After the military operations against the Huthi rebels in Yemen ended, which also claimed the lives of many Al Qaeda members, the focus has now turned towards Somalia in order to break another link in the chain with which Al Qaeda hopes to close in on the region by blocking the vital Bab el Mandeb strait and threatening international navigation. In the past few weeks there have been more and more indications that the Somali government is considering launching a wide-scale military offensive to drive out the Al Shabab movement, which many parties are confirming has links to Al Qaeda and is cooperating with the organization.
In light of the current balance of power, the Somali government has no hope of taking control of the situation and regaining all the regions that Al Shabab’s militias have seized control over unless it gained foreign support. This is the crux of the matter. Just a few days ago, the New York Times published a long report about how the US is supporting a plan by the Somali government to launch wide-scale attacks on the Al Shabab movement and Al Qaeda members. [According to the report] this support includes training and arming Somali government forces and increasing aerial surveillance, the possible participation of members of the US Special Forces and carrying out air raids when the government attacks begin. Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmad did not deny this when he was questioned on this matter during a press conference in London on Tuesday. In fact he welcomed it and said that any US air role will support the offensive. When journalists asked him if he saw a role for the US ground forces he said he could not answer that.
Considering the strikes carried out against Al Qaeda in Yemen and the reduction of the movement’s presence in Iraq in addition to the attacks on the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is clear that the next round of the war against Al Qaeda will take place in Somalia. It is the only remaining place where Al Qaeda members still roam freely benefiting from the expansion of the Al Shabab movement on the ground, and the spread of poverty, unemployment, weapons and Qat and the absence of the central authority. Here we must highlight the fact that Saudi Arabia achieved considerable success in striking fatal blows against the Al Qaeda organization on Saudi territory. Moreover, its involvement was a decisive factor in eliminating the Huthi rebels who Al Qaeda exploited to carry out operations in Yemen in an attempt to shift the war to Saudi territory.
The preparations for carrying out operations in Somalia come at a time when there are reports stating that some Al Qaeda leaders and members have begun to move to Somalia from Pakistan after feeling constrained. They are catching up with other members who have been creeping into Somalia since the two US embassies in Dar Es Salam and Nairobi were bombed in 1998. The Somali government is saying that hundreds of Al Qaeda members are taking part in the war with the Al Shabab movement and that they are moving openly and newcomers are joining them from Asia and Europe and even from the US. There are also increasing suspicions that Al Qaeda is supporting some piracy operations carried out against ships with the aim of threatening international navigation and obtaining large amounts of money to fund its activities.
It is no secret that Somali elements fought in Yemen and that Al Qaeda openly called on its members to fight in Somalia, which confirms that there is coordination in the operations and alludes to Al Qaeda’s strategy to try to affect the international navigation in the Gulf of Aden and the Bab el Mandeb strait. In return, the US is widening the scope of its operations in the region and involving a number of other countries as part of a joint force to fight terrorism in the Horn of Africa, in addition to increasing the international military presence in the region to fight piracy. However, US intervention this time will be different to 1992 when Operation Restore Hope that was led by the US to transport humanitarian aid to the starving people ended in disaster in 1993 after two helicopters were downed and a number of US soldiers were killed and their bodies were mutilated in what was a barbaric scene. The circumstances and goals this time are different, as intervention will not take place with ground forces but with intelligence and aerial operations in support of government forces and with a clear aim (which is also supported by many international players); to prevent Somalia, with its violent and unstable environment, from turning into another Afghanistan.