat from Kismayu, they responded on Twitter by saying that the Kenyan army consists of boys that ran away from the fight. Furthermore, they used social media to post pictures of identity cards of AMISOM officers that had been declared missing by their respective governments.
Moreover, the group uses YouTube to post videos of killings and other brutal attacks on AMISOM soldiers and innocent civilians. These videos generate fear amongst citizens of neighboring countries since they feel that their governments cannot protect them from the threat posed by the terror group (Patrick, 2011). Even though YouTube consistently takes down these videos since they are against their terms and conditions, other users post the videos back online.
The use of Facebook has been strategic in recruiting foreign members, particularly, in the United States. When the group attacked a Kenyan mall, the authorities were surprised to find out that some of the attackers were Americans of Muslim origin. The group is concerned with recruiting foreigners because they train them to conduct the attacks in their hometowns (Assowe, 2011).
This is because they already have access to their home countries. Also, the organization has a radio station that uses various languages including English, Arabic, and Somali to broadcast messages to all members. The use of social media is intended at attracting youth since they are the population that frequents this type of media (Howard, 2014).
The legitimacy of the Al-Shabab Objectives
The group has no rightful claim. It is focused on establishing an Islamic society founded on its wrong interpretation of Sharia law. The majority of its principles infringe on the rights and freedom of citizens in Somalia and neighboring countries (Howard, 2014). Since aligning its objectives with al-Qaida, it has agreed to the global goal of Jihad, which aims at killing non-Muslim people in enemy countries.
Furthermore, the group kills innocent civilians in an attempt to pass a message to the governments of neighboring countries. For example, the group killed over 130 campus students in Kenya as they tried to compel the Kenyan government to remove its troops from Somalia.
Additionally, the movement uses suicide bombings on several occasions. Thus, many members are forced to give up their lives to kill many other people. Many of these suicide bombers are youth that has been recruited either willingly or unwillingly. Furthermore, the group has no respect for the government of Somalia. Even before the group was fully formed in 2006, the leader was constantly in disagreement with the other leaders of the ICU, as they did not support the methods used of attacking innocent civilians (Assowe, 2011).
Implications of AL-Shabab Activities to the United States
The groups' activities are of utmost significance to the United States. This is because the United States is concerned about the political and economic stability in Somalia. In 2013, the United States recognized the Somalia government and had since then pledged to support the country (Howard, 2014). Nevertheless, the organization hinders the economic and political stability of the country. Often, al-Shabaab conducts attacks on countries that have the U.S. consulate. These attacks are meant to send a message to the United States that the group has control over the neighboring countries supported by the country.
Moreover, the group allows other extremist organizations to operate in the region as it offers them a place to reside. Some of these organizations target the United States. For instance, the al-Qaida that bombed the U.S. embassy in 1998 in Nairobi operated from Somalia (Patrick, 2011).
Therefore, the group activities pose a significant threat to the United States and all of its allies in the region. The group is also involved with the rampant piracy that is conducted in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean. Some of the ships hijacked are carrying goods from the United States to its trade partners. Thus, the group hinders business activities of the United States.
United States Response to Al-Shabaab Activities
The main responsibility of the United States against the group has been conducting drone strikes in the group strongholds. This move has served in killing members of the groups but has not been effective in ending the organization's activities. This is because killing members of the group attracts more anger from the members (Assowe, 2011). The members engage in retaliation attacks against the international military in their country.
Also, the United States has intensified material and financial support for AMISOM. The material support is in the form of military training and equipment while the financial support is the additional money required to pay soldiers from individual countries to agree to participate in the peacekeeping mission. However, this response by the United States is also not very efficient, since it does not address the underlying reasons causing the group to conduct terrorist activities (Howard, 2014).
The United States has responded to the group activities on social media by taking down their Twitter account several times and removing their videos from YouTube. Nevertheless, anyone that has already downloaded the video can upload it back online before it is deleted again. Thus, deleted YouTube videos keep reappearing on the Internet (Assowe, 2011).
Recommendation of Changes in Strategy
The United States should intensify efforts to limit the financial sources of the group. Currently, the country only undertakes operations that aim at killing members of the group or driving them out of Mogadishu. Nonetheless, the al-Shabaab militia has retreated to the rural areas in central and southern parts of the country. First, the United States should help AMISOM recapture the port of Kismayu. Because this region is the principal source of income for the group. The numerous trade activities, taking place in this area, provide a steady supply of revenue to the group
Second, the United States should take stern measures in all countries that provide financial resources to the country. This can be achieved by placing economic and trade sanctions on these countries. For instance, the Kenyan government has frequently reported massive streams of money from Eritrea to Somalia that is suspected to be funding al-Shabaab operations. Thus, the United States should utilize economic and trade sanctions to ensure that Eritrea stops supporting the group.
Third, the United States should engage in measures that will prevent piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Piracy provides a steady flow of income that enables the group to perform terrorist activities. This could be achieved by monitoring the seas above and sending backup for ships carrying goods in dangerous waters.
Fourth, the United States should help the Somalia government increase the number of military personnel and equip them with the necessary skills and equipment. Currently, the government has approximately 7,000 police officers. This figure is adequate to protect the citizens of the country. Thus, the police force is mainly concerned with the elites in the country, leaving the majority of the population at risk of terrorist activities.
Finally, the Hawala system of money transfer should be disbanded. This will be achieved by setting stern measures in countries of origin where money is sent. Furthermore, YouTube should come up with a system that refuses to upload videos that have violent content of groups killing soldiers from other countries.
Al-Shabaab poses a significant threat to the neighboring countries. The group is focused on removing the international military presence in the region so that it can enforce an Islamic state founded on harsh interpretations of Sharia law. The group has various sources of income that have enabled it to engage in terrorist activities. Piracy, extortion, and taxes on local businesses are amongst the primary sources of the group's revenue.
Additionally, the group has sympathizers that offer military equipment. Al-Shabaab has intensified the use of social media. This type of media has been largely employed since it faces fewer restrictions and reaches a larger audience. Moreover, social media allows the group to recruit American citizens of Somali origin. This is a dangerous move as it put the United States at risk of attacks from the group. The group aligned itself with al-Qaida in 2012 and had since then committed itself to the global goal of Jihad.
The response taken by the United States to counter the group has not been effective since it focuses on eliminating the militia from their stronghold or killing them. This move attracts a backlash from the members who conduct retaliation attacks. An effective response would be cutting off the financial streams of the group. This move would deny the group the necessary income they need to recruit and train members. Thus, the United States should shift its strategy to focus on cutting the financial sources of the group.