Somalia’s Shebab a tough nut to crack

Somalia’s Shebab a tough nut to crack

NAIROBI - Efforts to defeat Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked Shebab militants and prevent cross-border attacks like the bloody siege at a Nairobi shopping mall will require more than just commando strikes alone, analysts say.

Although killing or capturing senior rebel leaders in raids or drone strikes would dent the insurgents, Shebab's shadowy command structure means they can bounce back from such setbacks.

"Eliminating top level individuals would be strategic blow to the organisation, but of course, the problem is in finding them," said one foreign security source who follows the Horn of Africa.

"However, it is not a silver bullet alone... it offers a chance to kick them down, but not keep them down."

According to a recent UN monitoring report, Shebab have built up a powerful "Amniyat" secret service which operates in separate cells "with the intention of surviving any kind of dissolution" of the group.

In addition, regional Shebab "franchises", such as Kenya's radical Al-Hijra group, which is thought to have played a key role in last month's Westgate shopping centre attack, have the ability to work both with Somali commanders but also on their own when necessary.

It was not known which Shebab commander was targeted by elite US forces in their Saturday night raid in the southern Somali port of Barawe.

The wanted militant - described as a "high value" Shebab leader - was not captured and it was unclear whether he had been killed, but a US official said several members of the group had been slain.

Somali experts suggested it would be unlikely that reclusive Shebab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane, who carries a $7 million US bounty on his head, would have been based in as open a place as Barawe.

Some Shebab leaders are thought to be based in the mountains of Puntland in the far northeast, known to some as "Somalia's Tora Bora" after the mountainous area of Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden hid out following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Negotiation seems doubtful with the Al-Qaeda-linked group, and there seems little sign that Shebab - which want all foreign forces to leave Somalia and have warned Kenya of "rivers of blood" - would actually want to talk.

This leaves the focus on a military solution and a long fight for the 17,700-strong African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM), which is mandated by the United Nations and has already been battling Shebab fighters for almost seven years.

Massive steps forward have been taken in the past two years after Shebab fighters fled fixed positions in the capital Mogadishu, and the AU seized a string of key towns.

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