The U.S. military intensified direct action operations against al Shabaab, which has disrupted the group’s offensive campaigns but has not changed where it operates. U.S. forces conducted over 50 airstrikes and accompanied Somali forces on dozens of counterterrorism raids targeting ORGANIZATIONal ShabaabAL SHABAAB IS AL QAEDA’S AFFILIATE IN SOMALIA AND OPERATES P…al Shabaab camps and high-level commanders since March 30, 2017, when the U.S. administration declared Somalia an area of active hostilities. The Somali National Army (SNA) has not held the terrain captured from al Shabaab in joint operations with African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, however, which has limited the effectiveness of these efforts. Al Shabaab holds territory surrounding the capital, Mogadishu, from which it coordinates complex attacks targeting the Somali Federal Government.Increased counterterrorism pressure may have reduced the overall volume of attacks in Mogadishu, but the city is not yet secure. Key al Shabaab sanctuaries persist in central Somalia, especially in Lower and Middle Shabelle regions, and in southern Somalia in Bay, Gedo, and Middle and Lower Jubba regions. Al Shabaab is able to project force from Somalia and safe havens along the eastern border with Kenya to attack Kenyan security forces and soft targets in Kenya’s Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, and Lamu counties. U.S.-backed counterterrorism efforts will limit al Shabaab’s ability to conduct major offensive campaigns, but are not sufficient to defeat the group. Al Shabaab will also reestablish its presence in populated areas in Somalia should Somali security forces not backfill AMISOM forces during the planned drawdown beginning in February 2019.
Characterizing al Shabaab’s regional operations:
- Mogadishu: Al Shabaab’s sanctuaries in the outskirts of the capital allow it to conduct occasional complex attacks on hard targets, like federal ministries. The group adapted to security conditions by striking softer targets like district offices. U.S. and Somali operations reduced the number of complex attacks beginning in November 2017. Al Shabaab’s tempo of assassinations, small-arms ambushes, and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks remains unchanged.
- Southern Somali Coast (Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Jubba): The SNA cleared al Shabaab from positions along the coast between Mogadishu and Marka but have not held the area. Al Shabaab fixed SNA and AMISOM units near Kismayo by attacking forward-deployed units repeatedly, including a June 8 attack on a U.S. forward operating base in Sanguni that killed a U.S. soldier.
- Central Somalia (Middle Shabelle and Hiraan): Al Shabaab has a support zone along most of the Mogadishu-Beledweyne highway and conducts frequent attacks on SNA and AMISOM forces along this axis. U.S.- and AMISOM-backed SNA operations cleared al Shabaab from positions north of Mogadishu, but SNA forces did not hold the areas.
- Southwestern Somalia (Gedo, Bay, and Bakool): Al Shabaab maintains its historical attack zones around the regional capitals Garbaharey, Baidoa, and Hudur. It increased attacks on Baidoa after seizing a nearby district in June. Al Shabaab expanded its support zone along the road between Luq and Dolow in Gedo near the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders, potentially providing a base of operations for future attacks in Ethiopia’s Somali region.
- Eastern Kenya: Al Shabaab expanded its attack zones in rural Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa counties in eastern Kenya. Al Shabaab’s campaign in these counties is an economy-of-force effort. Al Shabaab has freedom of movement in the countryside, allowing it to intimidate populations, which erodes public trust in the Kenyan government.
- Northern Kenyan coast: Al Shabaab maintains a base of operations in Boni Forest despite a three-year Kenyan military operation to clear the area. It uses this base to prepare attacks in Lamu County and southern Garissa County. Al Shabaab’s IED campaign throughout the Kenya-Somali border zone has weakened Kenyan security forces.
- Puntland: Al Shabaab conducts economy-of-force efforts to retain its base in the Galgala Mountains, which facilitates access to arms smuggling networks, by attacking Puntland forces along the highway between the administrative capital of Garowe and the commercial hub of Boosaaso.
- Somaliland: Al Shabaab likely conducted its first suicide attack to assassinate politicians in Somaliland but did not claim the operation.